How Can We Help Our Teens?

By Tim Elmore Posted August 18, 2014 under Guest Authors

I’ve been interviewed on multiple occasions about what can be done to empower teens today. Here are three of the most common questions both parents and teachers ask about helping our teens mature into adults:

1. What are the most common mistakes that can harm a teen’s development?

I’ve noticed eight damaging teaching and parenting styles today. Three big ones are:

  1. The Karaoke Parent – The ones who try to sound, look, dress and act like their teen. They want to remain a buddy to their kid, but fail to offer clear leadership in the home.
  2. The Helicopter Parent – The ones who hover over their teen. They work to pave the way for their kid’s future. Sadly, their teen never learns to persevere and cope with failure.
  3. The Dry Cleaner Parent – The ones who drop their teen off to a professional like dirty clothes. They acquiesce their top priority—to mentor their kid and help he or she grow.

We must remember teens need a balanced environment that’s both responsive and demanding. To be responsive means we’re understanding, accepting of their unique style and supportive of their growth. To be demanding means we raise the standard of behavior and call on them to become the best version of themselves. Too much responsiveness without demands weakens them; too many demands without responsiveness softens them and leaves them ill-prepared for life after graduation. Parents must balance both of these by changing styles and messages as children age. At first, children need to hear, “You are special and loved.” As teens, they may need to hear, “It’s not about you. You’re part of something more important than just you.”

2. Teens may act like they don’t particularly want attention during this awkward, socially challenging time of life, but would you agree that children at this stage may require just as much – if not more – attention than before?

Absolutely, but it may be a different kind of attention during their adolescence. They need parents to act (not merely react) to their over-confidence, self-absorption or independence.

The damaging parent styles mentioned above usually lead parents to commit unintended transgressions in their homes. They unwittingly lie to their children, sending erroneous messages to their teen such as, “You can do anything you want,” “You’re the best,” or “You’re a winner.” These are natural clichés that work when children are young, but not when children become adolescents. Teens are savvy and know better. They recognize that peers and other adults don’t send them the same messages. They stop believing their mom or dad. Sometimes, parents need to affirm specific gifts they recognize in their teen; other times, they need to remain quiet. It’s beneficial to consciously choose both what you say and when you say it.

What I try to remember with my son is that, in every situation, he needs me to give him a balance of three things:

  1. Autonomy – Giving him the car keys and allowing him the freedom to be on his own.
  2. Responsibility – Requiring him to fill the gas tank and return home before curfew.
  3. Information – Providing information pertaining to his best interests, no more or less.

3. If you could say one thing to the parents who are ready to give up because they feel like their advice and concern is falling on the deaf ears of teens, what would it be?

My advice would be don’t give up, and don’t take the journey alone. The smartest parenting decision I made with my two teens was inviting one-day mentors into their lives when my kids turned 13. When my daughter was in eighth grade, I asked six women to spend a day with her and share one life message that they wish someone had shared with them as a teen. My daughter met with women she admired as “cool” and that I respected as great role models. They took her to work, did projects together and had meals with her. It was revolutionary. Their voices echoed messages I was sending, and she listened to them. As you know, your voice’s clout often diminishes with your teen, yet the clout of other voices often increases. With this mentor project, you’re simply inviting other voices into the journey. (The details of this experience can be found in my book Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.)

What do you think? What else can we do to help our teens? Share your advice in the comments below!

This blog post was originally published on Growing Leaders.

Tim Elmore is a best-selling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults, and the Habitudes® series. He is founder and president of Growing Leaders, an organization dedicated to mentoring today's young people to become the leaders of tomorrow. Find information on Tim and Growing Leaders at and @GrowingLeaders @TimElmore.