Golden Rules of Teenager-dom: 3 Tips for Parents Looking to Connect

by Deb Otey, Head of Upper School

Connecting with high-school aged children can be tricky. Head of Upper School Deb Otey shared some of the best advice she’s received in a recent newsletter to parents. Although directed at parents of teenagers, much of her advice applies to children of any age. 


  1. Trust but Verify This important message is one that our US counselor, Ms. Anne Hoffman, shares every year. We want our students to gain independence during these four years, and they will not gain independence without a level of trust from us. However, trust must be earned, and it’s always helpful to keep our teenagers honest. So make it a point to check up on them (their phones, their computers, their social activities, their school work) at appropriate times. Sharing with your teen that you will be checking is always a good reminder. Whether he accepts it or not, you’re attempting some oversight that allows a safe place for growth and development.
  2. Remember: She/He is not You – This advice was given to me by my mentor when I was expecting my first child. Your teenager has her own likes and dislikes. She may have her own interests, and they may be very different from yours. Her style, her work habits, and her outlook on life may be a polar opposite of you and that’s o.k. We should value the parts of our children that are totally different than us. These parts are interesting; they provide a platform for us to eventually (sometime in the next decade, I hope) become friends. She may actually be interesting, have adult-like insights, and contribute to a conversation about your family, your work struggles, or even the political scene. Enjoy getting to know her.
  3. When the Door is Open: Walk In – Sometimes parents of teens struggle conversing with their adolescent. For me, the timing is never right! When my children want to talk, I’m busy: there’s a deadline to meet, clothes to wash, e-mails to answer, or something burning in the oven. When my timing works and there’s an insatiable desire to find out what’s up (why my kid is pouting, why this assignment is not completed, why there’s an e-mail from the dean, or why his room smells), he’s not ready to talk. I push; we fight. It’s a scary ride that neither of us can manage to stop. This year let’s attempt to walk in when that figurative door is open and not force ourselves in if the topic at hand is not life or death. Some say talking in the car is great because kids can’t run. Well, that may work logistically but the teen needs to want to talk. He may need fifteen minutes of silence or some Bon Jovi or Journey for the ride home. (O.k. You may even allow him to choose the music.)