How to raise happy teens: 6 tips from a school counsellor
As parents and carers, we all want the best for our children to be happy, healthy, and resilient. But how can you help them achieve this? Raising tweens and teens is both an art and a science, and there are some things you can do to influence their happiness and well-being. Here are six practical tips and suggestions for raising happy and resilient kids.
1. Be happy yourself – prioritise your self-care
This is my number one tip for a reason! How can you expect your tween and teenage children to value themselves if you don't love yourself? Your children are watching and learning from you – more than you might realise. When you model the importance of caring for your wellbeing, it teaches your children the value of balance, self-compassion and looking after themselves.
2. Encourage effort over being perfect
Perfectionism comes at a cost. A fear of failure can be paralysing, stopping your kids from taking risks or trying new things. When we mess up, we learn how to do better next time. Letting your kids make mistakes and get stuff wrong is crucial to their development. Feeling constant pressure to be perfect makes them more likely to avoid taking on a challenge. Perfectionism also takes a toll on mental well-being, leading to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression and setting a path to burnout and feeling inadequate. Focus on the process and effort they put in rather than outcomes. They are much more likely to take on challenges, mess up, get up and try again.
Let's say your tween is struggling with maths at school. Instead of aiming for perfect marks, focus on consistent effort, asking for help when needed, and seeing mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. Over time, their maths skills improve and they develop a strong work ethic, resilience, and problem-solving abilities.
Another example is a shy teen who finds starting conversations or making new friends challenging. By consciously stepping out of their comfort zone (just a little) and learning from awkward moments, they can adjust their approach and improve their social skills. Through this process, they form new connections and develop self-confidence, empathy, and increased self-esteem.
3. Show them the importance of empathy and boundaries
Demonstrate the importance of empathy – the ability to take on another's perspective, feelings or experiences. One of the best ways to model empathy is by actively listening – focusing on what is being said to genuinely understand and connect with others. Help them work out small, specific, thoughtful acts they can do, such as holding the door open for someone or helping a classmate with their books. This encourages kindness and allows them to look for ways to impact their community positively.
Help them with boundaries; these are vital for positive relationships. For example, early adolescents need specific help with digital boundaries. Guide your tweens and teens on the importance of privacy and responsible social media use. Teach them about the potential consequences of sharing personal information online and respecting others' privacy.
4. Spend quality time together
Quality rather than quantity is essential here. Check-in on their day and listen when they tell you. You could schedule regular activities (based on their preference), such as playing a sport or game, walking, or watching something together (even if it's something you're not particularly interested in – they will love you being there).
Establish specific times for device-free activities, such as family meals or before bedtime, to promote better sleep and overall well-being. Designate specific areas or times in the house as tech-free zones to encourage face-to-face interaction and family bonding. For example, the dinner table or family game nights can be designated when everyone puts away their devices
5. Encourage independence
Give them the tools to make decisions and learn from their experiences. This also helps build resilience – the ability to get back up after setbacks.
School subject selection is an example of letting your child decide for themselves. They may need help deciding whether to take on a more challenging course that lines up with their passion or a subject that might be less demanding.
- Discuss each choice's long-term benefits and challenges, given their future goals and ambitions.
- Help them research the potential impact of each choice on future academic and career opportunities.
- Suggest they speak with teachers, guidance counsellors, or mentors for additional perspectives.
- Reinforce that both choices have advantages and disadvantages and that the decision should match their personal growth and learning style.
6. Help them choose healthy lifestyle habits
They are growing fast and need good nutrition, exercise, and sufficient sleep for their overall well-being. Sleep is vital at this age, but it can sometimes feel like you are raising a vampire who shuns daylight.
- Encourage your teen to go to bed and wake up simultaneously every day, even on weekends. Consistency helps regulate our body clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally.
- Help your teen find their own calming routine before bedtime. This could include reading, a warm bath or shower, or relaxation exercises. Avoid stimulating activities, like using electronic devices, at least an hour before bedtime.
- Talking of electronic devices – help them manage their screen time – this is not something teens or tweens are good at! Encourage balance between screen time and other activities, establishing a "screen curfew" at least an hour before bedtime.
- Make sure their bedroom is conducive to sleep. This means a comfortable, relaxed, dark, and quiet environment.
- Encourage regular physical activity during the day.
Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to raising teens. Each young person is unique, and embracing their individuality is vital to helping them build a positive self-image. Ultimately, your role is not to mould your child into a predetermined shape but to provide a supportive environment where they can discover their uniqueness and individuality.
If you're struggling to communicate with your teen or need further guidance, I specialise in adolescent issues, so get in touch to see how we can work together. I can give you strategies and the confidence to manage this and to see the parenting wood for the trees.