When teens have supportive relationships in their life, they are more likely to be healthy — in the short term and long term.

The how-tos of supporting teens aren’t new or complicated. A lot of our tips back up the good instincts you already have as a parent and support to teens. But it’s also stuff that really works, according to experts.

When you connect with your teen today, you are setting them up for a healthier life. Here’s how it works — and some ideas for how to put connection into practice.

The research proves it.

When young people have trusted adults in their lives who can help with challenges, they are less likely to experience poor mental health and engage in unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse and violence, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), the state’s comprehensive survey on the health of middle- and high-school-aged youth. Connection for young people can look many different ways — so this includes relationships with parents, friends, extended family members and trusted adults, like coaches and teachers. 

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 Encourage your teen to connect with you as well as with other adults. If they like to hang out at your sister’s house, or with the parents of their friends, that can be a good sign they have a wide network of support. 

Connection doesn’t have to be perfect.

Even if your teen shuts you down or you feel discouraged, show your teen you care by the way you keep trying to connect and continue to be there for them. Exactly what you say or how you say it isn’t as important as just trying. It can also help to ask open-ended questions, like “What happened today?”, and listen for the answer, whatever it is. 

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Watch a show together or have them play you a song from their phone. Sit down for a meal together. It’s okay even if there’s not a lot of talking. They may not act like it, but kids want to know that you’re around for them.

Provide a safe base of support but set clear rules and boundaries.

 Being a teen can be scary and hard, and they need to know you’re looking out for them. So be consistent, encouraging and fair — but set clear boundaries and limits. Let them know that you’re someone they can come to when they’re in trouble. Teenagers may say they don’t want rules, but most do want them — and all teens need them!

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If you’re struggling to set boundaries around phone and internet use, a family agreement can be a helpful way to set expectations. Click here for advice from a cyberbullying expert, who recommends creating a “Device Use Agreement” that serves as a contract between you and your teens. 

Sometimes making tighter connections with teens means loosening your grip.

Sharing views and decisions with your teen can be powerful and energizing — for both of you. So listen and think about what they are saying. Try to avoid giving them an immediate “No” or putting down their ideas.

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Empower your teen to make a choice or lead an activity. Have them decide what classes to take, what hikes to go on, or what to make for a family meal. You might just find that you get as much out of it as they do.

Help show them that the world is full of possibilities.

We all want something to look forward to, so help your teen see what their future can look like and expand their worldview. Help them meet interesting people outside the family. Ask them where they’d like to travel someday or if there’s a job or career they’ve ever imagined doing.

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Model what it looks like to learn and grow. Take a class — virtually or in person — or read a book yourself and then tell your teen about it. When you show that you’re still trying to learn too, it will be a powerful motivator for the teens in your life to try new things.

Show them that growth is more important than perfection.

It’s important for teens to know that trying is just as important as succeeding. If they experience failure, let them know that it’s not forever and they shouldn’t give up. Tell them you’ll check in on their progress and that you expect them to keep trying. Talk about your own mistakes in life and how you got better at something by sticking with it.

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How do you celebrate progress over achievement with the teens in your life? Send us a note to tell us about it! We are always looking for the stories of real parents and adults who are supporting teens — through life’s ups and downs.

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