Eight Tips for Parents of Teenagers

Raising teenagers can be one of life’s great journeys.  However, like with many adventures you can expect unexpected twists and turns, ups and downs, all the while hoping that your teen successfully negotiates the sometimes-chaotic terrain.

This blog provides eight tips for parents of teenagers that I learned from my hypnosis and counseling work with teens over the past 25 years.   My book, “Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center” contains many more tips that parents will find useful in helping raise resilient, confident, and self-reliant children.

Believe in your teenager’s abilities – Once I began to facilitate hypnosis and interactions with the subconscious, I learned that teenagers have access to much greater knowledge and wisdom within themselves than their behavior would indicate.  Teenagers often fail to consider what they know as they choose to undertake inadvisable actions because their brains are not fully functional.  The frontal lobe of the brain, in which decisions are usually made, is not developed fully until the age of 25.  Thus, a teenager is handicapped when they make decisions.  To make up for that, teens can be taught to pause and think carefully to give themselves a better opportunity to access their own wisdom.

As parents you can help your teenagers by assuming that they know many of the answers to their life issues and encourage them to quiet their minds so that they can access them.  When parents believe in their children, the children learn to believe in themselves. 

Sometimes, concerned parents do a lot for their teenagers to be helpful, e.g., arrange for tutoring help, pushing them to do their homework, and encouraging them to socialize.  This can be counterproductive because their teens can come to believe that they cannot help themselves.  Furthermore, when parents help prevent their teens from making mistakes the teens do not learn how to cope with lack of success, which is an important life skill.   

When children are young, parents often act in the role of enforcers of rules and behavior.  For teenagers, parents can be most helpful when they transition from the enforcer role to that of supporters.  They can offer to help but should only take action when requested by their teenagers.

Be positive – A positive attitude is one of the keys for doing well in life, including raising teens.  For example, rather than saying, “You really messed up this time,” it is better to tell your teen, “Both of us know you could do better.”  The reason this is important is that people internalize what they are told.  When you suggest that your children have done poorly, the children may accept this suggestion and conclude that they are incapable of doing better, especially if they feel they had made an effort to do well.  On the other hand, when you suggest they can do better, both you and your children can start asking yourselves how to make this happen.

A simple example of the power of a positive attitude can be checked out whenever it is difficult to find parking in a crowded location.  If you believe that you are going to find a parking spot, then you are much more apt to be successful because you will become more patient and look for parking in places that appear to be full.  Thus, you increase your odds of finding a parking spot.  Conversely, if you feel like you are not going to be able to find a spot easily this can translate into a decision to give up quickly, and park far away.  My family knows that we virtually always find convenient parking when I announce, “I am going to find parking!”

Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer knew all about the power of a positive attitude one hundred years ago.  He said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.”

Have positive intention – Positive intention is another key to doing well in life.  By role modeling positive intention to your teen, he or she will learn about its power.

When children are brought to my Center to learn about how hypnosis might help them, I always inquire about whether they are interested in helping themselves.  Without their intention to improve, change is unlikely to occur.  When I first started employing hypnosis, I thought that going through the hypnosis ritual was sufficient to promote improvement.  After using hypnosis for 2 years, I looked back at my notes and found that 85% of the children with whom I worked had improved.  Most of the remaining 15% had expressed ambivalence about whether they wanted to do hypnosis.  From this I learned to refrain from offering hypnosis to children who do not intend to help themselves.

I remember a girl who came to see me because she had fainted frequently at school.  No medical cause had been identified.  I explained how hypnosis could help her, but she was uninterested in learning how to use it.  I told her that she could return when she decided she wanted help.  She came back three days later.  “Why are you back already?” I asked.  “I fainted again, and I thought about what you said,” she explained.  I taught her how to use hypnosis and the fainting no longer recurred.  I am convinced that if I had told her to do hypnosis on the first day, we met it would not have worked.  Then, she would have concluded that hypnosis would not be helpful and missed out on the opportunity to heal.

When your children need to improve, it can be very helpful to talk with them about their intentions.  If they do not have an intention to improve, your discussion should center non-judgmentally on why they might want to reconsider.  When they do state a desire to improve, the discussion can move on to brainstorming regarding how an improvement might be achieved.

Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist monk and well-known author, said “Be mindful of intention.  Intention is the seed that creates our future.”

Be consistent – Consistency is an essential ingredient for a peaceful co-existence with your children.  For example, when parents have different expectations from their children, discord often ensues as the children will gravitate towards the parent who tends to be more lenient.  This can lead to disagreements between the parents, which then can be reflected through misbehavior in the children.

Employment of tough love is another example of being consistent.  I worked with a 12-year-old who could only fall asleep in the presence of his mother.  This situation began when the boy was much younger and was afraid to be left alone at night.  His mother felt badly for him and stayed with him until he fell asleep in to ease his fears.  Unfortunately, even when the boy awoke in the middle of the night on occasion, he needed to get his mother to help him fall back asleep since he didn’t know how to do so on his own.  Both the boy and his mother wanted to change this dysfunctional pattern.  I explained that after the mother tucked the boy in at night, her job was to leave his bedroom and not return even if he protested.  I offered to teach the boy how to use hypnosis to help himself fall asleep, but he said he did not need to learn this technique and assured me that he could fall asleep on his own.  I accepted his decision and reminded him that his mother would no longer stay with him at bedtime.

