When a news commentator claimed that the (then 15-year old) Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, was simply the puppet of her parent’s agenda, another wryly noted, clearly this commentator never raised a teen! 

Teens. What comes to mind when you think about the teen years? Some of us think fondly (or not so fondly) of our own time as a teenager. Some of us shudder at the thought of the precious toddlers who once held our hand growing into unrecognizable creatures who don’t wish to be seen publicly near us. Some say, “Bring it on! I love teens and all the challenges they bring!” 

I’ve always wondered: Why do teens have such a strong (and often negative) reputation? From my perspective, I see teens across the world standing up as agents of change. They are looking at the world they are going to inherit and becoming activists in so many areas. They are building movements and being disruptive. 

You may notice that if you push a teen to do one thing, they are sometimes motivated to do the exact opposite. This is actually one of their strengths. Teens are doing the important work of individuation. They are seeking to find a place for themselves in the greater world – deeply needing to know that they can be a useful and valuable part of something that is bigger than themselves and their family circle. The world needs their dedication, their optimism, their courage, and their ability to draw together with others who will fiercely stand with them against entrenched traditions that threaten their own futures. 

When it comes to being a parent of a teen, this process of individuation and learning to wield their power can be a tricky time for both the parent and the teen. It can look like rebellious behavior, secrecy, and separation. While we might feel a little sadness that we no longer have a kid who wakes up and comes looking for us first thing in the morning, at the same time, they deeply need reassurance that we’re still there, loving and honoring the best in them. 

So, how do you remain a positive influence on your teen? It starts with three short ideas that are easy to say, yet take a bit of practice…

  1. Focus on creating connections in new ways and on their terms.
  2. Demonstrate genuine curiosity and interest in what they think.
  3. See and hold onto their strengths and support opportunities beyond the walls of your home for them to express their strengths, while demonstrating respect even/especially when the teen might not be sure that they have any strengths at all and their challenging behavior might even reinforce this mistaken belief.

For more ideas, I love to turn to my fellow parent educator, Paige Trevor, who shares these powerful tips with lightness and humor:

How to Talk to Teens – It’s Possible!

  • Use notes and texts.
  • Ask curiosity questions instead of giving unsolicited advice.
  • Add humor and levity.
  • Teens take everything personally – beware of sarcasm or criticism.
  • Keep asking your teen to do things with you that THEY want to do – movies, cups of sort of expensive coffee, that good vegan place they like.

How to Think and Be Around Your Teen:

  • Access your humility – parents don’t have all the answers.
  • Conjure up faith that your teen wants their life to work out.
  • The teen’s life task is to separate and individuate from us – it’s gonna get bumpy! Strive to be a non-anxious presence.

In summary, I encourage you to approach the teen years with hope and a sense of wonder…rather than the fears that can be fueled by the typical rhetoric. Their job is to discover and experience how their talents and interests contribute to the world in meaningful ways. Our job is to continue to hold onto their strengths, be a warm, kind presence, and model that being an adult includes courageously contributing to make our world better while having fun together along the way.