Guest Blog Contribution by Lisa Podell Boss


As a former teacher, and now Executive Functioning Skills Coach who works one-on-one with both parents and adolescents, I have learned so much about how teens wish to be supported, what triggers resistance, and what motivates them to listen. As the adolescent brain develops, you may begin to notice drastic behavioral changes. The child who was once open and communicative now seeks independence and privacy. When an adjustment isn’t made to create space for this developmental change, tension can increase between both parent and child. My goal is to equip you with practical strategies that will enable you to successfully communicate with your so that you both feel better.

1. Learn the Two-Step
When your child comes home from school, step back. Do not immediately ask how their day went or what they have for homework. Give them space to decompress from the many academic and emotional stressors from their day. When you allow your teen to initiate the conversation, they may have more information to share because it is on their terms. You can still show support and step forward in other ways. Leave a positive or funny note for when they arrive home from school or provide them with a pre-made, protein-filled snack. When you do have a conversation, share about your day or discuss topics of their interest so that your relationship doesn’t revolve around academics. You have now learned the Two-Step.

2. Work with your Teen’s Brain
Some brains don’t remember information best when it is said out loud. Think of one phrase that you repeat often such as, “Did you do your homework?” or “Don’t forget to clean your room,” and set a goal of saying it out loud only one time a day. For the visual learner, try writing the reminder on a post-it note, in a text message or on a whiteboard. The whiteboard can be mutually beneficial because your teen can also leave reminders for you. Then, you can create an agreed upon time of day by which the reminders must be read or completed. For the kinesthetic learner that learns by doing, have your teen write down the reminder. You can supply colorful markers or templates of stick figures with blank thought bubbles for your teen to fill in. Integrating humor, creativity, and personal connections increase the brain’s ability to remember the information.

3. Concrete Communication is Key
Adolescence marks the beginning of more complex thinking processes such as abstract thinking. So, when you ask your teen to “clean your room,” although it may sound simple to your fully developed brain, it is actually an abstract concept. Instead, offer concrete directions such as, “pick up 10 items off the floor” or “put five objects from your desk into the desk drawer.” Set a time by which the task must be completed. Instead of using a familiar number such as 5 minutes, pick an unfamiliar deadline such as 42 seconds or 3 1/2 minutes. The brain will be more likely to remember this unusual but specific piece of information.

4. The Praise Stands Alone
When you compliment your teen, let it stand alone. Saying, “I’m so proud that you received an 84 on your quiz” will be received differently than, “I’m so proud that you received an 82 on your quiz but let’s think about what you can do next time to receive a higher score.” These are two separate conversations. If you have constructive feedback, share it at a separate time so that your teen can truly receive your compliment.

5. Eat First, Conversation Second
How you approach an important conversation is just as crucial as the conversation itself. Talk to your teen when the stakes aren’t high. If either of you is stressed or emotional, it will influence your thoughts, actions and how you listen to one another. Instead, ask your teen when would be a good time to have a conversation. Scheduling a time to speak that works for both parties involved creates an even playing field, and also allows room to mentally prepare for what will be discussed. Ask your teen how they would like to handle the issue. Finally, make sure to both eat protein and drink water prior to the conversation so that your brain is more focused and productive. It is nearly impossible to muster up patience and understanding when you are hungry!

6. Set Goals
Leave each important conversation with a specific, concrete action you both are willing to try. Schedule a date for when you will follow up. Write the goals down and post them where they can be seen and not forgotten. Together, you can also create rewards or consequences and then be sure to follow through on them.

7. Look for the Positive
As abstract reasoning develops in the teenage brain, so does social anxiety. You may notice your teen becoming more self-critical, fearful or self-conscious. This is an important time to look for specific, positive actions, even small ones such as “I like that you started your homework by 4 pm today” or “I like that you said hello when you came in the door.” By reinforcing your teen’s positive choices, they will feel acknowledged, appreciated, and gain an increased awareness of their strengths.

8. Create Family Agreements
When the entire family sets a goal, it creates a sense of community rather than a “Us. vs. Them” mentality. For example, if you do not wish for your teen to use their phone at the dinner table, then create an agreement that all family members agree to keep their phone in a different room during each meal.

9. Look for the Mentors
Let yourself off the hook! It is impossible to personally provide every kind of support your teen needs. Seek out role models. While you’re at it, find someone that you can trust and turn to, so that you both have a healthy outlet beyond your family circle. When you have a space to vent, learn and to exchange ideas, you will create more opportunities to fully listen and engage when you are with your family.

10. Beware of your Inner Teen
We were all once teenagers. If your teen’s behavior triggers your own “inner-teen,” stop before you unleash an impulsive response that may escalate the matter. Set a timer and take a break. Leave the room, write down your thoughts, call your mentor or dance it out. Address your needs so that you can make mindful choices that will also model as a healthy example for your teen.

To learn more strategies that will enable you and your teen to work, learn and live better, please visit Better Sessions or contact Better Sessions Founder, Lisa Podell at [email protected]

Photographer credit: David Perlman Photography

Lisa Podell Boss