How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Teen So That You Get Your Point Across And Create a Close Parent-Child Bond

How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Teen So That You Get Your Point Across And Create a Close Parent-Child Bond

Click here to subscribe

In my experience, one of the trickiest skills for a parent to develop is the skill of communicating an important message to their child while still maintaining a positive parent-child relationship.

Think about it: How many times have you had a difficult conversation with your child and one – or both of you – ends the conversation with their feelings hurt?

Or maybe the difficult conversation ended with yelling, name-calling, or hurtful judgements.

Worse yet, many of the important conversations we must have with our kids involves a lot of emotions. When this happens, it’s very difficult for the child to really HEAR what we want to get across to them. When our kids feel attacked, judged, and/or not liked, it’s as if they turn off the listening parts of the brain and hyper focus their energy on arguing the opposite side of what we’re trying to get across to them.

The point of this article is to explain where most parents fail at having difficult conversations with their teenagers. Psychological science has identified several key communication techniques that many well-meaning Modern Parents use, but don’t work. Want to know what DOES work? Later in this article, I’ll teach you several effective strategies to use when having difficult conversations with you teenager that actually serve to make your teenager listen to you AND build a close parent-child bond.

But before you implement any new communication techniques, you’ll first need to be able to identify what make a conversation critical – and what mistakes most parents are making that contribute to miscommunication, hurt feelings, and/or a damaged parent-child relationship.


Retreating vs. Competing


So what are critical conversations? These occur when a parent and child have a conversation where lots of emotions are involved.

The following are examples of common parent-child critical conversations:

  • Talking about why your child got a bad grade
  • Discussing why you don’t want your daughter to go out with her boyfriend past 10:00pm
  • Listening to your son tell you that they don’t think the other kids like him at school
  • Confronting your child about the cigarettes you found in their car.

Sometimes conversations can start out as a normal, non-emotional conversation and quickly turn into a critical conversation. You know this is happening when all of a sudden you feel dread, anger, nervousness, and/or annoyance about continuing the conversation.

Most parents react in one of two ways when confronted with a parent-child critical conversation: they either retreat or compete. I’ll admit that when I must have a critical conversation with one of my kids, my gut reaction is to retreat – to avoid having the conversation altogether.

Retreating solves the immediate problem, right? It gets the parent out of the uncomfortableness of having the conversation – but it’s not effective in the long run. Avoiding critical conversations on a regular basis only serves to ignore a family problem and degrades the closeness of the parent-child relationship.

On the other hand, competing is just as ineffective. Instead of retreating, some parents tackle the critical conversation head on by focusing on “winning” the conversation. When this happens, intense emotions cause both parent and teen to stop listening to the other person, and what needs to be communicated never gets across.

Instead of retreating or competing, the smart thing to do is to have the difficult conversation using strategies that help us gain the courage to have the conversation while keeping the emotional level low so that both parties don’t instinctively feel like they have to defend themselves.

When we focus on defending our point of view then we don’t leave much cognitive ability to listen to the other person.

But before the Modern Parent can begin using effective critical communication strategies, they need to set up an environment that decreases the teen’s instinctive need to defend themselves and increases their ability to see their parent’s point of view.


How Parents Set Themselves Up For Conversation Failure


In order to have a constructive conversation with a teenager, we must set up a safe environment for them. When they feel safe, then they are more likely to see the parent’s point of view – they won’t feel the instinctive need to defend their own point of view.

So where are most parent going wrong?

The fight or flight process automatically handicaps clear thinking. When teens enter into critical conversations with parents, their biology automatically switches on the fight or flight mechanism.

When humans experience danger or stress, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear – this is the fight or flight response. During this time, our hearts beat faster, our breathing speeds up, and our bodies release adrenaline.

Our bodies act this way when we feel physically threatened AND when we feel emotionally threatened – like during a difficult conversation.

It makes sense, then, that when our bodies snap into fight or flight mode, we prepare to defend ourselves. This defense can take the form of a physical defense or an emotional one, but during both forms of defense, our ability to critically and intellectually listen to our opponent becomes compromised.

Think of it this way: during fight or flight, our bodies shift energy from cognitive tasks to protective ones. Thus, listening to someone else, empathizing with them, and having the ability to compromise with them is super hard during critical conversations because our bodies are working against us.

Critical Conversations tend to be spontaneous. Kids have great timing, right?

When you have time to have a nice long conversation with your child, they seem to not be in the talking mood. But when ARE they ready to open up and talk? That’s right – when you’re tired, stressed from work, in the middle of a household project, or any other inconvenient time.

Because critical conversations tend to happen during unplanned and inconvenient moments, we sometimes don’t handle the conversations as well as could have if we were totally prepared for the topic beforehand.

We can’t stop these unplanned conversations from happening, but we can develop a system to reacting to them in a way that provides the guidance that your child needs and builds a strong parent-child bond.

We create an Ineffective Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Are you familiar with the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s the horrible psychological principle that says we tend to either directly or indirectly make a situation happen simply by believing that it can happen.

For example, if a parent believes that their child is lazy and does not like to study, this belief about their child will then CAUSE their child to shy away from studying.

This is done directly when the parent doesn’t promote a consistent after school study routine because they believe that it’s too much trouble and a waste of time.

