By Raising Children Network
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Mum, Dad and two teens laughing on a couch

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  • Strong family relationships are vital for healthy social and emotional development in teenagers.
  • Parents influence their children’s long-term decisions, such as career choices, values and morals.
These 20 tips can encourage good behaviour in teenagers.
  1. Take time to actively listen  to your child. When you pay close attention to what your child’s saying and feeling, rather than thinking of what you want to say next, you show that you care and that you’re interested.
  2. Set clear rules about behaviour. If you can, involve all family members in the discussion. Try to keep the rules positive – for example, instead of saying ‘Don’t be disrespectful,’ you could say, ’We speak to each other with respect’.
  3. When rules are broken, follow up calmly and firmly. Try using a brief and fair consequence that you and your child have agreed on in advance. This will also help you communicate your expectations about future behaviour. You can read more about setting boundaries and using consequences in our article on discipline strategies for teenagers.

    To see how other families handle rules and rule-breaking, you might like to look at our deciding on family rules video, below.
  4. Encourage self-reflection. If you need to use a consequence, explain why you’re doing it. You could also try giving your child the chance to think about what she could change to stop the problem coming up again. For example, you could say something like, ‘Gemma, I get worried when you stay out late without telling me what you’re doing. Next time, I’ll pick you up at 10 pm. What could you do differently next time?’ Follow up by asking your child what a fair consequence would be if it happens again.
  5. Children – even teenagers – do as you do, so try to be a positive role model for your child. Creating a set of family rules is a great place to start. When your child sees you following those rules yourself, he gets a powerful example. Try to remember the saying, ‘Do as I do, not just as I say!’
  6. Choose your battles. Before you get into conflict over your child’s behaviour, ask yourself, ‘Does this really matter?’ and ‘Is this really worth fighting about?’ By keeping negative feedback to a minimum, you’ll create less opportunity for conflict and bad feelings.
  7. Your child is an individual, and she needs to know that she’s valued and accepted for who she is. One way to do this is by taking onboard her developing ideas and opinions, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
  8. Let go of the wheel sometimes . Learning to handle responsibility is one of the biggest challenges of adolescence, and an important step towards becoming an adult. Giving your child responsibility in certain areas – such as letting him choose his own clothes or hair style – can help increase autonomy and independence. It can also help you avoid battles over the little things.
  9. Tackle problems in a positive way. Whether it’s an argument with your child or a disagreement with your partner, using positive problem-solving skills to sort things out will keep you calm. It also gives your child a great example to follow. To see how other families sort out problems, you might like to look at our problem-solving with teenagers video, below.
  10. Praise and encouragement  are powerful motivators. Teenagers might seem self-sufficient, but your child still wants and needs your approval. When you notice and comment on your child’s responsible choices and positive behaviour, you can encourage her to keep behaving in that way. For a demonstration of how to give your child praise and encouragement, you might like to look at our descriptive praise video, below.
  11. Plan ahead for tricky conversations. When you need to tackle a difficult or embarrassing issue with your child, choose a time when everyone is calm and you can have some privacy. If you think ahead about how your child might feel about what you have to say, you might be able to head off any conflict before it even happens.
  12. Keep ‘topping up’ your relationship. It might help to think of your relationship with your child as a sort of bank account. Spending time together, having fun and giving help and support are ‘deposits’, whereas arguments, blaming and criticism are ‘withdrawals’. The trick is to keep the account balanced – or even in the black.
  13. Share your feelings. Telling your child honestly how his behaviour affects you can help your relationship. ‘I’ statements can be a big help here. For example, saying ‘I really worry when you don’t come home on time’ will probably get a better response than ‘You know you’re supposed to ring me after school!’
  14. Learn to live with mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, and nobody’s perfect. It’s all about how you deal with mistakes – both your own and your child’s – when they happen. Taking responsibility for mistakes is a good first step, and then working out what you can do to make things better might be your next move.
  15. Look for ways to stay connected . Special and enjoyable time with your child can help you relate to each other better. The great thing is that sometimes the best moments are casual and unplanned, such as when your child decides to tell you about her day at school over the washing up. When these moments happen, try to stop what you’re doing and give your child your full attention. This sends the message, ’You’re important to me and I love you’.
  16. Respect your child’s need for privacy. Teenagers crave some privacy and a space of their own. Asking for your child’s permission to enter his room, and not going through his diary or belongings, are ways to show this respect. Another way might be to think about what you really need to know, and what can be left as private between your child and his friends.
  17. Encourage a sense of belonging. Family rituals can give your child a sense of stability and belonging at a time when lots of other things around her – and inside her – might be changing. Some families might choose to have Friday family pizza nights, pancakes for breakfast on Sundays, or particular traditions for celebrating birthdays.
  18. Keep promises. When you follow through on promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. Be clear and consistent.
  19. Teenagers will be teenagers. Just as you might do, your child will probably slip up and break the rules sometimes. Teenagers and their brains are still under construction – they’re still working out who they are. Testing those boundaries is all part of the process, so it helps to have realistic expectations about behaviour.
  20. Look for the funny side of things. Laughing or making jokes can help diffuse tension and possible conflict, and stop you and your child taking things too personally. You can also sometimes use a joke or a laugh to kick off a difficult conversation.
Our Talking to Teens interactive guide explores some tricky parent and teenager situations, such as disrespectful teenage behaviour, sibling fighting and rule-breaking. You can use the guide to see how different approaches to these situations can get different results.

Video Deciding family rules

In this short video, mums, dads and teenagers talk together about why family rules are important, how rules are decided, and how household jobs are shared out. They also talk about how to sort out conflict over the rules.

Video Problem-solving

In this short video demonstration, two teenage siblings are having a problem sharing and respecting each other’s space. So far, they haven’t been able to solve the problem themselves, and this has led to conflict and fights. Their dad uses a problem-solving approach to resolve their ongoing conflict.

Video Descriptive praise

This short video demonstration shows some examples of descriptive praise where the parents tell their child exactly what the behaviour is that they like.

  • Last updated or reviewed 14-11-2011