Teen influencer weighs in on how parents can have better relationships with them

Published Jul 10, 2024


It’s no secret that parents and their teens often clash.

"Imagine you've spent 15 years nurturing a plant," explained Dr Bradford Wiles, an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist at K-State's Department of Human Ecology, focusing on parent-child relationships.

"Now, picture that plant about to be dropped out of a helicopter, transitioning from a life indoors to the outdoors. It's terrifying, right? They're not angry about the helicopter jump; they're scared. Really scared. Because it's not the fall that's dangerous; it's the sudden stop."

For many teenagers, understanding their parents' rules can be challenging, whether it's curfews, academic expectations, or chores.

This struggle is common among teens but, regardless of whether parents are strict, lenient, or somewhere in-between, their decisions are typically driven by concern for their teens' well-being.

In the world of parenting teens, the real challenge isn't just about getting along but about resolving the inevitable issues that crop up during this roller-coaster phase of life.

It's tempting to brush things under the rug but that's where misunderstandings can deepen.

Social media activist, Hildegard Havenga. Picture: Sipplied

Hildegard Havenga, a remarkable 15-year-old from Pretoria known for her social media influence, speaking engagements and acting, is passionate about being a voice for her peers.

She aims not only to excel in her remaining school years but also to make a positive impact in young lives. Here are some insightful tips she shares with parents to bridge the gap with their teenagers:

Teens crave control over their lives, wanting to face challenges and learn from their own mistakes. Meanwhile, parents often feel compelled to shield their teens from life's hardships, which can lead to being overly protective.

When communication breaks down and both sides feel unheard, tensions escalate — a recipe for disaster!

Additionally, a teenager's self-esteem suffers when they believe their parents doubt their ability to handle situations.

So, how can parents better understand and support their teens?

It all starts with trust

A strong foundation of trust is important. Parents need to be actively involved and genuinely interested in their teen's life. Your child should know they can confide in you. Teens need to feel safe discussing their experiences, even the silly mishaps, without fearing judgement.

They need to believe that their parents have their back and trust their judgement.

Respect your teen’s privacy

Teens value their privacy, especially when it comes to personal matters, conversations with friends, and their own thoughts and feelings. If your child seems down and doesn’t want to talk, it doesn’t mean they no longer want you in their life.

Sometimes they just need time to think things over – when the time is right, they will talk about it.

Show genuine interest in your child’s daily life with informal chats, but also give your teen space and time and don’t force them to share everything with you. There are experiences every youngster simply needs to process on their own.

Show that you respect your teen’s privacy by making it clear that you’re available to listen, and then leave it up to your child.

Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations

Teens may not always seem open to advice, but they still need guidance in certain areas. It's important to create an environment where your child feels safe discussing anything, whether they're happy or frustrated.

When uncomfortable topics arise, teens expect parents to be honest and straightforward. Choose a private moment to talk, away from friends, and listen actively without judgement.

Provide information and facts rather than just opinions, so teens can make informed decisions. Focus on addressing the issue itself, rather than expressing personal feelings, to keep the lines of communication open for future discussions.

Offer unconditional support

Teens go through a significant growth and development phase. During adolescence, teens experience major growth in their bodies, emotions, and thinking abilities.

It's vital for parents to be patient and supportive, guiding them to explore their own paths to self-discovery.

Teens often thrive when they face challenges independently, as this builds their independence and resilience. By fostering independence and trusting their capabilities, parents can strike a balance between nurturing their teens and giving them the freedom they need to grow.

Make peace with their friends

Teens know their friends but parents also often have an intuition that shouldn’t be ignored.

Have coffee with your teen and their friends to get to know them better. Show interest and ask questions – maybe your opinion will change. If not, talk to your child about it. Be willing to explain your opinion but also listen to their perspective.

“Base the conversation on understanding and respect and accept that you sometimes have to make peace with your child’s decisions, even if you don’t agree. If it’s the wrong choice, they will realise it eventually.”

Help them help themselves

“Teach your child how to practise self-care and pay attention to their emotional and physical well-being.

“Encourage your teen to have healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and managing emotions in a healthy way.”

When things go wrong...

A big part of growing up is that teens will push boundaries and question rules. Along the way, rules – and trust – will be broken.

When this happens, talk about it – communication is key to understanding. Give your child the opportunity to express their views about the situation, how they feel about it, and what they have learnt. Look out for your child.