The parent indirectly makes this belief come true by transferring this belief to their child. Kids tend to believe the descriptions they hear about themselves – especially descriptions they hear from their parents. As such, kids will often conform to the negative beliefs that their parents have about them.

How does this relate to difficult conversations with our teens? We inadvertently create self-fulfilling prophecies during emotional conversations by letting our words, body language, and/or our attitudes express our beliefs about our child.

As we’ve previously discussed, there are some really good reasons why we don’t react in the best way during difficult conversations, and we can say things, act without thinking, and/or have an attitude that doesn’t help guide our child or build a good relationship with them when this happens.

So, if there are so many reasons why difficult conversations with our teens can go wrong, what can we do?

Now that you know some of the “traps” that many well-meaning parents fall into when having difficult conversations with their teens, it’s time to transition to learning the techniques that do work.


The Techniques That Provide The Guidance That Your Child Needs & Builds a Positive Parent-Child Bond


As discussed above, you can’t always control when difficult conversations happen with your teenager, but you can control how you react to them.

Having a plan in place is the first step to ensuring that difficult conversations with your teen changes from something that you dread to times that are meaningful to both you and your teen.

In order to make this change happen, you need to make the four commitments described below.

Commit to having difficult conversations with your child. Remember above when we discussed the three options for reacting to a difficult conversation? One typical reaction that many of us choose is to avoid having the conversation altogether.

Going forward, you have to resolve having these conversations with your teen. It might be tempting to avoid the conversation or to give in to what your child wants in order to end the conversation, but this won’t get you want.

When you see that a difficult conversation is about to happen, take a deep breath and remember why this is important: you want to be the guiding force for your child and you want to create a positive and warm bond with your child.

Commit to moving out of fight or flight. So we discussed above how our biology can trick us into being poor listeners and even worse thinkers.

Now that you have resolved not to run from the conversation, the next step is to identify how your body acts to fight or flight and then resolve to actively take steps to return to your norma functioning.

During difficult conversations, take notice of your body: do you start to breath rapidly? Does your heart beat out of your chest? Do you ball up your hands or tense up?

Once you identify how your body reacts to fight or flight, take steps to calm down in the moment. Take long, slow breaths. Remind yourself that your child is not the enemy. If you are worrying about the work you should be doing, or the dinner you should be cooking, or you have a disagreement with your co-worker on your brain, try to push these thoughts out of your mind right now and focus on your child.

Tell yourself that this moment will not last forever, and that YOU can positively influence your child once you are out of fight or flight mode.

Commit to ending negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Get honest with yourself and think introspectively about any judgements you have about your child or yourself.

This step is all about committing to believing in your child and yourself. Your child might have behaved a certain way in the past, but it doesn’t have to define them.

The same can be said for you, too. Perhaps in the past you behaved in a way that you are not proud of. You CAN change. Believe that you can and this self-fulfilling prophecy will come true.

Commit to ending negative self-fulfilling prophecies – and begin using positive ones.

The self-fulfilling prophecy principle has been proven over and over again to work, so you might as well use it to your advantage!

Take the following steps to create positive self-fulfilling prophecies:

  • What are some of your knee-jerk judgements you’ve made about your child or family in the past (i.e. your child is lazy, your family doesn’t care, etc.)?
  • After identifying your usual judgements, now identify what the OPPOSITE judgement would be (i.e. judging a child to be lazy would turn into believing that the child has potential if she just puts forth enough effort).
  • Once you’ve created positive self-fulfilling prophecies, begin to behave in a way that communicates this prophecy to your child or family both verbally and nonverbally.

That’s it. That’s all it takes to make this psychological principle work in your favor. It may feel strange at first – but don’t give up on it! I’ll bet that you’ll see progress in a very short period of time.

Commit to using your new communication plan – no matter what! The biggest factor in making your new communication plan a success is to use it consistently.

New systems always take awhile to feel comfortable and successful. Don’t give up if:

  • You accidentally revert back to the way you used to communicate – learn from your mistakes instead of giving up on your new plan
  • It feels “weird” using the new plan – it will feel more comfortable soon
  • Your child or family thinks you seem “fake” – your willingness to consistently make an effort to improve the communication between you will eventually change their minds
  • It seems like it’s taking a long time to work – success doesn’t happen overnight, and better communication with your teen is worth putting in the effort on this.


Take Home Message


As Modern Parents, we all want a close and loving relationship with our teenagers. Many parents and teens over a long period of time have slipped into an ineffective communication pattern that slowly tore apart what once was a good parent-child relationship.

By using scientific studies to our advantage, we now know specific strategies that help to strengthen the parent-child bond through effective communication.

We can’t avoid having difficult conversation with our teenagers, but we can resolve to have these conversations with the dual goals of providing the guidance that our child needs AND to build a solid parent-child bond.



Are You Using The 3 Important Elements That All Successful Modern Parent Use Religiously?

To Find Out, Download The Free Guide ==>

The Modern Parenting Blueprint: The 3 Elements That All Successful Modern Parents Use Religiously

Four Signs Your Teen Is Avoiding Adulthood

Four Signs Your Teen Is Avoiding Adulthood

A recent scientific analysis of seven large surveys identified what Modern Parents have suspected for a long time now – that Modern Kids are putting off adulthood for as long as they can.

