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What Your Teen Needs Most

Help Your Teen Reach His or Her Potential

By the time the end of summer rolls around, most parents are ready for back to school. Back to school often means back to routine, back to structure, but most importantly- back to your teens being busy and out of the house more (am I right?)! As frustrating and unruly as teens can be at times, we know that deep down they are great kids. It’s just sometimes hard to see the great part when they are rolling their eyes at you, talking back, and slamming the bedroom door in your face.

Picture from the New York Times online (

While they may seem tough to figure out, teenagers are humans like the rest of us. They crave acceptance more at this point in their lives than they will at any other time in the future or in the past. They tend to base their worth on the feedback they get from others, which means that their worth as a person may change depending on their peer relationships at any given time. Mood swings are typical and I have seen many teens change from laughing to crying and back in under 60 seconds, flat.

Teens also need their parents desperately at this time in their life. They may look like young adults, but they are still growing and developing at a rapid rate and are not adults yet. They are still developing areas of the brain that control executive functioning and decision making (more on that here) and need help from parents to sort things out. Lending an ear and listening to your teen can go a very long way.

The most important thing you can give your teen to help them reach optimal development and morph into an adult that is contributing positively to society is simple- they just need you. You and your undivided attention. Time with you while you are not answering emails, looking at your phone, watching your favorite tv show together, or putting the groceries/dishes/clothes (fill in the blank here) away.

When we say yes to one thing, by default we are saying no to another. When you say yes to trying to do more than one thing at once, such as talking to your daughter while you drive home from school, then you are not giving your full and complete attention to either one. Not to say that talking to your teen on the way home from school is not helpful. Quite the contrary. It just shouldn’t be the only time you talk to your teen that day.

Start with small steps. Everyone has 5 minutes a day that they can devote to giving undivided attention to their teen (or child of any age! Why stop with one age group?). Try to listen more than talk during those 5 minutes. Got the 5 minutes down? Try for 10 minutes. They don’t have to be all at once, but can be scattered throughout the day in smaller chunks. Press for more information. Show that you care by asking follow up questions and refrain from giving advice. Usually once you give them the space and freedom to make their own choice, teens will do the right thing on their own.

Funny how that works.

Laura McLaughlin is the Founder and Therapist at HeadFirst Counseling in Dallas, TX. Laura works specifically with children, teens, and parents to help them resolve problems and find more happiness in the family unit. Read more about Laura and HeadFirst Counseling at

Laura can be reached by contacting the HeadFirst Office at (469) 665-9416 or

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