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What does your teen want?

As a parent of a teen, you’re navigating uncharted territory and are likely open to advice from those who’ve gone before you. Your teen is going through tremendous emotional, physical, and social changes, while you may also be facing a series of your own ‘firsts’: the physical and emotional changes of aging, mid-life crisis issues, etc. The transitions faced by both you and your teen can make for some challenging times at home.

Your teen needs room to grow and change. While they’ll resist ‘micro-managing,’ they may be prone to taking risks that require intervention for their own safety. They want to stand on their own two feet and push you farther away as they turn to their peers for advice instead. They may become resistant to your family rules that used to be accepted, and they can seem sullen and uncooperative. In short, you look at your beloved child and barely recognize the sweet little person they were a short while ago.

On the other hand, your teen is vibrant and has energy to burn. They may be idealistic and full of plans to make the world a better place. They may become passionate about causes. They are loyal to their friends. They are in the process of developing the person they’ll become as an adult and may explore many creative outlets in that effort.

The teenage years are dynamic times filled with joys and struggles, and it is your responsibility to nurture them through these times. So… what does your teen really want? 

To belong

Although friends, teachers, and mentors will play a large role in your teen’s life, your family will always be their primary place of belonging. Home is where they’re nurtured, loved, and where they return after venturing out in the world. Home should always be a welcoming place for your teen.

Building and maintaining a positive bond with your teen is the goal. Although discipline will need to be part of family life, as much as possible make encouragement, positive words, and camaraderie be the norm. Spend time together. Family meals, game nights, and weekend outings may not come as often as they did before the teen years, but they should still happen. Including your teen’s friends in family events makes it more fun for all.

Your teen needs to know they always have a place of belonging in the family.

To be heard

Typically, your teen is either holed up in their bedroom or out with their friends. So, when are you supposed to listen to them? It’s a challenge, for sure. But your teen has strong feelings about the issues of the day, and they have a need to share their thoughts. Plan times when the family focuses on a topic of the day to process together. Such events give room for all family members to voice their thoughts. 

Your teen is trying out new ideas as they encounter them. They may take a stance in opposition to the ways you’ve taught them at home as an exercise in exploration. Listening to your teen, rather than correcting or becoming angry with them, models a healthy way to encounter opposing views. 

Your teen also needs a safe place to ask questions that are troubling them or talk about behaviors amongst their friends that concern them. Today’s world requires teens to make important decisions about alcohol, drugs, and sexual behaviors at an early age. These topics may be hard to discuss openly, but your teen needs support as they face them.

Your teen needs to know their family will listen to them.

To be safe

You need to be aware of the world your teen is living in - daily. Where do they go and what are they doing? Who do they spend their time with and are they in safe spaces? You need to be willing to step in and ‘rescue’ your kid if they find themselves in an unsafe situation. A code word decided upon by the family is one way to stay safe. A text of that one word means ‘come get me.’ 

The teen years require clear boundaries set by you. Reasonable expectations mean your teen can comply and there may be room for flexibility when they behave responsibly. Consequences should be both fair and immediate. Rules are meant to keep your child safe, and discipline is about teaching appropriate ways of living.

Keeping lines of communication open is a challenge during the teen years, but open lines of communication can go a long way in keeping your teen safe. Engaging in casual talks about how life is going, in general, can open deeper levels of communication when important topics need to be addressed.

Your teens want to feel safe.

To be loved unconditionally

While your teen needs privacy and wants to spend more time with their friends, they still need to feel loved by their family members. Anything you can do to demonstrate unconditional love is a plus. Some teens welcome hugs, while others prefer a less ‘fluffy’ pat on the back or high five. 

Although much of parenting is reminding your kids to do their chores and complete their homework, strive to make your interactions positive every time you can. Adults like to hear positive words and affirmations; so do teens.

It’s important to show appreciation for your teen’s efforts, not only for their accomplishments. Trying a new sport or joining the drama club may not produce stellar performances but will be character-building. Look for ways to praise genuine effort.

When your teen makes a mistake or breaks rules, there is an opportunity to show them love. Consequences meted out fairly coupled with assurances of love and support can turn a bad situation into a learning opportunity for your teen.

Say the words. Tell your teen you love them, often. Teens need to know they’re loved.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and author. Find her at


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