There are pros and cons to what the author of this large-scale analysis, Dr. Jean Twenge, calls a “slow life strategy.”

The pros are that Modern Parents can worry less about their kids engaging in risky behaviors such as having sex, drinking, and smoking.

According to the Modern Kids surveyed, they actually preferred spending time hanging out at home with their parents instead of socializing outside of the home with their peers. As such, they aren’t putting themselves in situations where previous generations of teens might have engaged in risky behaviors.

As you might have guessed, though, the downside to a “slow life strategy” is the postponement of positive teenage milestones that serve to prepare kids in becoming successful adults.

Twenge’s study also found that the average teen is putting off getting their driver’s license and getting their first job by several years.This means that when our kids come of age and are expected to be independent young adults, they are often sorely unprepared; thus, they retreat to their “comfort zone” of the family home.It seems, then, that there are pros and cons to this new phenomenon of extending the Modern Kid’s childhood.

While it’s great that Modern Parents are plugging in and creating a positive and nurturing environment that inspires Modern Kids to enjoy their fleeting childhoods, it’s also encouraging a generation of kids to become complacent with staying in the nest.Many well-meaning parents (myself included!) enjoy parenting and all the little daily interactions with our kids that show how much we love them.

I like spoiling my kids by making them dinner and cleaning up the kitchen afterward – instead of requiring them to “do their part” by cleaning up the dishes afterward. It’s always fun to chat with them in the kitchen while I cook or clean up.

I like driving them to and from school or activities. We have the best conversations in the car. (Keep in mind that my son wasn’t interested in getting his driver’s license until he was 19.)I didn’t mind looking the other way when my kids were younger and the house was messy – if it meant that they both agreed to snuggle on the couch with me and watch Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

Recently, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post on how to balance creating a close bond with today’s teenagers while still encouraging their independence. If you’re looking for some guidance on how to ensure that your child continues to hit those important young adult milestones, then I highly suggest reading that article.In today’s article, though, I want to explore some warning signs that might indicate that your teenager might be actively avoiding growing up.

Identifying these early warning signs before your child hits young adulthood is key in helping them be prepared when the time comes to grow up and become independent. 


Sign #1: They don’t seem comfortable making their own decisions

Does your child often defer to you on where to go for dinner, what to watch during family TV time, or even how to spend their free time?On the surface, it might seem like that your child trusts you to make good decisions for them (and this could feel really good for you as the parent), but the reality could also mean that your child just doesn’t trust themselves to make their own decisions.

Part of being an adult is having to make choices that have consequences – either good ones or bad ones – and many teens who are nervous about growing up are also nervous about making “bad” decisions.

One solution to this problem is to intentionally let your child make decisions. Start off slow – maybe insist they choose what movie to see on Friday night – and work up to more important decisions.It’s also important that you help them get over their fear of making a wrong choice. Let them make some not great choices so you can also teach them that how to make up for bad choices.

For a great article on how to encourage your child to take smart risks, click HERE for an article that I wrote about this in the past (it comes with a free downloadable PDF parenting resource too!). 


Sign #2: They avoid talking about what they want to do after graduating high school

Many kids are stuck because they can’t imagine themselves as adults.

When asked about what they want to do when they grow up or where they want to go to college, these kids never have an answer. The thought of being independent, working at a job, or even living in their own house or apartment is extremely foreign to some kids.

These kids avoid any kind of discussion about growing up like the plague.

If this sounds like your child, help them overcome this fear of independence by talking about their future. As always, you’ll want to start off slow and non threatening, and do it in a natural (not forced) way.

Expose your child to adult experiences such as college campuses and places of employment. Get together with successful young adults that you might know. Let your child hear about the rewarding experiences this young adult is having with their independence.

The goal here is to help your child start imagining themselves as a successful adult in the future. Get them excited about growing up!

Sign #3: They don’t have interests or hobbies of their own

When your child’s only interest is accompanying you on whatever your hobby happens to be, then they are cheated from exploring their own unique talents and passions.

Now, I’m not saying that spending time with your child while participating in an activity that is fun for you is a bad thing – far from it!

What’s important is that your child is always encouraged to discover their own unique passions, values, and beliefs that might be different from yours.

Independence is about your child discovering who he or she is as a person and how they fit into this world. They need to start this journey of discovery while they are teenagers so that are somewhat comfortable with themselves when they become young adults (this is important because, as we all know, figuring out who we are is a lifelong process).

Encourage your child to explore interests and passions. They might not always stick with a hobby once they’ve started one, but it’s so important that you encourage their search! Once they’ve found a hobby that interests them, then growing up to further explore it seems fun and exciting. 

The goal here is to allow your child to find an interest that they are excited about participating in independently. This makes growing up and participating in this hobby less scary.

Sign #4: They don’t have many face-to-face friends

Let’s face it, in order for our kids to successfully navigate the adult world, they must be able to have good relationships with the people around them.

They’ll need to have a good relationship with their boss to stay employed.

They’ll need to understand how to have positive romantic relationships if they are to remain in a relationship with a romantic partner.

