Eleven ways to understand and connect with your teenager

Eleven ways to understand and connect with your teenager

I’m not telling you it is going to be easy. I’m telling you it is going to be worth it. Anon

I love this quote. It directly relates to parenting teenagers. I’m in the midst of this journey, with a 16-year-old son and a 14-year-old-daughter. I am a Rudolf Steiner teacher and a parenting author. I’ve spent most of my life in rooms full of young children, but life with teenagers is a new stage for me and I’m learning along with everyone else.

I fall down and try again, re-evaluating our relationships. I have a tendency to worry. I’m in awe of their beauty and knowledge, and also shocked by their moods and sudden strange ways. Through all the painful and joyful moments of letting go and holding on, creating boundaries and giving more freedom, I feel inspired to make mental notes of what works and what is required in my parenting. I know these ideas are helpful, because the other way doesn’t work. I’ve practised nagging and shouting enough! The following is a brief summary of my thoughts:

It’s a teenager’s job to be critical! Try to ponder and have compassion for what is going on in a teenager’s inner life. Remember that teenagers are meant to be highly critical; it’s their job. To individualise and to be true to their own uniqueness, they look at their parents through very critical eyes. They are working out who they are, separate from who their parents are.

Celebrate temperaments. Understanding Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on the Four Temperaments has strengthened my relationships with my teenagers. As an extravert with a son who has introverted tendencies at present, I can step into his shoes and respect his world. Also, I celebrate individuality in family life. Know that your teenager’s world, beliefs, likes, dislikes are not your own.

Use humour. Teenagers enjoy humour, and they tend to respect it. My husband has a great repertoire of funny responses for challenging moments. As a response to raised voices by our teenagers, he replies: “I can’t hear you! Say it louder!” To avoidance of tasks, especially the dishwasher, he sits on them and apologises: “Sorry, I didn’t realise you were there. I thought you were emptying the dishwasher!” To my daughter’s teenage moods, he grabs and squeezes a giggle out of her!

Don’t pick up the other end of the rope. Imagine if a bull met another bull in a china shop… Stay calm, and a teenager’s mood may dissipate. If we are calm most of the time, and then raise our voice with anger occasionally, they are more likely to listen. If we shout all the time, they will switch off.

Use minimal words. I am learning the hard way that ‘NAG’ stands for ‘Not A Good’ idea. Once a reasonable request has been made, and the teenager ignores it, repeat the request in a single word. For example, just ‘clothes’, if the request is to tidy their room. Teenagers love to argue. Minimise words. 

Let them negotiate. Teenagers will usually respond: “After…” This is fine, but let them know their words are important for their integrity (trust).

Quiet words. Out of the heat of the moment, decide together what is helpful for family living. Discuss ways to speak to each other, shared tasks and responsibilities in the home, healthy living. Ask your teenager to contribute to the discussion. Ask for feedback and opinions.

Random acts of kindness. Teenagers require random acts of kindness from parents. This can be a time of increased stress, nagging and cross words. To keep life in balance, remember to offer smiles and kind words at unexpected neutral times.

Rhythms of connection. My husband and son have breakfast together every Saturday; I often have a girls’ pizza-and-movie night with my daughter on Fridays. We have family outings. Create your own rhythms of connection.

Eat together. The family dinner table is essential, to share the day and be interested in each other. Eating together is important. Make a rule that no one glances at a phone or any device during this time. Try not to interrogate, judge or condemn during mealtimes. Just listen and share daily news. Simply ask: “Any news?” Share your own, especially if there is teenage silence.

Communicate about the hard stuff. If parents abstain from talking to their teenagers about some difficult topics, then teenagers will get their advice from friends or the internet. Don’t think that, because your teenagers attend a certain school or live in a certain neighbourhood, they will not be exposed: they will be. Talk with your teenagers in a truthful and heartfelt way about the negative effects of alcohol, porn and drugs on the teenage brain.

My son read this article after I left it out on the breakfast bench. He said in a somewhat surprised and humorous manner: “Wow! Your writing makes sense. Why don’t you do more of these things at home?!” A teenage seal of approval! 


Lou Harvey-Zahra is a Rudolf Steiner, primary and special needs trained teacher and parenting author. Her books include Happy Child, Happy Home and Creative Discipline, Connected Family, both published by Floris Books. She lives with her husband and teenagers in Melbourne, Australia. skiptomylouparenting.com

Photo: cottonbro studio


First published in Issue 42 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.  

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