10 Tips for Parenting Teens (While Staying Sane & Happy Too)

Feb 21, 2024

Parenting Teens

I once heard someone say that parenting teenagers is like ‘trying to nail jelly to a tree.’

I think we’d all agree with that.

The teen years can be some of the most challenging of their life — AND ours!

When we have kids (and to some extent a partner) much of our happiness depends on their behavior.

That can makes things VERY tricky, especially when you feel you’re losing control of them and whatever you say or do seems to make little, if any, difference. . .

It’s fine to say that we shouldn’t let anyone control our happiness, but in the real world where day to life can often be chaotic and stressful, it’s not easy to do

Not letting anyone else’s words or behavior determine to any degree your happiness ACTUALLY means you’re operating as someone who is already spiritually enlightened.

And I’m sure that’s not the case. . . Sorry to break that to you.

So, what can we do?

Well, although we might not be able to ever guarantee that our child never makes un unhappy, there are several things we CAN do to improve the situation and make it happen LESS.

Think of it as preventative medicine.

And that’s what this post is really about.

It’s about uncovering some of the answers to this question:


How do we protect and nurture our OWN happiness while still guiding our kids through adolescence and giving them the space THEY need to grow?


I certainly don’t know everything, but as both a teacher and a parent I do have some reflections and advice.

So, here are some ideas for you to ponder (in a padded cell, at your leisure):

Three moody teenagers standing against a wall

10 Top Parenting Tips

1. Empathy & Understanding

Your teenager’s search for autonomy and identity is likely to lead to mood swings and challenging behavior; there’s no escaping that.

You may well have been the same yourself when you were young (maybe ask your parents for an honest refresher, if you dare!).

Recognizing that these changes are a normal part of their development, as long as they fall within what might be considered a ‘normal’ range, is important.

There’s no need to go off the deep end every time they do something out of line. 

Pick your battles. (We’ll come to that again later.)

It’s also helpful to recognize that times have changed and that what you did in YOUR teenage years, or what the expectations were from society then, may have changed, too.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior but it gives you a window into what their everyday experiences are. 

It’s easy to think that as a parent you already know everything because you’re older, wiser and went through it all before.

But remember: The world today is a SIGNIFICANTLY different place for young people that it was even a decade ago (let alone twenty or thirty years ago when many of us were teenagers ourselves). . . 

Anxiety and depression among teenagers today is the highest it has even been in recorded history, and there are some very good reasons for it. 

2. Communication & Active Listening

Keeping the lines of communication open is absolutely crucial for maintaining a healthy parent-teen relationship.

You might consider finding a time to open up a conversation with them and ask them to let you know what the main stressors are in their life.

Then make sure you pay attention as they tell you, and make sure you listen actively to your child’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. 

Here are five simple ways to show you’re REALLY listening:

  • Look them in the eye, nod, and use your body language — show you’re tuned in.
  • Don’t butt in or cut them off — let them finish what they’re saying first.
  • Sum up what they said in your own words — make sure you’re on the same page.
  • Ask questions — show you’re interested and want to know more.
  • Keep your phone or any distractions away — give them your full attention.

3. Set Clear Boundaries

While granting autonomy is important, setting clear boundaries is equally necessary — and making sure your child STICKS to them is vital.

I recommend establishing rules and expectations that align with your family values and discuss with your child the reasons behind them.

You could even agree the rules together, which is likely to be more constructive.

Your child may well be open, too, to discussing any sanctions should they fail to comply.

It’s very possible that they will respect you for asking and will offer some pretty mature responses. 

Despite what you might think, preteens and adolescents generally know what is best for them and will understand your motivations for enforcing certain rules (such as curfews).

They just might not LIKE it when it happens. So be prepared (dib, dib)! 

At the end of the day, a family cannot always be a democracy and parents have to make some unpopular decisions.

I once worked for a headmaster in one of those classic old British private schools who reminded the staff on the first day that as headmaster he would always listen but also had to, at times, be a ‘benevolent dictator’. 

I suggest that parents operate in the same way.

4. Pick Your Battles

military strategy map with tanks and soldiers

The best military generals are strategic.

They’re more interested in winning the war rather than individual battles, so decide what things you’ll let go for the sake of the greater good.

For example, I might let some grumpiness or mildly flippant remarks go as long as it doesn’t stray into blatant rudeness or swearing (which I won’t tolerate).

However, I am much stricter about other things like home-time deadlines, screen-time, completion of homework or jobs before ‘gaming time’/movies etc.

So, work out what your non-negotiables are, then share them and stick to them.

This approach will give your child some breathing space AND help to prevent escalating every issue to to Defcon 1. . .

5. Peer Influence & Potential Problems

There’s a great idiom in Thai which goes like this: “Blah now dua diaw men tang kong”, which translates directly as: “Fish smell one object smell whole basket”.

In others words: One fish makes the whole container smell

I can’t think of the English equivalent right now, but it’s used in Thailand to warn children that if they keep the wrong company, they’ll end up ‘smelling bad’, too.

Although we want to foster independent decision making and not micro-manage our kids, keeping an eye on who your child hangs out with in these formative years is crucial, as once they’re in the ‘smelly fish bag’ it probably won’t be long before they start emulating the bad behaviors and attitudes of their newfound friend(s).

Then, it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes one way or another.

Exactly HOW to monitor your child’s connections is a fine art and very much depends on your own situation.

If you have a good relationship with your child and they communicate with you openly and easily, then it might just be a case of asking who they’re hanging out with these days.

It’s certainly something you might want to do if you’ve noticed any subtle changes in behavior. 

If they’re more difficult to talk to openly and you have serious concerns, then it can be helpful to reach out to their teacher.

