3 Quick Tips To Get Your Teenager Back On Your Side

Posted on 15/04/2011


If you gave birth to a baby – or otherwise found yourself with one – between 1992 and 1998, you now have a teenager.  And you’re luckier than you might think.

The fact alone that you’re reading this probably means that you really love your kid.  It also probably means that most days you wonder if your kid still really loves you.

Because most of the time they don’t act like it….

And this is where I swoop in with the quickest advice ever.  The quickest advice ever that is evidence-based, theoretically sound, and proven to actually work.

Teens are my business. I really really like them and because of this I want to make their lives easier. The sulky argumentative behaviour is all just a front.  Teens want us to like and love them in an obvious way (one which doesn’t involve kissing them in public…naturally).

I don’t profess to have ALL the answers.  What I do have is years of experience working with troubled and not-so-troubled teens, a the-right-side-of-sane obsession with teen psychology.  And, best of all, a sometimes sulky, often argumentative, but always amazing, teen of my own.  That’s her right there in the pic.  See how happy?:)

Here Are My 3 Quick Tips To Get Your (Sulky, Argumentative) Teenager Back On Your Side

Tip#1 is to always demonstrate that you love your teen – no matter what. This one might seem obvious.  Because of course you always love your teen!  That’s your child we’re talking about!  But hold on…

The non-obvious part is that teens often admit (to others) to feeling unloved because of the way their parents talk to them or because of how they feel they’re treated at home.

Most often teens will substitute the word “love” for “respect” – as in “my parents disrespect me”; or “they don’t respect my space/my friends/my privacy/my time”.  And just as we as adults will avoid talking to people who we sense don’t respect us, teens will avoid talking to us if they don’t always feel loved.

The idea isn’t to ignore your teen’s inappropriate behaviour or to sing his or her praises no matter what.  We (psychology professionals) are just saying that if you strike a balance between correcting unwanted behaviour and reasssuring your teen that you love them but disapprove of his or her behaviour at that specific point in time, you’ll raise a more confident, secure, and loving teen.  

In psychology, we call this showing unconditional positive regard.  We can thank Carl Rogers.  His ideas really work.

Tip#2 is to communicate with teens on their level.  You wouldn’t chat with your best friend using baby talk (“I wuv woo, Sawah, goo goo gaga”).  And you wouldn’t help your toddler choose an outfit by whipping up a PowerPoint of Vogue Summer Edition and Fashion Police do’s and dont’s….

But most of us still communicate with our teens in a way that we already know doesn’t work.

We know this the moment we see their eyes glazing over…that vacant “whatever” stare, the stroppy “you finished yet?”

What we perhaps don’t realize is that their rejection of our ‘message’ is all our own fault.  We’re making the mistake over and over again of using language they simply can’t relate to.

We also mistakenly try to ‘reason’ with our teens – as if they were us and we were them.  Which obviously isn’t true, and our teens know it and don’t buy it.

Instead, try thinking about “what’s in it for your teen” to adopt your point of view.  And then figure out how best to communicate that.  In doing so, try to avoid:

1.  ‘Blaming’ or ‘accusing’ your teen.  Instead of “you always” “you never”, try “when you do this, it seems as though…”  It leaves the door open for dialogue.

2.  Making non-negotiable decisions.  It makes your teen feel powerless and they’ll stop trying to please you.  Instead of “your grades were unacceptable, you’re grounded this semester!”, try “I know you are intelligent and capable of improving your grades. You’ll be able to hang out with your friends once you show you can keep your grades up.”  

3.  Lecturing your teen.  Unless you want your teen to tune out and miss your point altogether, you need to keep it brief and direct.  Teens have a short attention span…and little patience for adults going on and on (“about nothing”).

Tip#3 is to be a pillar of consistency. Like anyone else, teens enjoy feeling safe.  And being able to predict the world around them gives them that needed sense of security.  Your role as a parent is to help your teen trust you so that they can successfully predict your responses.

Consider this:  You work hard for a living.  You always meet your deadlines and produce excellent work.  Sometimes your boss says “this is great!” Other times, she says “what kind of sloppy work is this?”.


Furthermore, at the end of each month you get your paycheck.  Some months you make $2,000, other months $500, and other months $9,000.  For producing the exact same work each month.  Makes it hard to plan, right?  And impossible to predict.

The example may be a little extreme, but the result is the same, no matter what.  And that is that you’ll soon start to feel confused, insecure, resentful.  You’ll probably also stop trying as hard to please your boss, since the outcome is unpredictable regardless.

Your teen has enough of a very unpredictable world to try to navigate.  Don’t make it any harder for him or her.  Reward good behaviour and positive outcomes.  Correct inappropriate behaviour.  Don’t blur the lines.                                  

 And that’s about it.  For now.  

I’ll be back with more posts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments on all things teen.  What are your challenges, triumphs, funny stories about you and the teens in your life?

Also, if you found the post useful – fantastic!  Share the info by clicking the share button below to choose who you share it with.              

Back soon.

Debbie A. Nelson