5 steps for connecting with your troubled teen


Dr John Dermartini shares his views on how to build confidence in a teen who doesn't fit the perfect mould.

“Matt was a model pupil but recently his marks have nose-dived. He's moody, spends all his time in his room, and listens to music with lyrics that are downright depressing. He has posters of Kurt Cobain on his walls and when I ask him why he admires the late singer his answer is: ‘Because, like, he killed himself and that is so cool’.”

If this mother’s account of her 15-year-old son sounds familiar, chances are you're the parent of a teenager. How, you ask, did your previously sensible and happy child morph into a mouthy and moody alien creature who erupts like a volcano at the slightest hint of intrusion and mopes about muttering, “It's not fair!”?

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There is help available to assist your teenage child in making the transition from virtual reality to coping in the real world as a young adult.

So how, when all you're ever met with are crossed arms, grunts and the occasional “Whatever”, do you get through to him?

A leading authority on human behaviour and personal development, Dr John Demartini, provides five key steps for connecting with your adolescent in a language he “gets”, building his confidence in the process.


First, take a reality check

Seven distinctions, sports colours, first prize in the popularity stakes we all have a wish list of achievements for our kids, an inventory of ideals we believe will define their success – and, for all intents and purposes, our success as parents. But, let's face it, the chances of them ever meeting our illusory pillars of perfection are slim to none. By projecting our unrealistic aspirations on our children we not only unconsciously set them up for inevitable failure, we also discredit the things they find meaningful. What remains is a teenager who feels that he/she is just never good enough.


Identify what’s important

Your teen has his own set of values – the things he cares most about. Your job as a parent is to find out what these are. It’s not difficult. Just consider how he spends the majority of his free time, what he fills his room with, what he spends his pocket money on and, on those rare occasions when he speaks, what he talks about. Cars? Computer games? Music apps?

The fact that his interest doesn’t seem to you like the best route to future success is irrelevant (although it’s worth remembering that Enzo Ferrari, Steve Jobs and Bob Dylan’s mothers probably felt the same way). What matters is that this is the most meaningful thing to him right now and denying the importance of what he values will win you defiance, at best, and, at worst, total lock down.


Honour their values

Values underlie all human behaviour and, only when our highest values are being met, do we feel fulfilled. This is as true for you as it is for your teen. Think about it: you have no difficulty finding the motivation to do the things to which you attach the most meaning. And, when it comes to these pursuits, you are pretty disciplined, organised and focused. Same goes for your teen. 

She may struggle to keep her eyes open in history class but she can sit, barely blinking, for six hours straight on Snapchat. Right now, socialising with her friends is far more important to her than colonial expansion in South Africa after 1750. And trying to convince her otherwise is pointless. Instead, respect that her need to mix, communicate and share is crucial to her developing identity and sense of belonging.


Be a savvy salesman

“Don’t sell life insurance. Sell what life insurance can do.” As one of the most prolific salespeople in world history, American businessman Ben Feldman knew that the key to closing a deal is to appeal to the customer’s most important values. Similarly, the only way to “sell” your teen on your ideas for living a good life is to do so on terms that are meaningful to her. You have to create a link between the things you want her to know and the things she values most.

Take her Snapchat infatuation as an example: explaining the roots of her craving for group approval as having derived from the evo-utionary survival instinct of “safety in numbers” could help her draw connections with how groups first settled in the Cape of Good Hope.



Raise the bar

If fulfilment comes from living our highest values, then confidence comes from seeking the challenges within those values and achieving mastery over them. Consider this: your teen gaming guru will constantly test his skill by attempting ever-trickier games. Each level mastered builds his confidence and increases his potential for further proficiency. Confidence also nurtures his self-esteem and, when he feels good about himself, he sees himself as deserving of the respect of others.

And it is this measure of self-worth that will help him accomplish his goals – be it today, in the virtual world, or in five years time, in the real world.

* See for more information, or to take Dr Demartini’s free online Value Determination Test.

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