“Helping my teen become an independent and responsible adult is no easy task, how do I nurture them and still encourage responsible behavior?”
“I want my teen to feel supported. Even when we don’t agree, they should always feel loved”
“Teenage years can be some of the hardest. So many changes and so much peer pressure.”
Growing as a family is a great learning experience filled with compelling and unforgettable memories. Although teen years present a new set of challenges for both parents and children, this is also a time for parents to help their children reach their full potential. Healthy Relationships Initiative is here to help families parenting teenagers in our community build happy, healthy, and safe relationships. Our goal is to meet families parenting teenagers where they are and offer resources and information to help take the next step in strengthening their relationships. So, whether parenting your teen has been a smooth experience overall, but with a few challenging areas, or if parenting your teen is feeling a bit difficult right now, or even if you have no idea of what direction to go in next, we’ve designed the resources in this toolkit to help you reflect on your relationships, connect with your family through deeper conversations, and build up tools to strengthen your relationships.
Reflect: Reflection Activities
Being in touch with your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is an important key to happy, healthy, and safe families. Frequent self-examination allows you to stay in tune with yourself and gain awareness of how you interact with your teen. These observations can help you identify potential strengths and weaknesses in your relationships. Furthermore, this knowledge is important because ultimately you are the only person whose emotions, thoughts, and behaviors you can control in a relationship. So, it’s important to learn as much as you can about yourself so you can do your own personal best to enhance your relationship with your teen. The Reflection Activities in this section of the Healthy Relationships Initiative Toolkit for Parenting Teenagers are designed to help you intentionally think through your views and attitudes that impact your relationships with your teen.
Connect: Conversation Starters
It can be nerve-racking just thinking about having deep conversations with your teen, especially if you don’t quite know how to get those conversations started. For that reason, this Toolkit includes an extensive list of Conversation Starters to begin meaningful conversations with your teen. These Conversation Starters can be used in many different ways to fit a pace that works for you and them. For example, you could address one issue at a time in a casual manner, or you could spend a long period of time discussing many of them. You could also consider completing some of the Reflection Activities in this Toolkit, to help guide your talking points. Another idea is to follow up every response with an open-ended question like “What else do you think about that?” This helps to keep the conversation going, and it also provides an opportunity for your teen to explain their responses.
Before you begin using these Conversation Starters, consider the following suggestions:
- Set aside time so that conversations don’t feel rushed. It’s okay to only get through one Conversation Starter at a time! Your goal is to learn more about each other, not check off a list of questions as quickly as possible. Take your time, and be sure to minimize distractions during that time so you can focus on the conversation and your teen.
- Try to have your conversations in places that are comfortable for everyone. Some teens may feel more comfortable talking alone or in private, whereas other members may feel more comfortable talking in public places. Try to consider everyone’s preferences and think outside the box. You don’t even have to be sitting to talk–you could go out for ice cream or even spend a day together. The more everyone feels comfortable, wherever you are, the easier it will be to focus on the conversation and each other.
- Commit to really listening to your teen. Once they’ve shared their thoughts on the Conversation Starter, try to reflect back to them what you heard, such as by saying, “What I just heard you say is ______.” If you didn’t catch everything the first time, ask them to say more for clarification.
- Be open to disagreements. Everyone does not have to agree 100% of the time about everything in order to have healthy relationships. In fact, differences can help keep relationships interesting! If your teen says something that you don’t agree with, try to learn more about why they think the way they do.
- Use your Conversation Starters as an opportunity for self-reflection. Some of the conversations may address topics that you’ve never thought much about before, so don’t be surprised if your views on the subject change while you’re talking about them!
- If you find it difficult to engage in positive conversations with your teen, and especially if this is a pattern over time, it may be a sign that you could benefit from counseling, including individual and/or family counseling. To learn more about seeking counseling, please read our Parenting Teenagers Toolkit Tip Sheet #9: Finding a Family Counselor.
- Finally, enter into deeper conversations with your teen with a commitment to kindness and respect. Everyone deserves to feel heard and understood. Having deeper conversations can feel strange at first. But, over time, if you engage in these conversations with kindness and respect, you’ll see how they can help to propel your relationships to a deeper, more meaningful connection with one another!
Build: Tip Sheets for Strengthening Your Relationships
During adolescence, teens need their parents more than ever, but with so many changes, it can be difficult to maintain a strong relationship. One of the keys to healthy, happy, and safe relationships is trying different things to figure out what works best for you and your teen as they emerge into adulthood. In this section, we offer some basic tips to help you build stronger relationships with your teen. These Tip Sheets focus on key challenges that parents face while raising teens. If you find that you need individualized help in applying these tips to your relationship with your teen, or if you are experiencing problems in your relationship that don’t seem to improve when you apply these tips, please read Tip Sheet #9: Finding a Family Counselor.
Thanks to Javiette Grant, HRI Program Specialist, for developing the materials in this toolkit.