How to be a supportive parent to your teenager

Mother with arm around sons shoulder

Despite wanting to be a supportive parent to your child, you may feel like you’ve just had the door closed in your face and you’ve got it all wrong. Your relationship will be changing and starting to become more equal as they grow up and you spend more time apart. This doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected and provide the support they need as they go through this process of becoming a whole new person, an adult.

This can help if you:

  • want to understand why your child needs you to be supportive

  • want to learn more about ways to support your child through their teenage years.

What is supportive parenting?

Being a supportive parent means having your child’s best interests at heart but also being present, involved and helpful. It includes:

  • actively encouraging them to do their best with school, their hobbies and interests

  • listening without judgment and seeking to understand their concerns and challenges

  • acknowledging their achievements and supporting them through mistakes and challenges

  • setting consistent expectations and consequences to help them to feel secure and able to predict outcomes

  • treating them fairly and developing a trusting relationship.

Why is having a supportive parent so important for teenagers?

The influence that you have over your child is more dependent on a trusting relationship than it is on how much authority you dish out and how many lectures you give. It may feel like they’re trying to push you away, but they’re actually trying to push themselves away from you to choose a direction in life, and to shape an identity for themselves as a separate, independent person.

Love, support, trust and optimism from their family make them feel safe and secure, and are powerful weapons against peer pressure, life’s challenges and disappointments.

Tips and tricks for supportive parents

Your aim is to keep your child safe and to give them the foundations they need to do their best. At a minimum they need:

  • to know they are loved for who they are, and that you are always there to support them

  • an environment where basic needs such as a safe and healthy place to live, healthy food, and school supplies are made a priority

  • protection and support to keep themselves safe from mental and physical abuse

  • respect for their feelings and concerns

  • acknowledgement of their milestones and achievements such as birthdays or first day at school

  • respect for their friends, clothing, sports and music choices, and interests.

Some parents struggle to adjust to the demands that parenting their child through the teenage years brings. It’s a time that can put even the strongest and most loving relationships to the test. Your child needs you at this time just as much as they have always needed you, but in a different way.

They are looking to you for support through one of the biggest changes in their life, towards adulthood and independence. You’ve been through it so you know how confusing and difficult it can be. Don’t be afraid to share some of your own teenage experiences with your child. Tell them that you understand because it happened to you too. Talk to them about how you handled it (or didn’t handle it) and what you learnt from it. Realising that everyone goes through the same struggles can be very reassuring to your child, especially if it’s their parent that is telling their stories.

Your child is becoming an independent person. They need a firm foundation of values and expectations that can guide them now, and carry them into adult life. Decide what’s important to your family and how you’ll share those expectations and values with your child. That way they’ll have the knowledge to help them navigate life on their own and make decisions that fit with what the family values.

There’s no doubt that the teenage years will probably cause you some worry and frustration. There may be times when you feel as if you don’t know your child, or are disappointed by some of their choices. Try to be as loving and supportive as you can through all of their trials, no matter how small they are. If you can do this, they’re more likely to rely on you, share their struggles and come to you when they need help.

Be there for them in the way that you would have wanted your parent to be there for you when you were growing up.

Find out more and get some tips on how to be a supportive parent.