They are likely to be able to tell you who is in your child’s friendship group and whether anything has changed in school.

They won’t be willing to discuss other children in any detail with you (at least they shouldn’t be), but it will at least enable you to know who your child is spending time with and whether the changes you are seeing at home are being mirrored in school. 

When you have concerns about your child’s social group, it’s very tempting to spy on them.

But I’d HIGHLY recommend you avoid it, as it’s a sure-fire way to break their trust in you and immediately lose any progress you’ve made.

If you want THEM to be transparent with YOU, then lead by example.

That said, it’s a good idea to openly monitor your child’s online activities and generally show that you have an interest in who they are hanging out with and what they are doing. 

6. Quality Parent-Teen Time 

I can’t stress this enough.

By quality time, I mean time away from screens (with the exception of watching a good family movie, perhaps) where the only objects of attention are each other. 

Board games are always a classic — and you might be surprised how much your teenager likes playing them. Turns out they’re not just for old fogies. . .

Recently we played Jenga! together, which is always a good laugh. 

Card games, like Uno, are also a family favorite.

Rather than forcing them to do what YOU want to do every time, try to engage in activities THEY enjoy as well; it might be that you do a bit of both. Deciding what to play together is a great opportunity to exercise some democracy.

There’s no better way to build a strong bond than show an interest in each other’s hobbies or interests — and who knows, you might even enjoy it! 

These shared experiences can strengthen parent-child relationships and foster a deeper connection, and it’s precisely that deep connection, that deep reservoir of respect, trust and love, that will serve you both well if things get rough in the future.

7. Sleep

Bedroom at night with moon outside window

Do I really need to even say it?

A solid night’s sleep is absolutely essential for a teenager’s physical and mental well-being.

But how much do they actually need to thrive?

Experts agree that teens need about 8-10 hours of sleep each night to function optimally.

However, getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t always just happen, especially for teenagers, due to hormonal changes and other things.

With that in mind, here are five quick wins that will help teens catch up on those much needed ZZZs:

Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Encourage them to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day

On weekends, you might allow them to sleep longer, but not by too much. Consistency helps regulate their internal body clock and improves sleep quality.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Make sure you help them wind down before bedtime with a calming routine. 

Avoid letting them engage in stimulating activities like using screens for surfing the net or watching movies etc. AT LEAST 90 minutes before going to sleep.

Their body (and yours) needs to be given time to understand that it’s nearly bedtime.

Flooding your eyes with stimulation and artificial light isn’t going to help that process because it reduces the natural surge of melatonin that your body produces, which makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep.

Limit Caffeine and Sugar

Encourage them to avoid caffeine and sugary drinks in the late afternoon and evening, as they can disrupt sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep — and even if they you do manage to, it’s likely to be fitful.

Promote a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to rest.

Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.

Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows to support better sleep quality — and make sure there are no devices in your bedroom come bedtime!

Recommend Some Family Reading Time

I’d highly recommend reading time for an hour together as a family each night, or, at least, most nights.

Reading helps relax the mind and reduce stress (depending on what you’re reading, of course!), allowing you to unwind from the day’s activities.

It seems that reading generally calms the mind which makes it easier to nod off.

8. Birds & Bees (and all that stuff)

Teenagers kissing

Discussing sexuality openly and respectfully with your kid is often tricky but in most cases absolutely vital.

It’s true that providing accurate information and education about relationships, consent, and contraception is something that your child’s school should be taking care of, but it’s important that you are in the loop.

So, make sure you understand what the school is saying to your child so that you can reiterate the same messages at home, if you need to.

There’s nothing worse than conflicting information, especially when it comes to these types of topics. . .

Any good school will have its own relationships and sex education programme.

The best schools will invite parents along for a presentation/workshop with slides made available afterwards.

There should also be space for you to ask any questions you might have.

The bottom line is this: You’re not alone when it comes to educating your child about sex and social-emotional stuff. Your child’s school should be taking the lead AND able to guide you in terms of how to approach certain conversations at home if you feel it’s necessary. 

If your school isn’t active in this area, this is a great UK-based resource that will help. 

9. Parenting Books

Consider reading some high quality books that focus on raising teenagers. I can personally recommend the books below:

Check out the Top Amazon Picks here

If you are in a relationship, then I’d recommend that you both read the same books so that you have the same understanding.

Which leads me neatly on to my last recommendation:

10. Be a Team When Parenting Teens

I’m sure you’ve seen the movie Jurassic Park (if not, WHY NOT?!). There’s a part where the raptors are testing the fence for weaknesses.

Teens are very similar to those raptors — not just because they roam in packs and generally smell bad — as they’ll deftly exploit any weakness in the parenting fence and then very quickly rip it to shreds 🙂

One MASSIVE weakness is when partners don’t enforce the same rules or when they demonstrate different values or expectations.

So, make sure you guys are on the same parenting page and work as a team together.

It’s better for you AND better for them.

Parenting Teenagers: Final Thoughts

Humans are complex — and teenagers the most complex of all — which often makes raising a teenager a very messy and stressful experience. . .

Expecting to be able to wave a magic wand and and instantly transform your teen after reading a few blog posts and books ain’t gonna happen.

Each child is unique, each parent is unique, each family has its own dynamic and each situation is different.

Each child has their own karma. There may well be things that you just can’t ‘fix’, no matter how hard you try. But that doesn’t make you a failure.

There’s no one right way to raise a teenager, no script for certain success, no recipe that produces the perfect result.

However, there ARE some approaches and strategies that make parenting sometimes a little less like trying to nail jelly to a tree. 

And if you at least manage THAT, you you’ll be much happier for it.

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