Five Ways to Build Healthy Relationships with Your Teen

By Keven Downs LCSW

1-      Healthy communication is the foundation of healthy relationships.  Healthy communication can be an investment for the future. You can choose to be right or to have a successful relationship; you can’t always have both. Many people argue to be right about something. Listening is a crucial skill. Empathic listening is where the listener validates and really seeks to understand what the other is saying.  Oftentimes we are waiting for the other person to be quiet so we can state our position. One important factor in communicating with teens is that they are still forming their frontal lobe, and it won’t be fully developed until their late 20s. Teens look like adults but it is important to remember their brains are not and their communication may not be as well. As adults we want to jump in and show the logic to our teens but this often shuts the teen down and both leave feeling misunderstood and offended. Listen without trying to solve the problem. Most teens, after feeling heard, feel better and are more willing to try advice from their parents.

2-      Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a decision of letting go of the past and focusing on the present. Talk about the issue and try to reach a mutual agreement on how to handle the situation in the future and then commit to it. Forgiveness is a way to save yourself from more disappointment, anger or resentment in the relationship. Forgiveness in relationships can be a catalyst in progressing the relationship to a more meaningful and fulfilling place. When an adult models the attribute of forgiveness, teenagers see this skill in action and see the benefits in a relationship. Forgiveness shows love and understanding and provides emotional safety for both people involved.

3-      Clarify your expectations. Stephen R. Covey said, “The cause of most relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals.”

Develop realistic expectations. Be clear about your expectations including acceptable and unacceptable behavior and attitudes. Boundaries are extremely important for the emotional safety for each person in the relationship. Unclear expectations in any relationship lead to misunderstandings and mistrust.

4-      Be Responsible. Just a thought, but “could I be the problem here?” There is tremendous power in taking responsibility for how you contribute to the problem. If you’ve been angry or unfair, own up to it and say you are sorry. You’ll be amazed how this works with your relationship with your teen.

5-      Appreciate the other person. In the midst of a difficulty, it can be hard to find something to appreciate. Start by generating appreciation in moments of calmness. That way when you need to be able to do it during a stressful situation, it will be easier. In other words, invest in the relationship. Invest by creating and experiencing positive interactions together. I tell parents to connect with their kids outside of the drama. To me this means finding healthy activities, having healthy communication about things other than sensitive points. Remember to give as much emotional energy to the positive things as you do the negative ones.