In an era of increased drug use, teenage pregnancy and youth suicide, it's little wonder that most parents are very concerned about their teens. Very often they ask: "How can I protect my teens from these things?" An important key is to develop close, caring relationships with teenagers.
Teenagers who have close relationships with their parents are less likely to use drugs, abuse alcohol or become pregnant out of wedlock. These teens are more likely to adopt the beliefs and values of their parents. Teens who are close to their parents resist peer pressure better and are less likely to commit crimes.
How do we develop close relationships with our teens? Here are some ideas from experts in adolescent development.
Be honest. Adolescents are developing their thinking abilities. They want to know the reasons for everything, and they expect consistency from their parents. They are critical of the parent who is dishonest or two-faced.
Be open. Adolescents want to be able to talk with their parents, but they also need their privacy and independence. The adult-adolescent conversation needs to be two-sided, with both people sharing their thoughts and feelings. Adolescents want to know if, as adults, we are struggling over the same concerns they are. If we are doing most of the talking, we're talking too much.
When it is your turn to speak, watch your language. Sometimes we talk to teens in ways that say "you would be OK if . . ." or "we will love you more if . . ."(you go to church, clean your room, get good grades, etc.).
We order, warn, nag, threaten and preach to our teens to try to teach them to be more responsible and more sensible. However, this can backfire and actually encourage our teens to be less responsible and less sensible. Teens are more likely to be responsible and follow our wishes if they feel accepted. Speaking politely conveys acceptance. For example, we can say, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but . . ." or "I realize you may not want to, but it would help me so much if . . ."
Also, catching teens doing the things we want and praising them for it fosters feelings of acceptance. For example, instead of praising them for "a nice report card", say "You've done very well in art and science. You must really like those subjects."
Be calm. Adolescents like to try out their arguing skills. If you get angry and yell or scream, this is an ideal time for them to practice. Avoid getting into power struggles and arguments with your adolescent. If you talk calmly, your child can see you as in control of the situation.
Set clear and consistent limits. Younger children abide by the rules set down by the parents just because they are rules. Adolescents are more likely to question the importance of the rule and why there has to be one at all. You should respect your child's need to have the rule explained. Take time to explain why this rule is set and allow time for negotiation of certain rules such as curfew. However, don't hesitate to say when something is not open to negotiation, such as riding in a car with kids who have been drinking or taking drugs.
Remember that growing up means becoming independent. In situations where your child's well-being is not in danger, you may need to accept that your child makes choices you wouldn't have made. Or that your child has behaved in ways that you don't approve. That's independence. Your child may temporarily dress weird or follow a strange hairstyle trend. Your teen is showing individualism and independence from you. Try to overlook some of the outside appearances and concentrate on the inner strengths of your teenager. When teens plan a party, leave the planning to them and don't interfere unless asked or unless the plans become unacceptable to you.
Be supportive. Independence does not mean isolation. It means establishing a different kind of relationship with parents, not terminating it. Almost all adolescents say their parents are the most important people in their lives. Adolescence is a time when you are needed--when teens are trying to figure out who they really are.
No matter how frustrated you may feel at times, your teen needs you as a base of support, as much now as during the early years of life.
For Further Reading…
Steinberg, L. D., & Levine, A. (1997). You and your adolescent: A parent's guide for ages 10-20.New York: HarperInformation.
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
President Russell M. Nelson told the youth of today: “Our Heavenly Father has reserved many of His most noble spirits—His finest team—for this final phase. Those noble spirits—those finest players, those heroes—are you!”1
The youth of today are valiant, noble, and reserved to be on earth at this special time. As parents keep in mind the great potential of their teens, they can better help them fulfill their great work on earth, especially as they consistently strive to strengthen their relationship with them. Through their experiences together, parents can look for their teens’ strengths and recognize their teen’s individual divine identity and mission.
The time to bond, connect, and build a strong relationship with a child starts when they are young. Parents will not magically experience a strong relationship when their child becomes a teen. Instead the bond between parents and their teens benefit when a close relationship has been many years in the making. However, it is never too late for parents to start to build a strong relationship with their child, no matter their child’s age. The time and energy parents put into strengthening the relationship with their teen through consistent and persistent efforts is worth the effort. It can be nurtured in several ways.
Take Time to Show Love
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the nearest thing to the love that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother have for their children is the love that parents have for their children. “Parents’ love increases as [their children] grow, and their love for [them] will never cease.”2
Love is at the foundation of a good parent-teen relationship. As teens grow older, they may struggle to recognize the love that their parents have for them. To help teens feel close, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that “parents should act to preserve time for … precious [family] togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family”.3
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. … We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together.”4 Parents should look for daily chances to spend time with family. The Church encourages family activities to help families spend time together. Family connections may be strengthened during these special family times.
In addition to spending time as a whole family, parents should set aside special one-on-one time with their teen. One-on-one times may be planned parent-teen dates or impromptu parent-teen alone time. For example, parents can invite a teen on a special ice cream run. They can help with a difficult homework assignment or listen intently to a teen’s dreams or concerns. In these and other ways, parents show their love and their deep investment in their relationship. As teens see their parents taking time to care for and understand them, they see their parents’ love in action.
Embrace Teaching Moments
As they grow, teens develop greater autonomy and sense of personal responsibility. Parents may struggle watching their teens make independent choices that may be accompanied by negative natural consequences. A parent’s role in teaching was emphasized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, when he taught the principle that we “teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”5 Teens are granted the gift of agency and will make their own decisions but will be better equipped to face the challenges of today and keep God’s commandments as they “learn wisdom in [their] youth” (Alma 37:35). Parents can look for every opportunity to “bring up [their] children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40).
In this responsibility, they should not be overbearing and controlling but instead strive to create healthy rules and boundaries. It is possible for parents to maintain appropriate boundaries and space with their teens while maintaining high amounts of love and clear expectations.
Believe in the Promise
Although parents may find that connecting with their teens is sometimes difficult, they can maintain a hope and belief in the promise that if they “go and do … [the Lord] shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). Parents are not alone. They can seek and receive divine inspiration and direction as they strengthen their relationship with their teens.
Written by Megan Gale, edited by professors Julie H. Haupt and Stephen F. Duncan, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. February 13, 2020.
1. Nelson, R. M. (2018). Hope of Israel.
2. Smith, J. F. (1971). Message from the first presidency. Ensign.
3. Oaks, D. H. (2007). Good, better, best. Ensign.
4. Uchtdorf, D. F. (2010). Of things that matter most. Ensign.
5. Smith, J. (1851). Millennial Star, 339.