Teaching Teens to Deal with Change

By: Gene Roehlkepartain, Guest Blogger

Transition and change can happen almost daily when there are teenagers in the family. Their bodies are changing, as are the ways they think about and look at the world. They are going to new schools, going through puberty, and making new friends. And on top of teens’ own changes, families go through change—a job change or loss, moving to a new home or city, the death of a grandparent, a military deployment, a divorce or split in the family, or a marriage or remarriage.

Whether positive, negative, or neutral, these changes and transitions are important opportunities and challenges. During transitions, you and your teen may be more open to trying new things and breaking old habits. They can also be times when teens are more vulnerable to negative or risky activities and behaviors. They may also experience a sense of loss and grief that need time for healing.

So, how can we as parents help our teens through these different transitions, often when we ourselves are also going through parallel changes? Here are some tips you can use to help you raise a resilient teen.

  • Maintain warmth and security. The most important way that parenting adults help teens through transitions is to be dependable sources of warmth, care, and security in the midst of all the other changes. Change can make teens more lonely, anxious, and stressed during and after transitions. Make it a priority to spend time with your teen so that he or she knows you are accessible and supportive.
  • Provide both flexibility and stability. When a family goes through major transitions, it is important to adapt, change roles, and adjust to the new situations. At the same time, teens need reassurance that that daily life will become predictable and stable. This may involve making it a priority to have dinner together as a family while also talking together about what to do differently based on the changes that have happened. While this focus is vital for major changes, it also fits with normal changes, such as going to a new school.
  • Give teens meaningful ways to contribute. One way to help teens feel more in control is to involve them as much as possible in the planning and work during the transition times. For example, if you are moving to a new city, a teen may help scout out grocery stores, the school, entertainment, local faith communities, or other resources that will be important to your family.
  • Have confidence in the foundation you have laid. Teens do not approach a transition as blank slates. They bring with them the skills, attitudes, beliefs, priorities, and values that they have developed up until that point in their lives. Though there can always be surprises in the midst of transition, researchers emphasize that their choices and outcomes will be heavily influenced by the identity and character that are already in them (Graber, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). In fact, the change will likely bring out core characteristics of the teen (such as aspects of her or his personality), which can be encouraging for parents to see and experience.

    Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute, and creator of the 9 Parenting Strategies. Roehlkepartain is widely recognized as an expert in child, youth, and family development in community contexts. Particular areas of interest include family strengths, community supports for families and youth, spiritual development, service-learning, youth philanthropy, and linking youth development with financial literacy. Join Gene for a free webinar about the 9 Parenting Strategies presented by ParentFurther on Wednesday, January 30 at 12PM, CST. Learn more >>


    Great article! Teens need as much warmth, stability, and sense of security as possible, especially if they have experienced changes in their life. I agree that is vitally important for families to structure some quality family interaction time like having meals together. Helping teens discover ways to contribute to the family can be beneficial, as well.

    For a the variety of reasons mentioned, teens often appear unhappy and self-centered, so it is especially important for them to know that they are still loved.

    For two articles, “Is Family Mealtime Important?” and “Helping Your Child Cope with School Transitions,” click below and on the title of your choice: http://www.kellybear.com/ParentTips.html

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