Being a happy adult means engaging in social relationships of all kinds – with friends, Church members, work peers, etc. If our kids don’t know how to navigate these face-to-face social contacts, then no wonder becoming an adult seems like too much work!

Encourage your child to have face-to-face relationships with peers by allowing your child to have friends over to your house for movie nights or sleepovers. Sign your child up for social extracurricular activities such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Put them into contact with their peers as much as possible.

Now, many kids do have ample opportunity to socialize face-to-face with peers and they still have difficulty maintaining long-term friendships. If this is the case with your child, then taking them to a mental health professional for an evaluation might be a good idea. Lots of times, mental health professionals can help kids learn special skills to help them if they have any social difficulties.

Take Home Message

I think Twenge’s analysis of surveyed teens is a huge eye-opener. We don’t have to look at her work and conclude that this generation of kids is doomed.

Rather, Modern Parents can use this new information to better inform their parenting.It’s ok if we allow our kids to have a “slow paced life,” but we still need to ensure that they are ready for adult responsibilities when the time comes.

The trick is finding that sweet spot of allowing our kids to take certain aspects of life slowly, while acknowledging that they are still consistently going down that path of adulthood.Is your child stuck in childhood? You’re not a bad parent if this article opened your eyes to that fact; however, now you need to do something with that information.

It’s never too late to work with your child to encourage their budding independence.



Are You Using The 3 Important Elements That All Successful Modern Parent Use Religiously?

To Find Out, Download The Free Guide ==>

The Modern Parenting Blueprint: The 3 Elements That All Successful Modern Parents Use Religiously

What Every Modern Parent Needs To Know About Creating A Positive Parent-Child Relationship

What Every Modern Parent Needs To Know About Creating A Positive Parent-Child Relationship

Click here to subscribe

Psychological research has shown over and over that the positive bond between parent and child is the foundation for future success and happiness for the child. Without this important structure created during childhood, future mental health, happiness, and career success are all put in jeopardy.

Bam. That statement sure puts a lot of pressure on the Modern Parent.

If we don’t have a secure connection with our child, then research pretty much says that the consequences for our kids could mean anything from low self-esteem to problems with insecurity, anger, and depression.

As a Modern Parent myself, I feel so much pressure to have just the “right” relationship with my my son and daughter, but what exactly does that relationship look like?

It’s pretty common knowledge these days that psychologists believe that most parents fall into 3 different categories of parenting.

  • Authoritarian: This parent is controlling, overbearing, and set high (and often unrealistic) standards for their kids. Interactions between these parents and kids is usually intense, judgemental, and punitive. Parents spend a great amount of time communicating and enforcing the family values and beliefs; however this intense focus on following family values without question often leads kids to rebel. Psychologists have found that this style of parenting leads to kids who often times grow up with socioemotional struggles, romantic relationship difficulties, and career problems.


  • Permissive: This type of parent does not have consistent rules (if any) in the household and allows their kids too much freedom without boundaries. These kids often don’t know what values and beliefs are important to the family, because they have not been communicated effectively by the parent; as such, these kids often spend lots of time trying to figure out who they are and what they believe in. Research has shown that kids of permissive parents often develop anxiety, depression, narcissistic traits, and difficulty with self-motivation.


  • Authoritative: Psychologists overwhelmingly agree that this is the style of parenting that tends to create kids who are mentally and socially healthy, as well as self-secured and  successful. The secret to this type of parenting s the way in which these parents are able to communicate clear and sensible rules, boundaries, and values while also empathetically enforcing them. Interactions between parent and child are warm and respectful, while the parent takes the time to explain the reasoning behind the family rules and values.


The Modern Parents that I work with understand the value of being an authoritative parent. They want to have a respectful relationship with their child that is characterized with warm, heart-to-heart discussions about important (and not so important) topics, while still maintaining family rules that make sense.

Even so, many Modern Parents are still feeling a disconnect with their child. They don’t have the positive, easy connection with their child that they’ve always wanted.What’s missing?

I would argue that not only do Modern Parents need to practice the good habits of the authoritative parent, but they also should encourage their child’s sense of autonomy in order to encourage a close, positive, and honest relationship with their child.

We want our kids to feel that they can share their thoughts with us, but in order to do that, they need to feel as though they can trust us.

So how can the Modern Parent build that trust? Keep reading on to find out how encouraging your child’s sense of autonomy not only helps your child in so many positive ways (such as increasing their self-motivation, creativity, and general happiness), but also serves to build a great parent-child relationship.


What Does it Mean to be Autonomy Supportive?

As I’ve said before, supporting your child’s autonomy doesn’t mean allowing them to do whatever they want, when they want, regardless of the consequences.

According to Edward Deci, a research psychologist who spent decades researching the ins and outs of self-motivation, autonomy is that magical element where people feel like they’re in control of their lives.

We WANT our kids to understand that ultimately THEY are in control of their lives – it’s up to them to make good (or bad) decisions. Mom and dad will not always be around to make their decisions for them, so practicing autonomous behavior while in the family home makes sense.

The Modern Parent’s job is to allow their child to make their own decisions regarding their behavior, and then to follow through with any appropriate rewards or consequences based upon the family’s individual rules and values.

