Five Subtle Changes That Can Powerfully Improve Your Relationship with Your Teen

Posted March 18, 2015 by

I was shocked to hear my dad tell me, over a decade after I had made it out of adolescence, that both he and my mum had been afraid of me at times when I was a teenager. He said they felt helpless and powerless, often wondering what the best way to deal with me was. Now you might be wondering what kind of nightmare child I was, but the truth of it was that I was just a regular teen. I felt angry and didn’t know how to express it. I felt that nobody understood me and nobody ever would, and I often reacted in a way that did not encourage connection with those around me.

Do you feel like you and your teen are speaking different languages? Do you worry that you are growing further apart every day? Maybe you feel your teen is distant. Perhaps they are preoccupied and you would like to support them. Or you would like to play a bigger role in your teen’s life, or even just want to be able to have a conversation with them without it turning into an argument.  If any of this resonates, these five tips will help get you started:

In every interaction, make connection the intention.
Sometimes we get locked in to “who is right and who is wrong” and want to make sure that we “win” a discussion or argument. We want to assert our authority as a parent and make sure it is clear who is in charge.

By changing our focus away from what our teen should or shouldn’t be doing and instead concentrating on understanding and connecting with them in the moment, we can straight away change the dynamic of any conversation.

Listen with the intent to understand, not reply.
Sometimes we just need to be present—clear our mind and be there 100% for our teen. Often when our kids are talking to us, in our head we are already formulating a reply and not really listening to what they are saying. This takes away from our connection to them in that moment as we are not really hearing them. Practice just listening—it’s as simple and as hard as that!

Find the right balance between autonomy and dependence.
While young adults are finding their voice and having opinions (about everything!), they are also living under your care and are supported by you in various ways. Although having clear boundaries is helpful, it is also beneficial to encourage their identity and creativity to shine. For example, being clear about the tidiness you would like in the house but allowing them total freedom to have their own room as they wish.

Don’t take it personally.
In heated moments—with doors slamming and your teen screaming “you never understand!” or even “I hate you!”–the one thing you need to remember is that this is primarily about them: their confusion, their difficulty controlling themselves, their undeveloped ability to recognize and express their emotions. Taking it personally hurts you, which is normal! A common reaction when we are hurt is either shutting down or lashing out, and this just worsens an already tough situation.

Instead try taking a deep breath, reminding yourself that your teen does, in fact, love you but can’t get in touch with that at the moment. Try hard to remember what it feels like to be a kid who is upset and over-reacting.  With this in mind, think through how to respond calmly and constructively.

Look after yourself.
As parents (or teachers, mentors, coaches), we choose to give a lot of ourselves to others. It is paramount that in order to be able to really give to others, including our teenagers, we need to look after ourselves. It is impossible to really give from the heart if we are feeling tired, stressed, overwhelmed and burnt out.

Think about all the things that you feel happy doing, that relax you and help you to give to yourself. Make a list of at least ten things you really enjoy doing. Which one will you do today?


Maria Mara BSc, MA (Psychoanalysis), Adult & Youth Confidence Coach (PPC & YIC Dip) is a Psychologist and an Authentic Confidence Coach. She works with teens and adults around the world through her online coaching practice, helping her clients connect to their potential and achieve their deepest desires. She is the Co-founder of SuperChicks Camp, a Personal Development Camp for teen girls, the next one which is taking place in Los Angeles on April 9 -12, 2015. For more information, visit and

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  1. Mommy Mead (Edit) Report

    I need some advice please. My 15 year old son does not realize the importance of going to school. He tries to find every excuse in the book to miss school or if he has slight stomach or headache he wants to come home. His grades are not great and every day he misses he gets farther behind. I don’t mind him staying home when he is legitimately sick but all of the other times he has missed has hurt his grades. He doesn’t like school and will do whatever he can not to go. He does not seem motivated to do his homework at all. We constantly have to push him to get his work don and grades up. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      @Mommy Mead
      What an upsetting situation. I can hear how frustrated you
      are with the choice your son is making not to go to school. I’m sure this
      situation probably causes some worry and concern around how this will not only
      affect his current grades, but also his future. It can be tough to let the
      natural consequences come into play, especially if those natural consequences
      don’t seem to be having an impact on the current situation. One thing you might
      consider doing is linking his privileges to school attendance, as Sara Bean
      suggests in her article
      What this might look like in your situation is when your son decides not to go
      to school, he would lose access to things like his cell phone, video games, TV,
      and computer. He could earn those things back the next day if he makes a
      different choice and goes to school. It also would still be a good idea to call
      the school and let them know the absence is unexcused when he doesn’t go. It
      probably isn’t going to be effective to try to get him to understand the
      importance of school. Having those types of conversations with him could actually
      cause him to become even more entrenched in his argument. Instead, be clear and
      direct about what the expectation is because, truthfully, he doesn’t have to
      like school nor see the merits of going; he just needs to comply with the
      expectation. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what you can do to help motivate your
      son to attend school. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions.
      Take care.



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