Bringing up a teenager is just as demanding as parenting a younger child

a teenage girl at school

Bringing up a teenager is just as demanding as parenting a younger child. The physical and emotional changes that adolescence brings, along with the tricky social situations that teenagers can find themselves in, mean it can be difficult to know how best to support your child. Teenagers often long for independence and your role as a parent will change as your child grows into a teenager.

Here are some simple and practical tips, based on advice from The Children’s Society’s experienced family workers, to help you set boundaries in a positive and loving way, tackle difficult conversations, boost your child’s confidence, and build open communication with them so that, crucially, they know they can come to you with their problems.

Building a strong relationship

  • Teenagers may be growing towards independence, but spending time with you is still really important to them. 
  • Finding the right time to talk is more important than the specific questions you ask. For example, if they just want to relax and play computer games after a bad day a school, give them some time to do that.
  • Listen to your child and respect any problems they are going through. Even if it seems insignificant to you, understanding when something feels like a big deal to them is crucial.
  • Respect their space if they don’t want to talk, and remember that some behaviour - such as wanting privacy, self-expression and taking some risks - is normal for teenagers.
  • Keep showing your child that you’re interested in them and their life, even if it feels like you’re not getting much back. You might not get the response you want at the time, but they’ll see that you care and that you are there for them if they are worried or need to talk.
  • Choose something simple – like eating meals together – and make sure that’s one thing you do every day.

Setting boundaries

  • Set boundaries that are reasonable, but not suffocating. Discuss with your child what they think is reasonable.
  • Keep your word and do what you say you are going to do. There should be consequences if rules are broken, but make sure those consequences are realistic and proportionate.
  • Explain to them that you are setting these rules because you care. Your child may not like it, but by setting boundaries and sticking to them you are showing them that you are looking out for them.

Difficult conversations

  • It’s hard to have a rational conversation if you feel uncomfortable talking about the subject. If you’re worried about talking to your child about issues like sex or drugs, make sure you prepare for the conversation. Look for information from reliable sources – don’t rely on hearsay or let your fears take over.
  • Let your child know that you’re concerned about them, and why. Explain that you’re thinking about their well-being and safety, so that they can see you’re putting them first.
  • Try to understand their point of view and don’t be judgemental. We were all teenagers once – try to remember how you felt at their age.
  • Take time to listen and don’t speak over them. If it’s difficult, use a stop watch – you can each talk for three minutes, uninterrupted.
  • Be assertive, but not confrontational. Don’t shout. If things escalate, walk away and let the situation cool off.

Confidence and self-esteem

  • It’s easy to focus your attention on the things you don’t like, especially if you’re worried about your child’s behaviour. Make sure you give just as much attention to the things your child has done well.
  • Aim to build their confidence and self-esteem by focussing on the positives. Compliment them and give praise where it’s due.
  • Young people need to feel that someone is proud of them for who they are, not what they are. Make sure they know it’s not all about their grades at school. Tell them how great you think it is that they are such a good friend, or that they are so kind to their Nan, for example.
  • Above all, show them affection and tell them you love them. If you find it hard to say it out loud, write it down.

General information and advice

Parentline Plus: 0808 800 2222. Help and information for parents, carers and families.

Mumsnet: For a wide range of advice on parenting teenagers

NHS Livewell: Advice on family health

When to seek help

If a child is in immediate danger, contact the police by dialling 999. You don’t need to wait 24 hours if a child goes missing.

If you are concerned that your child may be at risk – for example because they are using drugs or alcohol, getting into trouble with the police, or in an inappropriate or exploitative relationship, there are places you can go for help.