That’s how autonomy works. Modern Parents communicate the family values and beliefs and set boundaries for their child’s behavior. The parent then allows the child to decide whether or not to follow these family rules (which they usually do), but when they decide not to adhere to the family boundaries, then the parent follows through with consequences that make sense.

This is exactly how the real world will be treating our kids, so this is great preparation for teaching our kids how to be successful young adults.Research also says that kids who feel autonomous (versus its opposite – feeling controlled) creates kids who are more creative, happy, and well-adjusted. Plus, as a child psychologist, I’ve seen first hand how encouraging autonomous behavior has helped eliminate behavioral problems and has allowed the kids that I work with to become more self-confident.  


How Autonomy Helps Build a Close Parent-Child Bond

According to Edward Deci, being autonomy supportive is all about how we relate to others – our kids, people at work, friends and extended family members. As Edward Deci says in his book Why We Do What we Do, the first step to building a bond with anyone is by being willing to relate to them:

“As human beings, as active agents who are worthy of support, rather than as objects to be manipulated for our own gratification. That means taking their perspective and seeing the world from their point of view as we relate to them. Of course, autonomy support may require more work, but then, as socializing agents, that is our responsibility. For us to expect responsibility from others, we must accept our own responsibility as the agent of their socialization.”

When you are an autonomy supportive parent, your child learns that:

  • You trust them to make their own decisions. This DOESN’T mean that you think they will make the best decision every time (who does, right?). It DOES mean that you believe that your child is capable of making good decisions, and, when they don’t, they are capable of remedying their bad decisions.


  • You are willing to help them. Your child needs to know that you are dependable – whether it is by correcting them through setting boundaries and consequences  (Yes! Science says our kids LIKE parents who maintain family rules!) and/or by helping them problem-solve during a crisis. Our kids need to know that we are there for them through good and bad.


  • You are a wise person yourself. Remember those times you learned life lessons from your parents? Usually it was when your parent shared a story about their life that really drove that lesson home. Sharing our own little stories of our ups and downs goes along way in instructing our kids about being an adult.


Qualities of an Autonomy Supportive Parent

So what are the qualities that an autonomy supportive parent should practice in order to build a positive relationship with their child?

Quality #1: Non Judgemental communication – listen, then instruct

I’m not telling parents that they aren’t allowed to have an opinion about their child’s life. What I am saying is that kids (especially teens) are more willing to listen to their parent’s instruction and opinion AS LONG AS THEY FEEL HEARD.

It’s so important to let your child get out what they want to say first, and acknowledge that it makes sense that they would think and feel that way. Once your child feels heard and understood, then go ahead and share your own wisdom.

Quality #2: Showing interest in their interests and hobbies

There are countless articles and studies out there telling Modern Parents to put down their cell phones and tablets and get involved with their kids – but really CONNECTING with our kids is a different story.

To really be autonomy supportive, parents need to be willing to engage with their child or teen at their level. This means that spending some time playing your child’s favorite video game, taking them to their favorite band’s concert, or learing all about their interest in anime shows them that you are interested in THEM – not in who you wish they were.

This communicates to your child that you trust them to figure out who they are, because the person they are about to become is awesome in your eyes.

Quality #3: Knowing the difference between being a friend and being a parent

Once you begin implementing quality #1 and #2 above, you will probably see your relationship with your child improve; however, smart Modern Parents know that there is a fine line between being your child’s friend and being their parent.

Being an autonomy supportive parent means allowing your child to feel free to voice their opinions and thoughts, and to make their own decisions, but you still need to make sure that the family rules are followed.

Never allow your child to use your close relationship to bend the rules. As Edward Deci reminds us in his book, “If there are no limits, no structure, no regulations to internalize, there will be no internalization…Permissiveness is easy, but autonomy support is hard work. It requires being clear, being consistent, setting limits in an understanding, empathic way.”

Remember…supporting your child’s autonomy means letting them practice their decision-making skills in the safety of the family environment. Setting and maintaining limits teach your child all about the real world, and that’s the point of parenting – setting our children up for a successful future in the adult world and maintaining a good relationship with them in the process. 


Take Home Message

Parents who are autonomy supportive and involved have children who better internalize the family rules and values willingly and for a lifetime. Furthermore, Edward Deci’s experiments with autonomy have shown that kids who were able to internalize the family rules and values were naturally better at achievement and adjustment.

This is why what we do at home as Modern Parents goes a long way in helping our kids develop a happy and successful future.

Click here to subscribe



Are You Using The 3 Important Elements That All Successful Modern Parent Use Religiously?

To Find Out, Download The Free Guide ==>

The Modern Parenting Blueprint: The 3 Elements That All Successful Modern Parents Use Religiously

The 3 Most Important Elements That Research Says Creates Happy and Successful Kids

The 3 Most Important Elements That Research Says Creates Happy and Successful Kids

Click here to subscribe

Week after week, email after email, and conversation after conversation, I get asked the same thing by people: What is the most common problem that I help Modern Parents with today?

Hands down, Modern Parents want to know how they can get their kids to do something.

How can they get their kids to listen to them?

How can they get their kids to not be so anxious?

How can they get their kids to get better grades?

How can they get their kids to be more social?

