Parenting Strategies For Supporting And Guiding Your Child Through Adolescence

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams
Updated December 18, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Parenting can come with both joys and challenges in every phase of your child’s life. As they grow, you must constantly adjust to their ever-evolving needs in order to best support them at different stages. 

Many parents and guardians find it difficult to know how to relate to and support their children during adolescence in particular. Read on for a brief overview of some of the life changes your teenager may be facing, plus strategies you might consider for parenting them through this time.

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The Basics Of Adolescence

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adolescence is the life phase between ages 10 and 19 when a person matures from childhood into adulthood. During this time, an individual will typically experience a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive changes due to puberty, hormonal fluctuations, and brain development. They’re likely to begin thinking about who they are, what they value, what their sexual and gender identities are, what belief systems they adhere to, and what they want out of life. 

While the general developments of this adolescent age range are common across most young people, the way in which they experience them may vary widely—as may the specific timeline on which they occur. The strategies discussed below apply to adolescents in general, but it’s important to take your own child’s unique situation and individuality into account as well.

Strategies To Consider For Parenting An Adolescent

There are no perfect parenting strategies or tactics that are guaranteed to work with every teenager. Plus, since this time of life is characterized by near-constant change, something that works now may not be as effective a few months down the road. Patience, empathy, and adaptability are usually key to being the parent or guardian of a teenager. That said, the following are strategies that may help parents support and guide their children through this phase of life.

“We can raise awareness about the importance of parenting during adolescence, we can shift negative perceptions about parenting and adolescence, and we can provide tools for raising healthy teenagers. The power to do so is well within our grasp, and the effects will reverberate throughout our schools, our courts, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our lives,” says Raising Teens author A. Rae Simpson, Ph.D.

1. Start Preparing Early

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, it’s best to start early when it comes to laying the foundation for being a supportive parent of an adolescent. Establishing a strong, healthy parent-child relationship from a young age can lead to a smoother transition into the pre-teen and teen years. 

By providing a stable, safe home environment with an atmosphere of honesty, mutual trust, and respect, your child is more likely to feel comfortable, accepted, and supported as they grow up.

For example, beginning when they’re young, you might:

  • Encourage your child to talk to you and maintain that open communication throughout their lives
  • Teach them important life lessons like how to make decisions, take responsibility for themselves and their actions, set boundaries, and process disappointment or failure
  • Instill a basic sense of responsibility and work ethic through household chores and schoolwork.

The sooner you start introducing moral and social lessons like these to your children, the more equipped they’re likely to feel as they enter the often turbulent years of adolescence.

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2. Aim To Establish Open Communication

Because of adolescent brain development, the adolescent years can be challenging for both you and your child. There will likely be times when they need advice, support, or guidance, and establishing a dynamic of open communication can make them likelier to come to you in these cases

Recent research shows that what’s known as “sensitively attuned parenting” is one effective method of adapting to the challenges of raising teenagers. The practice focuses on the core tenets of positive engagement, supervision, guidance, and open communication in order to facilitate the continued development of an adolescent’s self-confidence and decision-making skills. 

3. Offer Opportunities For Age-Appropriate Responsibilities

As your child matures into adolescence, they will likely crave more independence and control over their own lives. Offering them opportunities to make age-appropriate decisions can grant a measure of this while helping them learn fundamental life skills. This strategy can allow them to build self-confidence and autonomy, learn about consequences, and gain life experience too. 

You might also task them with regular, age-appropriate responsibilities such as household chores so they can build a work ethic and learn how to take care of themselves.                     

4. Make Time Together A Priority

As your child grows up, consider making time spent together a priority. Even something as simple as eating meals together as often as possible can provide excellent opportunities for you to discuss the day together, reinforce family bonds, and encourage healthy eating habits. 

According to an article on the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health website, prioritizing combined mealtimes is also one of the best methods for staying in touch with your adolescent’s life so you can spot and address any problems early on. 

Other ways to spend intentional time with your teen could include:

  • Taking a few minutes after school to discuss their day. If possible, being there after school can provide the structure and supervision that may prevent your adolescent from getting into trouble, and can make them feel heard and supported.
  • Setting aside some time after dinner or before bed to check in. Listen to whatever they want to talk about and encourage the routine of this chat over time. It can give them a safe space to discuss anything that may be bothering them and can let them know that they’re a priority in your life. 
  • Organizing outings alone with them. Even something as simple as going for a walk or stopping for ice cream while grocery shopping can reinforce your bond with your child and make them feel valued. This time can be particularly important if the parents are especially busy and away from home a lot, or if the family has multiple children. 

5. Listen Without Judgment

When your teenager does talk to you about their life, it’s typically important to listen without judgment if you want them to feel safe continuing to come to you. It’s usually best to resist the urge to interrupt, mock, criticize, or offer advice. If you simply listen and show interest in what they’re saying, your teenager is more likely to continue approaching you when they need to talk. 

It may be helpful to work on honing your active listening ability, which is a useful life skill you can model for your child as well. The three components of this skill include nonverbal cues of engagement like nodding and eye contact, refraining from judgment, and asking clarification questions only if needed. According to a study in the International Journal of Listening, participants who were actively listened to showed greater conversational satisfaction and were more likely to view their conversation partner positively. 

6. Know The Warning Signs Of Mental Health Issues

According to Penn Medicine, there are some common warning signs parents can watch for that may indicate a problem beyond the typical adolescent mood swings or rough patches. Getting familiar with key symptoms of mental illnesses that can affect teenagers—such as depression and anxiety—can equip you to recognize them if they ever appear in your child. If you notice changes like these, consider reaching out to their physician or to a mental health professional.

In general, some common symptoms of mental health issues in teenagers may include:

  • Significant, sudden changes to sleeping patterns
  • Significant, sudden changes to eating patterns
  • Low energy or frequent fatigue
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities
  • Declining grades
  • Self-isolation from friends and family
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of anxiety around others
  • Challenges making and keeping friends
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, worry, or hopelessness

How Therapy Can Help You Or Your Child

Your child’s adolescent years can be challenging for both you and them. If you’ve noticed that your teenager may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s usually important to seek the help of a mental health professional since many disorders can be debilitating and even dangerous. 

However, even if you don’t suspect your child of having a mental illness, they can likely still benefit from having  the objective, nonjudgmental listening ear of a trained therapist with whom they can sort out and process their feelings. A trained therapist can offer the same to you as a parent if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of guiding your child through adolescence, which is common.

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If you prefer in-person therapy, you can search for a provider in your local area. If you’re interested in the availability and affordability of online therapy, you might consider going through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. It can match you with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat for help with the challenges you may be facing. If you’re looking for support for your teen, a virtual therapy platform like TeenCounseling can match your child (age 13–18) with a licensed therapist in the same way with your consent. 

Research suggests that both therapy formats can offer similar benefits for a variety of concerns and conditions. This means that, in most cases, you and/or your teen can choose the one that feels best for your situation.

Takeaway

Adolescence can be a difficult time because of the many changes young people typically go through during this phase of life. The strategies outlined in this article may help you, as the parent or guardian of a teenager, provide the support and guidance they may need as they move toward adulthood. Should you desire additional support in your parenting journey, consider reaching out to an online therapist. They can work with you on your terms to learn new strategies, improve communication skills, or guide your child through challenging times.

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