Most parents of small children already know the power of praise. But as children turn into teenagers it becomes more complex.

Parents sometimes assume teens don’t need the same praise, thanks and affirmation. (Surely, by now, they should be doing that without expecting praise for it?)

They might wonder whether teens care about their opinion anyway. And parents are more often hurt and angry with teenagers, which makes it harder to be positive.

I see teens that simply cannot remember the last time they heard someone say something positive about them. Not at school, not with friends – and definitely not at home.

Not surprisingly, these teens struggle to act in likeable, positive or constructive ways.

We need to praise, thank and affirm our teenagers. It’s an important way to improve teen-parent relationships. Here are some tips on how to do it well.

Be specific

“Good job”, “Love you” and “Well done” have their place, but more specific praise and thanks is more powerful. Say exactly what it was the teen did or does that was positive. That might include “I was impressed by the way you stayed calm in that discussion”; “Your creativity in that essay was amazing”; “I love the way you are loyal to your friends” or “Thanks so much for getting your laundry sorted without a reminder
– that really made my life easier”.

Focus on character

Research shows that when teens see themselves as having positive characteristics, they are more likely to keep acting in positive ways. Try “I saw how you kept working on that assignment even when it was hard. You are so persistent”; or “I noticed you sharing your chips with your sister. You are a really generous person”.

Be generous

Teens often have a lot going on – physically, emotionally and practically. They don’t have the same brain structures are adults. Their emotional skills are not yet fully developed. Things that we think should be easy are often a challenge for teens. Don’t wait until they have done something outstanding to notice. Praise even small steps towards helpful behaviour. Try “Thanks for putting your dishes in the dishwasher instead of just leaving them on the table; I know that’s easy to forget”.

Praising and affirming teens is sometimes hard. Don’t beat yourself up when you forget. Eventually you will notice them respond – and you will also feel better about your teen, and the relationship you have with them.