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7 secrets to raising awesome, functional teenagers.

One mom gets real about parenting teens.

7 secrets to raising awesome, functional teenagers.

This article originally appeared on 08.20.19


I occasionally get asked by mothers of young children what the secret is to raising great teenagers.

My initial response is that I have absolutely no clue. My kids are who they are IN SPITE of having me as a mother. (The young moms don't find that answer too helpful.)

Really, the first thing that I will tell you is to disbelieve the myth that teenagers are sullen, angry creatures who slam doors and hate their parents. Some do that, but the overwhelming majority do not. Every one of my kids' friends are just as happy and fun as my kids are, so I know it's not just us.


Teenagers are incredible. They are funny, smart, eager to please, and up for just about anything as long as food is involved. They have the most generous hearts and want desperately to be loved and validated. They are quirky and messy and have the best sense of humor.

My beautiful teens. All photos used here are mine, used with permission.

So, here is my list of "rules" for raising teens. These are the secrets we have found to be successful.

1. Love them fiercely.

Love everything about them, even the annoying stuff. Love them for their actions AND their intentions. Let them know in word and deed how much you adore them. Daily. Love their wrinkled shirts and Axe-body-spray-covered selves. Love their bad handwriting and pimpled cheeks. Love their scattered brains and long limbs. All these seemingly insignificant details are an amazing, magical process at work. It's like being witness to the miracle of a diamond mid-formation. All this imperfection is going to one day yield a responsible, serious adult. A loving husband and father. Or a wonderful wife and mother. It's a privilege to be witness to such glorious growth.

See your teenagers as a privilege, don't see them as a burden. They're more perceptive than you can imagine. How you feel about them will be no secret. So just love 'em.

2. Listen and pay attention.

When they walk in the door after school, you have a precious few minutes when they will divulge the secrets of their day with you. Be excited to see them. Put down the cell phone. Don't waste this time making dinner or taking a phone call. Look them in the eye and hear what they are saying. Make their victories your victories. Be empathetic. It is really hard to navigate high school and middle school. Don't offer advice at this time unless they ask for it. Don't lecture. Just listen. It makes them feel important and valued. We all need to feel that way.

3. Say yes more than you say no.

The world is forever going to tell them no. For the rest of their lives, they will be swimming in a stormy sea with wave after wave of "you're not good enough" and "you can't do this" crashing down on their heads. If nothing else, I want to be the opposite voice in their lives for as long as I can. I want to instill in them the belief that they are not limited and they can do anything if they're willing to work hard enough for it. I want to be the YES, YOU CAN in their lives. I want them to leave my house every day feeling invincible.

4. Say no often.

You need to say no to experiences and situations that will set your child up for harm or unhappiness. Don't let them go to the parties where they will be forced to make a choice about alcohol at age 16 in front of their peers . Don't let them stay out until three in the morning with a member of the opposite sex. Be the parent. Set up rules for their safety, both physical and moral. You would think this rule goes without saying, but we have known a shockingly large number of parents who don't.

5. Feed them. A lot.

And not only them, but their friends too. These bodies are growing and developing at an astonishing rate and need fuel to do so — most of which they prefer to be loaded with processed sugar and hydrogenated-something-or-others. When their friends know your pantry is stocked to the gills with treats, they will beg your kid to hang out at your place. This allows you to not only meet and know their friends, but to keep an eye on your teen as well.

6. Don't sweat the small stuff.

When living with teenagers, it can be so easy to see the backpack dropped in the middle of the living room as laziness. Or the bedroom scattered with dirty clothes as irresponsible. Instead, and before you open your mouth to yell at them, put yourself in their shoes. Find out about their day first. Maybe they are feeling beaten down, and they just need to unwind for a minute and tell you about it. Ignore the mess for a bit and put your arms around that big, sweaty kid and give him a hug. Talk to him about his world. Find out what he did, wants to do, and dreams of doing. THEN, and only then, ask him to pick it up and put it away.

That being said, do I completely ignore the state of my boys' bedrooms all the time? No, I do not. But I pick my battles, and I pick the appropriate time to fight them. Once every seven to 10 days or so, I tell them their bedrooms need to be picked up. Which they do happily because it's not the running loop of a nagging mom. They know when I ask, it needs to be done.

7. Stand back and watch the magic happen.

If you let them, these glorious creatures will open their hearts and love you more fiercely than you could possibly imagine. They are brilliant, capable, strong spirits who bring with them a flurry of happiness. They are hilarious and clever. They are thoughtful and sensitive. They want us to adore them. They need us to adore them. They love deeply and are keenly in touch with the feelings of others.

They are just about the greatest gift God gave to parents.




Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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