The list of what parents want to change, or improve, about their kids is endless, but the answer is always the same – there are no magic words or techniques that will give their kids the necessary motivation to change overnight. The reality is that inspiring change in our kids is a long process that involves a lot of work by the parent.

The good news is, however, that science has found the 3 necessary ingredients that all kids need in order to develop the all-important “motivation muscle”: autonomy, mastery, and relatedness.

Today’s article will provide you with the basics of including these elements into your Modern Family so that your child will develop the necessary motivation skills needed to become a happy and successful young adult.


A year or so ago, I had a new parent that I was working with tell me about a challenge that she was having with her teenage daughter. The problem was that her daughter would always want to spend the night at her neighbor friend’s house instead of at home. The mother took offense at this, because she felt the child should WANT to spend time with her own family, so every day when the daughter would ask to sleep at the neighbor’s house, a huge argument between mother and daughter would ensue.

The mother asked me how to get her child to stop asking to stay at the neighbor’s house and spend time with the family at home. My answer was to give her child the autonomy to make the choice herself.

“That’s crazy Dr. B,” she said. “If I let my daughter do whatever she wants, she’ll never come home.”

“I didn’t say to let her do whatever she wants. I said give her the autonomy to choose to sleep at the neighbor’s house or to sleep at home, but if she chooses to sleep at the neighbor’s house, then she also chooses to do so responsibly. For example, in order to go to the neighbor’s house, perhaps a set of responsible behaviors would be that she needs to show you that her homework and chores are done before going over there and that she needs to be following all household rules such as not getting into fights with her siblings. Also, you will be talking to the friend’s mom to make sure that her bedtime will be followed at her friend’s house.”

Immediately, this parent thought I was one of those modern, “anything goes” kind of therapists. She gave me reason after reason about why giving her daughter the autonomy in this situation wouldn’t work. I was convinced she would leave the session not taking my advice and coming back week after week complaining over and over again about this same situation.

But to my surprise, several months later, the mother opened our parent group session with a confession that she tried the advice that I gave her and it worked exactly as I said it would. She said that she got to a point where she was just tired of arguing with her daughter, so she thought there was nothing to lose. She gave her daughter the choice to go to her friend’s house or stay home, and magically her daughter didn’t seem to have any interest in going to her friend’s house any more.

“It was as if once she knew the decision was in her hands, she took the decision to stay at her friend’s house more seriously and decided it would be better in the long run to stay home. Now she only goes to her friend’s house once or twice on the weekends.”

As research psychologist Edward Deci found in his research on human motivation, both kids and adults need to have a feeling of ownership in their behavioral choices in order to make good decisions. His research showed that if kids felt like their decisions were made for them, they either rebelled or complied, but they complied in a way where they did horrible work and only the minimal amount of work required to get the job done.

Conversely, his research also showed that when kids were given the opportunity to make decisions within a clearly defined set of boundaries, they were happier, more creative, and learned more. Most Modern Parents make the mistake of thinking that giving kids clear boundaries negates the sense of autonomy when allowing the child or teenager to be in charge of their own behavioral decisions. On the contrary, it empowers them, because now they have all the information needed to make a good choice.

Will kids ALWAYS make the best decision when given autonomy? Of course not, so parents need to be consistent when following through on consequences when kids choose the wrong decision. This doesn’t mean they are bad kids – this simply means they are still learning the decision-making process.

Think about it. We WANT our kids to practice making decisions often and early. If we make all their decisions for them – even if we do this with the good intention of sparing our kids from stupid mistakes – then they will never learn the life skill of decision making. If they make a bad decision while still under our care, then we can teach them how to correct their mistake.

I’ve seen way too many college kids who are new at making decisions really mess up, and when this happens, the consequences are usually more serious than if they practiced making decisions when they were younger.

This week, try giving your child autonomy on some small decisions. Once they have mastered making good decisions with small situations, then move one to more important ones. You will love watching your child blossom right before your eyes. I promise.


Recently, I worked with a Mom and Dad who just had their child tested for ADHD. Their teen daughter had been home schooled for the past several years due to the fact that she developed anxiety while at school, and they felt homeschooling her would help alleviate her distress. Her grades had become so bad that she was in jeopardy of not progressing to the next grade, and the parents attributed her academic difficulty to ADHD.

However, testing showed that the child was bright, had zero learning disorders and showed no signs of attention problems or hyperactivity; thus, we could not diagnose her with ADHD. The parents, and especially the child, were crushed with the news.

“If it’s not ADHD, then why is our child not progressing,” they asked me. The mother wanted to know what MORE they could do for their child. Already, Mom sat with her teenager for hours each day reading the material to her (sitting alone made the child anxious and she would complain that she couldn’t concentrate enough to read and remember the material) and Dad would regularly go to the homeschool center to advocate for why his child needed more time to complete assignments and to argue for better grades,

Are you getting the picture yet?

Mom and Dad did everything for this child – she never developed a sense of mastery for any task, which made her anxious to do anything even remotely out of her comfort zone.

Unfortunately, I see this problem a lot in today’s families, but fortunately, there is a pretty easy solution.

Kids need to develop a sense of mastery over even the most mundane tasks. When kids are toddlers, they learn to master toilet training. Later they master such routine tasks such as picking up their toys, setting the table, taking care of a pet, dressing themselves, etc.

