Two Simple Things You Can Do to Build Stronger, More Authentic Relationships with Your Teen
February 29, 2016
Two Simple Things You Can Do to Build Stronger, More Authentic Relationships with Your Teen

By Sam Himelstein, Ph.D.

The desire for autonomy and independence naturally arises during the adolescent life stage. It is a part of moving from being a child to an adult. Unfortunately, this can manifest in households as a rebellion against parents, deeper tension, and an overall strain on parent-child relationships. Oftentimes we as parents are taught methods to try and "control" our kids in some way: take away their privileges if they don't do their homework, etc. 

These parenting methods fit within a paradigm of punishment and reward, and although sometimes can be effective with teens that aren't particularly rambunctious, oftentimes crash and burn with youth who have even a drop of rebellion in them. The stronger the relationship, the more leverage you'll have in asking your teen to do their homework, be respectful, go to school, be honest about drugs, etc. Below are two extremely simple yet transformative practices to build stronger, more authentic relationships with your teens. 

1. Listen.

This may sound simple and basic, but it's not. As parents we're conditioned to "direct" our kids. This comes from an authentic place: we need to teach them how to live and survive in the world. We tell them not to put their hand over fire, to be respectful, to behave, etc. It's only natural that we continue issuing directives into adolescence. 

This is when tension starts to arise in the parent-child relationship, as teens strive for independence. If we want to build and maintain strong relationships, listening is the first step. It shows them we're wiling to give them the time of day, something adolescents universally feel adults don't do. Listening shows that you're curious about their lives. It gives your teen an avenue to be seen, heard, witnessed, and respected. 

Next time you are in a power struggle with your teen, stop, breathe, and tell him/her that you want to listen to their point of view. And then actually listen without interrupting them. This doesn't mean you can't still enforce boundaries, but it at least lets the teen know you've heard her or his side. 

2. Practice Authenticity.

We want our teens to be authentic with us so we can know what's happening in their lives. Authenticity begets authenticity. When we practice being authentic with our teens, it models authenticity and influences them to be more authentic. And yes authenticity is a "practice." It is the conscious awareness of being genuine with another human being. 

Disclosing personal information (when appropriate of course) about our experiences, attitudes, opinions, etc., humanizes us as parents and gives our teens a window into our lives outside of simply their parents. This leads to greater empathy, which leads to deeper connection. It is imperative that our children view us as human beings, as then they will start to feel deeper trust, connection, and the ability to relate. Otherwise you simply become a robot authority figure; someone who tells them what to do and cannot be related to. 

Practice being authentic by being genuine with them about your concerns when conflict arises first before becoming directive: "I'm really scared when you go out late at night," rather than, "YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO STAY OUT LATE!" Make an effort to both listen to your teen's life experiences and reference yours as appropriate. This will help build a culture of trust, genuineness, and ultimately deeper connection.

Sam Himelstein, Ph.D. is the founder of the Center for Adolescent Studies, a multidisciplinary training institute that provides top quality training to parents and professionals working with adolescents. He is a psychologist and works with incarcerated and at-risk youth in Oakland, CA. He is the author of the Building Authentic Relationships (BARs) with Adolescents Online course; a seminal training on building relationships with youth for both parents and professionals. He's published numerous peer-reviewed articles and two recent books: A Mindfulness-Based Approach for Working with High-Risk Adolescents (Routledge, 2013), and Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment with Adolescents: A 12-Session Curriculum (Routledge, 2015). Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 1:29 PM