Raising my teen into an appreciative, socially conscious young adult

The world in which our child is growing differs from the one we knew. Social media, and traditional telecommunication (remember cable television?) connect us to information in the blink of an eye. Marketers bank on us falling prey to the desire to accumulate “stuff” (a reference to the comedian, George Carlin, for those who are old enough to remember). Commercials for back to school play like a well-orchestrated music video. We tap our toes while cute kids on TV dance, sing and show off the latest fashion. With the best of intentions to help our child fit in with peers, we want our kids to have good self-images and not feel stressed about their bodies, their friends, their intellect or their choices. When it comes to going the extra mile, we will do what it takes and also hold strong by not going overboard and sheltering them from things that develops resilience. We might even say… “I won‘t do that to my kid”. Despite this familiar mantra, things happen. Here are a few things to do when you derail.


  1. Zip Up and Let Natural Consequences Prevail – It is so easy to get upset with a teenager, especially after a long day at work. Nagging leads to being tuned out, which results in parents being more frustrated with unfinished chores and tasks. Sometimes, it feels like the whole family suffers if you assign a consequence to one teen. Such is the case if homework is not done and attendance at a family gathering must be cancelled or adjusted. Ask yourself: is this a battle worth fighting and will I remember this in 5 years? If egos were not in the picture, what is one other way I could direct this mess where a small lesson could be learned?
  2. Be a Good Actor – You could have predicted a teen’s mistake and resulting consequence a mile away. When it happens, look as astonished as she is. (Hold back sarcasm). If she does not have money because she spent the little she had and she wanted to buy that new shirt — say, “that’s crazy girl – what are you going to do“? (and don’t rescue). If you asked her to consider ignoring a peer who bullies and gossips about others, and now the girl is talking badly about your own daughter—say, “that is nasty -what do you want to do about it”?
  3. Immediate Returns Don’t Exist With Teens – Do not expect your teen’s immediate gratification or gratefulness for refusing to buy clothing (even if you know avoiding the purchase means saving for her birthday). You will not be adorned with appreciation when you refuse a request to attend a house party because you do not know the parent or friend. Prepare to repeat your coaching and redirecting statements hundreds of times over these years. These are the things you do for the love they won’t know until they are much older. You know and that is what matters. Try saying, “I love you and I won’t compromise your safety…I am sorry, but it is a NO tonight”. You may get ignored but saying it will re-enforce your steadfast love to protect your child.
  4. Praise, Praise, Praise – Catch your teen doing a good deed (holding a door open, helping someone with groceries, and so on). When he or she shows respectful attitude, helps at home or does something without you asking, notice. Your words may be met with a shrug but it doesn’t go unnoticed. Despite the shrug, your positive comment means everything.
  5. Huddle Up Before You Head Out – If you are heading out to an event, sports game, club, or shopping, anticipate possible stressors before you go and minimize them. Some teens get anxious with transition or not knowing what to expect. To minimize mood swings, feed and water the teen before you go or expect to buy food at the event. If your mission is to buy shoes, discuss the limit you will pay and what your expectations are regarding your teen’s need to pay the difference.
  6. Use the Element of Surprise – You are out in public and your teen not being kind. He or she is also not responding to prompts and redirection to be kind, aim for helping the youth to be neutral (not thrilled, but not mean either). Be prepared to stop the shop and head home. The item is not as important as teaching kindness and respect. Do not argue while driving. If your teen is arguing at home, bow out to another room without further debate. A teen might expect you to keep arguing rather than step out. If you choose, say something simple and neutral, such as, “ look, our tempers are rising and when everyone is talking in a more kind way, I will return, and I love you”. Seek your time out in the garage or bathroom. Sometimes, tempers cannot be redirected. It is just as important to model that taking a time is not a childish move but rather, it is a healthy “pause” until moods recalibrate.
  7. Help you teen connect to the community – Show interest in the 40 mandatory volunteer hours needed for high school graduation-talk about the 40 hours with your teen and why this is an important contribution for the community. Find something you do that helps a person, or group and why it matters. Teens are egocentric and self-centred during these years. If they identify personally with a cause, they will be motivated to do it. Help your teen choose a volunteer group that is important to him or her (possibly a loved one has Diabetes) and the teen will volunteer with that service because there is a personal connection. They care a lot about their social status and feel awkward doing something alone. Have them pair up with a peer and do it together. Studies show a common thread between those kids who show empathy and have a connection to their community and those who success as thriving adults. Studies also show that risk factors (crime, alcohol other drugs, mental health, medical issues and troubled relationships) are reduced.
  8. Getting a Job takes Work – One of the common markers of success for parents seems to be if our teen gets a part time job. The job market is not what it was. It used to be that we could get a job at the start of a summer and work full time. We’d save tons of money and even buy a cheap car (not anymore!). Jobs are now hard to get. Adults with qualifications report being unemployed, underemployed or working outside their field of training. Many adults have taken the jobs that our teens would have gotten. Looking for jobs, applying, practicing for the interview and being on the job brings anxiety. Don’t assume your teen knows how to master these steps and feel comfortable doing them. Job site researchers and bloggers report that many people get a job because of who they know. This is very important when we speak of a teen that is new in the job market and without experience. If it is their first job, they do not often know how to build a resume or fill out an application using volunteer experience or other information which employers find valuable. They need help. If you feel out of your element your youth will not listen to you, cannot find help within the school, or community agency that provides vocational help, it might be time to seek the services of a skilled professional like a therapist. Many youth (and adults) benefit from just a few coaching and counselling sessions. In this environment, they discover their worth, build self-esteem and learn how to market their life skills for school, work I relationships. Think of all the people you know for anyone who could hire your teen for an hour, a few hours, occasional hours or part time. Youth want to be useful and they want to be independent. They don’t know how.
  9. Get Your Teen Busy – Studies show that idle time without activities or recreation can lead to ill health and bad habits such as drinking and drugging, excessive gaming or social media involvement, weight gain and moodiness. Lack of sufficient face to face connection makes for socially anxious kids because they do not get the practice they need to advocate for themselves in the real world. Socially anxious symptoms lead to a whole other set of challenges. We want to do whatever it takes to help our teens, right? Carve out some of your time. Make an intentional effort to work on this together. Help your teen fill some time with a volunteer activity. Ask a friend or educational professional to assist or find a neighbour that could use some help. Recruit another adult who your teen admires (aunt, coach, friend’s parent) if you and your teen are at odds. This effort may feel like scraping glue off the bottom of your shoe at first, depending how inactive your teen has become. The teen may complain. Remember: A teen feels good when part of the greater good and teens need to know that they matter.
  10. Get Active – It is true that teens need a lot of rest but they also do well with structure, even if rest and leisure is built into a schedule. If you have a dog, walk the dog with your teen. If you have a neighbourhood mailbox, walk to it. If you get groceries, make up an excuse that you could really use your daughter or son’s opinion on something and discuss it on the way to the store. The teen may do it if it does not feel like a chore. Community Centres and Recreational facilities offer a lot of classes–some for a few hours and some for several sessions–pick something together or enlist the help of a friend where the kids are also friends. Tell your teen that you really want to do it but you are chicken to do that activity alone. This is a good time to offer a bribe… whatever motivates a teen to get active is worth it! Catch yourself having some fun together. The smile on your teen’s face is worth it all.