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How to Support Your Teenager: 15 Ways To Fill Up Your Teen’s Tank

At the risk of sounding like an obnoxiously braggy parent, my teenager is one of the most amazing people I know. But it’s not just my teen: in general, our big kids are an inspiring group of human beings.

But they are still kids. They’re still figuring out who they are and who they want to be—and they’re doing it with brains that are still under construction and constantly deluged by hormones. All this takes a lot out of them, and it’s our job—our privilege, really—as parents to put good stuff back in.

15 Ways to Lift Up Your Teen

When our teens are running on empty, here are some ways we help fill them:

1. Do something for them that they could do for themselves.

Not because they can’t do it, but because we can. Not because they won’t, but because we’re willing. Not because they’re not able, but because we’re available.

2. Tell them, “I always look forward to spending time with you.”

I want my teen to know that of all the people vying for her time and attention—friends, significant other, teachers, employers, coaches—I’m her biggest fan.

3. Say, “I know how hard you’ve been working. I’m so proud of you.”

With all the emphasis on outcome in our kids’ lives—the grade, the performance, the win, the award—I want my teen to know I notice the effort that goes into the process.

4. Let them overhear you bragging a little about them.

They might not acknowledge it, but those overheard comments are encouragement that seeps into our teens’ souls and psyches.

5. Send them a text reminding them of something they can look forward to.

We’re planning a big-deal family vacation early next summer, and I intend to milk the anticipation of that for everything it’s worth.

6. Surprise them with a small gift.

The other day, I dropped off a cold bottle of water in a cooler pack and a gift card for her favorite coffee shop to my teen’s car in the school parking lot. Her text when she found it—”What did I do to deserve you?”—was a gift right back to me.

7. Start (and feed) a running joke just between the two of you.

A phrase, a shared memory, even one word. Batted back and forth, these can become connection points with our teens that fill up their tanks and our own.

8. Let something go.

Sometimes, filling up looks more like just not draining. Could I comment on my teen’s bad mood on a Monday morning? Sure. Will it serve any good purpose? Nope. In this case, nothing said is enough said.

9. Give them a pass.

Yes, it might be nice for my teen to go that obligatory family function. But I’m going for more than “nice” here, so I’ll give everyone her greetings while she stays home and recharges.

10. Tell them, “I love watching you do what you love to do.”

When I watch my daughter on her school’s pom/dance team, I can see how much she loves it. It fills up her tank all on its own. But letting her know I can see that love just might cap it off.

11. Give them a hug or a shoulder massage.

But only if permitted and if wanted, of course. Just because I think something is a good idea doesn’t mean my teen feels the same way, and she gets to make the call on this one.

12. Ask them, “Is there anything I can do for you while you’re at school today?”

My teenager spends all day, almost every day, doing things only she can do. If I can run an errand or proof a paper or look for some missing object while she’s doing all those things, I want to know about it.

13. Give them an out.

Sometimes our drained teens want to say no to something but don’t want to hurt a friend’s feelings. My husband and I always tell our girls, “We’re glad to be the ‘bad guys.’ Use us as your no—’my parents won’t let me’ or ‘my parents said I have to do something else that night’—anytime you want to.”

14. Ask them, “When was the last time you ate some protein, took a drink of water, got some exercise, went outside, or took a deep breath?”

These resets for mind and body can get lost in the shuffle of busy teenage life. Our kids need reminding that doing these things will help them do everything else better.

15. Say, “I love you.”

Not because you don’t know what else to say, but because everything else you say that really matters starts and ends with this.

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.