Teenagers are a tricky bunch. I’m convinced that a lot of parents have a lot of trouble with their teens because how wishy washy their kids can be. Parents watch the pendulum swing back and forth almost daily. One day they love you, the next day they hate you. One day they are confused and in need of help and the next day they are sure that they won’t ever need their parents again.

I have learned a lot over the years about teenagers, they’re thinking, behaviors and what motivates them and I believe that I have a good handle on what it is that teens really need in order to be successful and happy. I would even argue that the nature of adolescents is growing and transitioning. It’s a time of discovery and confusion. Teenagers may think they know what they want but my experience has taught me that they often do not know what is good for them. This is a quick guide to help you provide your teens with what they really need even when they don’t know that they need it!

1. Attention
Yes, I know, your teens may treat you like you are lame, boring and uncool but trust me, they need your attention. They need you to talk to them like people, they need you to listen to what they say and value it. If you’ve ever felt amazed about some trivial piece of drama that escaped the lips of your teenager, you’re not alone. Sometimes it seems like they are really worried about some really trivial things but they need you to listen to what they have to say without judging them.
Give them eye contact, ask them more questions about what you’re talking about without interjecting your opinion. It will mean more to them if they figure things out on their own. Take some time to give them attention and be people together.

2. Encouragement and praise
Your teens may or may not deserve to get encouragement or praise, but they need it. This is a nice extension for giving them attention. They don’t just need attention, your teens need positive attention. Positive attention equates to positive behaviors and positive choices. If you only interact with your teen to yell at them for something or reprimand them, they are going to learn that they must make bad choices and show bad behaviors so that you will pay attention to them.
Have you ever heard anyone say that negative attention is better than no attention? For children and teens this is often true. I once knew a very unhappy young man who intentionally flung his arm into a wall corner because he was intentionally trying to break it. He was so desperate for attention that he was willing to break his own arm to get it.
Try to cut down on negative attention and give your kids positive attention. Talk to them like people not criminals. When they do good things or make good choices, give them praise for it, even if it’s something small. If they do something wrong or make a wrong choice, use it as an opportunity to teach them something and encourage them to do the right thing in the future.

3. Responsibility
Your home is a school for children, a school where your kids are supposed to learn about life and how the world works. When they attend this school they need hands on experience because as we all probably know, experience is a far better teacher then just being told about something. This is a process of trial and error that helps us get a true handle on how the world works.
To many parents take their kids lives into their own hands, almost as though they have the “if you want something done right, you have do it yourself” attitude. Your kids are new, young people that need to learn and grow the same way that so many before them did. You can help them by giving them responsibilities that have positive and negative consequences in place. They need responsibility so that they can learn the ins and outs of what it’s like to be an adult.

4. Rules and limits
This can be a difficult concept describe so you’re mostly going to have to take my word for it. Teenagers test and often rebel against the rules that they have in their lives but I believe this is largely because they are testing the fence, they want to see if you are really going to enforce things with them. If you haven’t typically enforced rules and start doing so, you will be met with very high resistance. They want to see if you will really stick to your guns, the very act of resisting is based on the belief that you will not stick to your guns.
So why is this true? I believe there are a lot of reasons, but for now, it’s just important to understand that the difference between a happy, successful teenager and an unhappy, troublesome teenager can often be how much their life is structured. I have seen this hundreds of times. Unruly, rebellious, defiant teenagers who were selfish, mean and disrespectful made a complete turnaround when some rigid rules and limits were placed and enforced in their lives. I know this may feel contradictory and maybe even counter intuitive because of how much they seem to rebel against rules and limits but I promise this is true.

5. Quality time with their mom and/or dad
Your kids probably treat you like you are totally square and may even say that they are embarrassed to be seen with you. The fact remains, they really need to bond with you. When they have a good relationship with you, they are more likely to listen to you and get into less trouble.
Make a point to spend time together. Have family meals together, watch TV, play games, go to movies, go camping, it really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are doing it together and having fun. Make a point to just have fun together and form that bond together.

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