Home ContentGetting ready for the Teen Years

Getting ready for the Teen Years

Published : August 22, 2015

Kids don’t come with a manual and sometimes parents need a little coaching of their own, particularly as children move into and through the teenage years. Parent Teen coach, Debbie Bushnell, shares some of her parent coaching ideas.

by: Debbie Bushnell


Moody, distant, testing the boundaries, withdrawn… Is your lovable little girl suddenly 10 going on 21, or does your usually chatty 13-year-old son now talk in grunts, one-syllable words or often retreat to his bedroom?  What do you do when your former sweet 14-year-old says, "You can’t make me!  It’s my life?”  What is going on here and how can a parent respond positively to these types of challenges as their child moves into and through the teenage years?

When a child begins to demonstrate the many new behaviours that come with adolescence, the role that parents once had down pat, may no longer work.  Until this time many parents play a significant ‘managerial’ role administrating a child’s schedule, activities and supervising their every need, want and desire.  Then, all of a sudden and sometimes with no warning at all, the young adolescent begins to expand his or her own decision making power, excerpts more independence and fires the parent from the role of manager.  Then what? 


Are you ready take on a new job description?

Many parents do this naturally and proactively seek support to unleash the control they once had which no longer serves them.  They acknowledge a need of a different approach to embrace that is more rewarding for both adolescent and parent.  Colleague and Perth Psychologist, Hasser Graham will often say to parents that they should not underestimate the influence they have to positively impact their young teenager.


On the other side, kids too value the continued involvement of their parents.  In the 2007 National Survey of Young Australians published by Mission Australia, 76 per cent (aged 11 – 19) valued family relationships the most and more than 70 per cent of respondents indicated parents were important sources of support.  


Kids want parents around during this time, yet they want more control.  They need structure and boundaries yet they want to excerpt greater independence.  Is there a secret recipe?

Parents know that adolescence can be a complex time, that no one teenager comes with his or her manual, and that indeed there is no secret recipe to parenting during this stage.  But there is overwhelming evidence that mutual ground can be reached as many parents and teenagers before have survived these years with strong bonds, loving relationships and productive futures.


Kids want to feel that they are in control of their lives; by allowing them to sit in the pilot’s seat the parent can remain involved firmly alongside.

Rather than state a certainty that an exact and perfect approach exists, I use the analogy of co-pilot to describe and guide a new approach.  If we think of a child’s movement through adolescence as an active training period on route to adulthood; along the way they will remain on task, stray off target or may even lose site of their destination altogether.  Like the skills of a co-pilot, a parent can adopt similar skills of guidance, support, and listening.  Plus the astuteness and confidence to take charge when the need arises.


Obtaining the skills to relate to a teenager can be learnt by any parent.  Whether you are getting ready for the teen years or you are a parent with teenage children, here are some ideas you can try to positively relate to your child:



Know what’s going on for them right now

In the book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, habit 5 is Seek First to Understand which teaches the value of interacting 'with understanding' another’s point of view.


The same can be applied to parents relating to teenagers, and during a typical first coaching session I ask parents to list some of the issues their child/teen might be facing that could impact their behaviour or wellbeing.  All sorts of common themes may arise, such as:

  • social pressures: fitting in, parties, influence of peer groups
  • physical changes: sensitive to their appearance, body image
  • school issues: grades, subjects, career, exams, teachers
  • self esteem and identity: How do I feel about myself?  Am I good enough?  Where do I fit in?
  • family dynamics: sibling rivalry, parental break-up, parental conflicts
  • friendships: making friends, not having friends, bullying
  • boyfriend/girlfriend issues: handling emotions, the choices they make
  • mental health: anxiety, depression, eating disorders
  • technology: over use, dependency, bullying

A parent will often sit back and say, "Her life must be very challenging right now."  Through developing awareness of the many possible struggles facing kids today, they consider their role as it relates to their child’s challenges.  Parents realise that their actions or behaviour ‘makes total sense’, is normal and indeed to be expected.


Ask the question, "What could be currently going on in my child’s life right now that might be influencing his/her behaviour, attitude or wellbeing?"
Reflect on what he/she might need from you right now.