Three days later his mother emailed me to tell me that he had cried for her every night, but she did not return to his bedroom.  She said it was very hard for her to see him suffer.  I replied that she needs to give him the opportunity to figure things out for himself.  Three weeks later, at his follow-up appointment, the mother informed me that the boy had continued to cry himself to sleep every night.  Once again, I offered to teach him hypnosis, and this time he agreed.  The next night he fell asleep on his own without difficulty.  The problem was solved.  The take home lesson in this situation is that without his mother’s consistent refusal to return to his bedroom he would not have overcome the problem at that time.

Soothe yourself – Some parents focus all their efforts on taking care of their children, their jobs, and their homes, while sparing no time to take care of themselves.  While the performance of all of these important responsibilities can be lauded, failing to take care of your own needs can backfire.  For example, if you neglect your physical health, you can become more prone to illness that will affect your ability to take care of your children.  This is also true of your mental health.

An analogous situation can occur with teenagers who are perfectionists.  Such children want to achieve perfection in every activity and are driven by this desire.  These children often achieve very high grades and successes in extra-curricular activities.  However, perfectionistic children also often are upset with themselves because it is impossible to be perfect at many things.  Further, they are limited in the range of activities they can undertake successfully because perfection often requires intense and prolonged involvement in whatever activities they choose.  When I meet a child, who aims for perfection we agree that the goal is for them to be the best they can be.  I suggest that in order to achieve that goal, the child might think about accepting “good enough” from some activities so that he or she can become happier and more productive overall.  Further, I remind the child that taking a recreational break from intense activities can help refresh their thinking and help them do even better.

Parents can take care of themselves by taking some time to be alone, read a book, listen to music, go on a hike, or even take a long bath.

Actor Misha Collins has observed, “Be kind to yourself so that you can be happy enough to be kind to the world.”

Be an active listener – I have seen too many families in which lack of communication with a teenager has led to a lot of anger and heartache.  On infrequent occasions such difficulties even lead to estrangement.  I suspect that oftentimes family disruption because of poor communication begins with small incidents that can lead to larger problems and even family rifts.

Once I worked with a very nice 16-year-old in treatment of his anxiety. He came in one day and said he was angry at his mother for lying about him.  I asked what had happened.  He said that his mother told his grandmother that he had been sloppy about packing for the trip to his grandmother, and as a result did not have his required gear even though she had told him to pack it.  My patient said that his mother was lying because she never told him how to pack.  He concluded that she was lying to cover up for her disorganization in planning for the trip.  I asked if he was going to tell his mother that he is angry with her.  He said he was not.  Further, he said he thought his mother also had lied about him another time recently. 

I responded that I knew his mother well, and I didn’t think she would lie one purpose.  He agreed to my suggestion that we would ask her about it.  His mother said, “I did tell you what to pack.  I remember our dinner conversation about it when your girlfriend was there, and I told you both.”  My patient’s face reddened slightly.  “Oh yeah,” he said.  “I remember that now.  Sorry.”  I asked myself what would have happened if the situation had not been resolved so easily.  Could my patient’s distrust of his mother grow over time as he saw more “evidence” of her disrespecting him?

I reminded this patient and his mother that our memories are imperfect.  Further, our subconscious mind often omits details from our memory that are uncomfortable to recall or take too much mind power to remember.  When we attempt to recall a memory, the subconscious mind then fills in the details with images that are plausible but did not occur.  These are some of the reasons that people can form different memories of the same event.  Therefore, I counsel families to avoid arguments about what actually happened in particular situations or discussions, but rather focus on how to move forward constructively.

Ernest Hemingway said, “I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.  Most people don’t listen.” I think this is particularly true within families.  Neither parents nor teenagers listen well to each other, in part because all parties feel they know best what to say or do.  I encourage families to use active listening as a way of facilitating communication.  With this method when the first-person finishes speaking, the second person needs to restate what the first person said.  The first person then either affirms that he or she was heard correctly or gets to explain their point of view again.  Active listening helps ensure that each person feels heard.

Practice gratitude – When we remember to be grateful for what we have, we can feel happier.  Instead of focusing on what is wrong in life or with your family member’s behavior, consider all the wonderful gifts with which you are (hopefully) blessed that you may take for granted, such as a home, clothing, and food.  Be grateful that your teenager’s knowledge and experience can help solve difficulties, rather than pointing out their deficiencies.  Challenges can appear to be much easier to solve when you are in a good mood as a result of being grateful.

When I have worked with children who suffer from difficult and life-threatening illnesses, I have often asked the following question: “Imagine how it would be if I could wave a magic wand and make your illness disappear.  But, in exchange for your good health you would have to give up all that you have gained from your illness, such as the extra love you have received from your family and friends, or the wisdom you have acquired from having to cope with your challenges.  Would you make the trade?”  Almost invariably, children say they would not make the trade because they can appreciate and are grateful for the benefits of their poor health.  I have observed that such a realization is spiritually healing.

Believe in something big – Keeping things in perspective helps us cope better with life challenges, including in dealing with each other.  If you practice a religion, you can imagine how God would tell you to handle a problem.  Absent a religion, you can develop a spiritual perspective by travelling to see some majestic places in nature or incredible architecture, and/or listening to inspiring music.  Perspective can also be gained quickly when people learn to interact with their subconscious and learn to appreciate the wisdom and knowledge that they have access inside of themselves.

Another way of keeping perspective is to ask yourself if a problem will matter a month or year from now.  If not, it may be unnecessary to work to resolve it.  In dealing with teenagers, I remind parents to “Pick your battles.”

I often give my patients a quote to ponder from author Christian Larson, which embodies the power of belief in something big: “Believe in yourself and all that you are.  Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.”

Both parents and teenagers benefit from using the eight tips described in this blog.  When many family members approach life with similar strategies they can reinforce each other’s success.  For example, I have seen many families transformed by consistent use of positive talk and a grateful attitude.