5 Ways to Help Your Teen be Happy, Healthy and Successful

Use these strategies to help motivate teens to find focus and fulfillment.

In this time of over parenting, it’s sometimes hard to know when to step back and when to step in when it comes to raising a teen. With so much technology at their fingertips, the stressors of mental health and the pressures of sex, drugs, and alcohol, it can be difficult to make sure you’re steering your teenagers in the direction of a successful and fulfilling life.

Christine Carter, Ph.D., and Laura Kastner, Ph.D., offered parents guidance on navigating their teens’ formative years at a recent ParentEd Talk sponsored by Chicago Parent as part of a series of talks with parenting experts. Referencing the latest findings in neuroscience, sociology and psychology, they have identified 5 realistic strategies to help motivate teens to find focus and fulfillment through the development of effective habits, goals and authentic leadership skills.

Give your child more autonomy

Carter says that we are in the habit of tracking our kids through their devices. As such, they don’t have the same private lives that we led. Teens need independence and a sense of autonomy, she says.

“We can’t tell our kids what to do and how to act all of the time. Autonomy is a core psychological need,” says Carter. “They need the freedom to fail and succeed.”

Look for their existing motivation

As parents, we have real, firm ideas of what we want and what will be best for our kids. However, simply telling our teens this is not effective for them. In most cases, they will actually defy parents and do the opposite. That’s why Carter suggests practicing motivational interviewing, which is the process of asking questions and listening to your teen in an effort to understand and work with their existing motivation.

By starting with their existing motivation and going beneath the surface, we can tie what we think they need to what they think they need,” she says.

Encourage play-based adolescence


Carter says there has been a real shift from play-based adolescence to a phone-based adolescence, which leads to isolation and can drown kids in social comparisons.  She suggests encouraging kids to be with their friends where the influence of their phone is minimized. Kastner says it is also good practice at home to set boundaries with devices — perhaps during mealtime — so teens know that they have to take a break. 

Help teens learn to cope with the uncertainty


Whether it is about school shootings or climate change, your teen likely has real, valid fears about their future.  Carter says the best thing we can do for our kids during uncertain times is to provide them with ways to cope through the discomfort.

“When we step in and prevent disappointment, our kids learn that they can’t handle hard emotions,” she says. “This leads to kids starting to feel entitled to a life free from discomfort and gets them anxious about what is coming.” 

Rather than trying to control situations as parents, both Carter and Kastner believe that parents should focus on teaching our kids mindfulness so they can be present and live in the moment instead of worrying about the future. When teens are mindful, they can calm down their nerves so they can face their challenges with clear focus.

Let go of your expectations


It can be hard to see your child pulling away from you, but it is healthy for children to form bonds separate from their parents – especially in person with friends. Parents should dial back the pressure to encourage their children to open up to them, as it often pushes them further away. 

Looking for more parenting tips from experts? Register for the remaining ParentEd Talks with one ticket!


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Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.

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