Build their self-esteem and identity

Affirmations are essential to a young person’s self esteem and self-respect.  They build on the character of the individual child, help shape their identity and provide the certainty of being loved and appreciated.


There are many new ways parents can use to affirm teenagers.  Ideas that heavily rely on a parent looking beyond behaviour and deep within to acknowledge the many qualities and talents kids possess.  This involves ‘telling’ kids how much you respect or admire them and how much you appreciate the little things they do. 

Make a list of qualities unique to each child (ie. loving, perseverance, polite, friendly, organised, reliable, resilient, brave etc).  Use either the word ‘respect’ or ‘admire’ in the same sentence as one quality to highlight how much you or others value that quality.  For example if your son achieves a good test result tell him how much you admire his perseverance or effort rather than saying well done or I’m proud of you.
Acknowledge the small contributions he/she makes to your household and to your life in general by saying how much you appreciate the things he/she does.  For example, “I really appreciated the way you got on with your homework tonight, it helped me a lot.”

  • Find other ways to affirm with variety:
  • I know that when you give me your word, I can count on it.
  • You always seem to know how to fix things.
  • Your smile brightens my day.
  • I really enjoy your company.
  • I’m very grateful that you are my son/daughter.


Listen With Your Lips Shut

Adolescence is about the reformation of identity, the development of independent thinking and their own take on life.  Sometimes the take is not what a parent wants to hear and kids will clearly articulate to a parent, “You never listen to me.”  The challenge for the loving parent is to take a step back and allow a teenager’s opinion to be heard without judgement or advice but rather with the pure skill of true listening.


Point of view listening allows you to put yourself into your child’s shoes and listen as if you are the one speaking.  In other words listening in order to understand their point of view rather than your own.  The key to better listening during this time is empathy.


The next time you have a conversation with your child practice listening and then responding from his /her point of view. 
Listen with your lips shut and with your heart facing his/her direction.  Stop and listen attentively, with body and eye contact.

Respond with empathy by choosing words that validate their feelings, “You seem angry right now, would you like to talk about it?”
Timing for the young person can make or break a conversation.  Concede and look for the right time.
Use coaching language and open ended questions:

  • Tell me more
  • Is there anything else?
  • This is hard for me to hear but very important, please continue.
  • On a scale of 1 – 10 how was your day?

If you feel the urge to lecture, stop and take a deep breath.
Don’t take all of their thoughts personally.


Build Their Resilience With Your Support

Parents only want the best for kids and may find it challenging to offer pre-teens or teens support rather than doing the job for them.  Support is about encouraging skills in kids to work through issues or situations themselves and it’s about building resilience in kids and a solid belief that ‘they can do it!’


Don’t’ always tell them what to do.  Ask them what they think they need to do.  For example, “How are you going to manage that situation?”, “What support do you need?” or “What choices do have?”  Leave it up to them to make the final decision.
When they do make mistakes, model that there is always something to learn from every situation and that a problem is an opportunity for growth.
Ask empowering questions such as, “what’s good about the situation?” or “It’s hard for you, I know, but what are you willing to do to make it better?”

Affirm that you believe in their ability to find the resources or solutions he/she needs.
Don’t assume your opinion will be heard.  It’s a good idea to ask if he/she would like your advice.  A solution will have a better chance of being followed through when the teenager has thought up the idea.
Communicate often that you will always be there to support them no matter what.


Who said surviving the teenage years was not possible?

No one would argue that bringing up young children is an easy task or that adolescence is a trouble-free period of development for teenagers or parents.  Yes, it can be hard at times and many parents experience uncertainty, worry and totally concern particularly when kids stray off the flight path.


Be proactive to seek information and ideas as your children move into the teen years; read books, talk to other parents, seek advice from school and above all don’t feel silly or inadequate to get expert advice.


About the author:

Debbie Bushell is a Parent Teen Coach and Presenter.  She has developed a model of parenting teenagers or working with young people based on a ‘coaching’ framework and offers individual coaching and a variety of workshop topics for parents, schools and organisations.  To contact Debbie, parentteen@bigpond .com or 0403 246 585.

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