Little successes over time build up to bigger and more important successes. The toddler that masters setting the table grows up to be a teenager who believes that they can master studying for a test or trying out for the tennis team. If we take away the opportunity for our kids to learn how to become proficient at a task, then we rob them of the self-esteem needed to conquer adult life situations.

Psychologist Albert Bandura, who developed the Social Cognitive Theory, found that people who have developed a sense of mastery over many of life’s simple tasks tend to undertake tougher challenges, persevere with challenges onger, and are more resilient in the face of obstacles and failure. As you can see, developing a sense of mastery while the child is young is so important for their future success.

But what happens if a child or teenager lacks a sense of mastery? What if they are scared to try new things or give up on tough tasks too easily?

The answer is to start small and work your way up. Provide opportunities for the child to master easy tasks and then move up to tougher challenges. Let your child try a task and be prepared to let them fail, but when they do fail, don’t make a big deal out of it, Just teach them how to pick themselves up. This is sometimes very tough to do, but very necessary.

For more on teaching your child how to take smart risks that lead to mastery, read THIS ARTICLE.


The last element that is needed to encourage your child’s inner motivation muscle to grow is relatedness.

Simply put, relatedness is the feeling of being connected and accepted by the people who are important to them.

Research has found that when kids feel they have a warm connection to their parents, teachers, and other important people in their lives, they are more likely to make better decisions. They are more likely to:

  • Choose tough decisions over easy ones
  • Choose decisions that have a long-term benefit over decisions that offer short-term, quick rewards
  • Make selfless rather than selfish decisions.

A lot of parents don’t put a lot of thought into the element of relatedness – they just assume that the parent-child bond is all they need to fulfill this element, but they are wrong, Encouraging the feeling of relatedness with the child means being autonomy-supportive.

An autonomy-supportive parent allows the child the freedom to make their own decisions – within the confines of safe boundaries – and this communicates to the child that:

  • The parent believes that the child is capable of making good decisions
  • That the parent understands that the child is not perfect and is in the process of learning important life lessons, which means that the child might occasionally make poor decisions from time to time
  • The parent has confidence that the child can fix poor decisions, learn a lesson from them, and move on in a way that makes them a better person.

As you can see, relatedness means more to the child than simply being related to a parent by birth or adoption – it also involves trust, confidence, belief, and understanding.

The take-home message about relatedness is that when kids feel safe to explore their world and experiment using their natural talents and abilities, then they are more likely to be motivated to initiate tasks on their own, persevere with tasks when the going gets tough, and perform these tasks above and beyond minimal effort.

Isn’t this what we ultimately want for our kids?


Parents CAN work with their kids over a period of time and teach them to be self-motivated to take ore ownership of their own lives.

This can be done through the three elements of autonomy, mastery, and relatedness: allowing the child the freedom and trust to make their own choices (within safe boundaries) that encourages the child to use their innate strengths and talents to build confidence that they can have a positive effect on the environment and people around them.

These three elements help our kids feel competent, brave, and valued. I encourage you to begin using these three elements in your parenting routine (if you are not already) and you will be amazed at how your child transforms right before your eyes!



Are You Using The 3 Important Elements That All Successful Modern Parent Use Religiously?

To Find Out, Download The Free Guide ==>

The Modern Parenting Blueprint: The 3 Elements That All Successful Modern Parents Use Religiously

What Do Modern Parents Fear The Most?

What Do Modern Parents Fear The Most?

Not only am I a Modern Parent myself, but as a child psychologist, I work with a lot with Modern Parents. This allows me to have some good insight on what is on this generation of parent’s minds.

Today’s Modern Parents have to tackle the same concerns that their parents’ and grandparents’ generation of parents needed to address – PLUS MORE. Not only do we need to put time, energy, and effort into raising smart, well-liked, and good kids, but we need to figure out effective ways of parenting in an environment that often encourages laziness, shallowness, and entitlement.

Furthermore, I know that today’s Modern Parents are unfairly being stereotyped as being lazy and incompetent, but from what I’ve seen, most Modern Parents out there are going above and beyond to figure out how to raise kids that are interesting, personable, and moral in today’s world.

So what are Modern Parents most concerned about? Here are the top 4 topics that I find I am asked about the most by other parents – and simple suggestions on how to begin addressing these concerns in your Modern Family.

#1 Modern Parents Fear Their Kids Lack Values

Worry: Many parents I talk to express some worry that their kids don’t seem to understand that there are more important things to life than taking the perfect selfie or owning the hottest tech toy or sports gear. Modern Parents are very aware that living a happy and fulfilling life means that there is a healthy balance between responsibility, fun, and personal growth. How do we teach our kids to develop personal passions, values, and beliefs?

How To Address This Worry: The first step to addressing this worry is that you need to be clear about your own passions, values, and beliefs before you can work with your child. When you are clear about what is important to you and why these values are important to you, then you begin to have a clear blueprint to guide you on making parenting decisions. In addition, your child will see you model what it means to live a fulfilling life as you go about your day-to-day schedule addressing your responsibilities, all the while engaging in activities that also feed your personal growth.

