• Relationships between teenagers and parents can be fraught and challenging

  • Paul McGee offers 7 tips to help parents keep the relationship on track

  • You can find therapists and counsellors who work with adolescents by using our questionnaire here

Every parent of teenagers knows how difficult it can be to maintain an open, honest and loving relationship with young people going through one of the most challenging periods of their lives.

Professor Paul McGee is the author of YESSS! The SUMO Secrets to Being a Positive, Confident Teenager. An expert in his field, and the father of two children who have navigated the choppy waters of their teenage years, he offers seven pieces of advice to parents eager to support their kids through this most awkward time.

1. Understand how their brain works

Not only are adolescent teenagers experiencing outward physical changes, there’s also plenty going on inwardly as well – especially in their brains. There’s a major reconstruction taking place.

As a result, their emotions are ramped up significantly and they also require more sleep on average than adults. The rational part of their brain might not fully mature until their mid-twenties. So be slow to criticise their over-reactions and long lie-ins – show some compassion and understanding instead. 

2. Give them time and space

Teenagers are in a tricky transitional phase. They’re not quite a child, but still not quite an adult. Their moods are changing, and so are their mates.

While some are still comfortable spending time with you, many young people prefer their own space and time with their peers.

Accept that they still need you, but you’re no longer the centre of their world. Get used to it.

3. Don’t complain about being a taxi service

Treasure the time you have travelling together, no matter how brief. These “taxi times” could provide opportunities for casual conversations that might not normally take place.

4. Affirm, but don’t expect anything in return

All children need to feel loved, valued and appreciated. However, choose your moments and make sure you don’t embarrass them. Maybe write something in a card, or message them. They might not acknowledge the message but they will definitely value it.

5. Listen to understand, not to interrupt

Conflict with teenagers is inevitable – but remember, you’re the adult. It doesn’t have to escalate to all-out war.

One of the ways to avoid this is to give young people “a good listening-to”.

Try to understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. A teenager will begin to resent you if they never feel listened to.

6. Remember you’re a role model

A young person’s biggest role models are not celebrities, they’re parents. If you’re always on your phone, don’t expect your teenager to be any different. If you always eat dinner in front of the telly, so will they.

Teenagers might not always listen to what you say, but they will take note of how you behave. Your attitudes and emotions are contagious – make sure yours are worth catching.

7. Encourage progress, not perfection

We’re all a work in progress. None of us is perfect. But in the Instagram age, teenagers can feel under incredible pressure to be so.

Other people’s successes are paraded in public for the world to see. It’s easy for young people to be caught up in the comparison trap and become miserable for not meeting the unrealistically high standards they feel are expected of them.

Be their CEO – Chief Encouragement Officer. Make sure you encourage hard work and the fact they tried something – but it has to be given for a genuine reason, otherwise it’s patronising.

Paul McGee is the author of YESSS! The SUMO Secrets to Being a Positive, Confident Teenager 

Further reading

Teenage mental health and Covid-19

The benefits of therapy for young people

Trying too hard: perfectionism in teens

Why are mother-daughter relationships so complex?

Expressive writing tips for young people