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Tweens Teens & Twenties

Raising Happy Teens: Tips for Parents

By Tanni Haas, Ph.D. | Contributor

To parents of teens, the title of this article may seem surprising. Teens and happiness? What could that possibly mean? Teens often walk around with a sullen demeanor, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a lot that parents can do to help their teens stay happy – at least most of the time! Here’s what the experts suggest:

Involve Them In Extracurricular Activities

Teens spend their time and energy worrying about how they look to others, especially friends. But too much introspection doesn’t really make anyone happy. Happy teens are those that are able to look beyond themselves and engage with others. One of the best things you can do for your teens is encourage them to take up extracurricular activities like art and crafts, music, or sports. “Extracurricular activities create structure and research has shown that those involved in these activities have higher self-esteem,” says therapist Kaela Scott. Simply put, participating in extra-curricular activities make teens feel good about themselves.  

… And Volunteer Opportunities

Teens are even happier when they’re doing something meaningful for others instead of just hanging out with others. As educational psychologist Dr. Michelle Borba, the author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and many other parenting books, puts it: “Kids are happier when they give to others, not when they get for themselves.” Encourage your teens to look for volunteer opportunities like coaching a little league baseball team or being a companion to elderly people in an assisted living facility.

“Kids are happier when they give to others, not when they get for themselves.”
Dr. Michelle Borba

Be A Parent – And A Friend

Another thing that makes teens happy is when parents treat them as friends and not just as kids. Teens need you to guide them into adulthood and to teach them how to make good choices, but they also need you to be there for them as people that they can trust and confide in. “Teens crave the security of knowing their parents understand them, appreciate them, and love them no matter what,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. “So they do want the relationship to be a form of friendship.” 

… And Listen Well

To be a genuine friend to your teens, listen carefully to what they share with you and try not to judge them. “Teens want to feel heard but don’t necessarily want advice,” says developmental psychologist Jessica Cleary. “Validating their experience without judgment will result in your teen confiding in you more often, bringing you closer together.” For example, if they tell you about a problem they’re having with a close friend, don’t try to come up with a solution to the issue right away. Show them that you understand what they’re going through, assure them that it’s a common experience, and recount similar experiences you had as a teen.  

“Teens want to feel heard but don’t necessarily want advice.”
Jessica Cleary

Be A Role Model

To raise happy teens, you need to be happy yourself. “When you’re in an emotionally generous mood,” Dr. Markham says, “everything changes: You’re patient, you’re warm, you’re giving, and your kid blossoms.” Conversely, she says, “if you’re in a bad mood, what unfolds with your kid is going to be tense, they’re going to act out to get your attention, they’re going to be anxious, they’ll begin to echo your tone of voice.” So, do things that make you really happy. It’s good for you – and for your teens.


About the Author:

Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.

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