I’ve written before about how important it is for parents to develop and regularly engage in activities that relate to their own passions, values, and beliefs because this teaches our kids several important life lessons:

  • Parenting is only part of mom and dad’s life. They are way more than just caretakers – they are people with interesting hobbies and interests that make them fun people to be with.
  • Education and personal growth does not end after high school or college – living a fulfilling life means continuing to pursue knowledge in areas you are passionate about.
  • Spending time with friends and family is important to work/life balance, and modeling to kids how to make and keep positive friendships is an important life lesson that every child needs to learn.
  • Practicing spiritual growth – whether that is through organized religion or other means – is important for understanding who we are as people and for discovering our purpose in life.

Don’t have a clear understanding of your own passions, values and beliefs? Read this past blog post for a step-by-step plan on uncovering what matters to you and your family. Every family is different and unique, so it makes sense that every family (and family member) should discover what is deeply and truly important to them.

#2 Using Modern Conveniences Is a Tool, Not a Way of Life

Worry: Tired of your child relying too much on spell-check to spell, texting instead of speaking to their sibling in the next room, and social media in the place of making and keeping real friends? Well you are not alone. While many Modern Parents like the convenience that technology brings to us, they are very worried that technology is taking over their kid’s lives in a negative way.

How To Address This Worry: Even if you are tempted to take away all forms of technology and get back to basics, it’s best if you teach your kids how to integrate technology into everyday living in a way that encourages communication, education, and building healthy relationships. Let’s face it – our kids are going to need to use technology as adults, so it’s our job to teach them how to use technology successfully.

Modern Parents need to develop family standards regarding technology use and create rules based on these standards. Once mom and dad know where they stand with regard to technology, they need to clearly communicate the rules to the kids.

One way to do this is by sitting down together and creating a signed contract that specifically lays out the rules and expectations regarding use of cell phones, gaming devices, and social media – and the consequences if these rules are broken. Need help with creating a contract between parent and child? Check out this previous blog post.

I’m going to admit that this isn’t necessarily easy. I’ve had to develop rules regarding technology in my own family, but it is was well worth the effort. My son is now 19 and doing great in college, and he knows that studying comes first and then playing video games, watching his favorite tv shows, and keeping up on social media is something to be enjoyed during his down time.

#3 What if I Don’t Have a Traditional Family? Will My Kids Be OK?

Worry: Modern Parenting comes in all shapes and sizes. The traditional family, where Mom and Dad are married and have no divorces between them, can be a very effective way to raise great kids. On the other hand, I have come into contact with many non-traditional families who are equally successful at raising smart, moral, and interesting kids.

I define a non-traditional family as one where one or more caring individuals come together to raise great kids in a warm and loving manner. Non-traditional families consist of families who are divorced, divorced/re-married, gay/lesbian, mixed-orientation (where one parent is gay and one parent is straight), single-parent household, co-habitating couples, etc.

How To Address This Worry: Family structure is not the most important factor in raising good kids. Science tells us that other factors such as having a the type of parent-child relationship, parental financial stability, and exposure to childhood adversity (such as maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence, or living with another person with serious mental illness) all have a huge effect on how kids turn out – no matter the family structure. In addition, more and more research is finding that kids of same- and different-sex parents fare equally well.

The bottom line is that all kinds of families can raise great kids, as long as the parents involved concentrate on creating and maintaining a loving, yet firm relationship with their kids. As a parent in a successful non-traditional family myself, I know that it’s more than possible to raise great kids who are happy, healthy, interesting, and moral young people.

#4 Modern Parents Are Scared Their Kids Lack Motivation

Worry: I’ve written about this before. There is definitely an Underachieving Phenomenon going on right now and Modern Parents not only need to be aware of this, but they need to know how to address it if they see this happening in their own families.

Most Modern Parents aren’t interested in raising super-achieving robots, but they do want to raise kids with an inner drive to pursue a meaningful career and to understand the value of a hard day’s work. Now, more than ever, parents need to concentrate on teaching their kids the skills it takes to start a task and to complete it to the best of their ability in order to develop into independent and successful young adults.

How To Address This Worry: You can begin addressing your child’s motivation issues by learning all about the 3 stages of motivation –  activation, persistence, and intensity. By understanding where your child is stuck, you will be better prepared to identify the correct parenting tactic needed solve this problem. I will definitely be writing more about the science behind how to help kids learn to become self-motivated in the months ahead.


Just the fact that many Modern Parents are worried that they are not doing a good job tells me that this generation of Modern Parents is willing to do what it takes to raise great kids.

If we want to raise classically great kids in a modern world, we need to be open to learning new parenting techniques to use alongside of the tried-and-true techniques that continue to work.

For example, we know we need to set boundaries with how our kids use their time. This is wisdom that was handed down from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. However, Modern Parents also need to figure out where to draw the line with how much time our kids spend on modern tasks such as using the computer for schoolwork, keeping up with friends on social media, and extracurricular activities.

Want to up your parenting game? Download my free ebook “The 10 Parenting Habits That Science Says Creates Successful Kids” to learn even more tips and tricks of the Modern Parent that are based on scientific research.



Are You Using The 3 Important Elements That All Successful Modern Parent Use Religiously?

To Find Out, Download The Free Guide ==>

The Modern Parenting Blueprint: The 3 Elements That All Successful Modern Parents Use Religiously