Tips for parents: adolescents

Advice for parents on how to communicate with adolescents and when and where to seek help.

Page last updated: August 2010

Page last reviewed: 20 August 2014

PDF version: Tips for parents: adolescents (PDF 469 KB)

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Talking it through

Sharon told her mum she didn't want to go away with the family for the weekend. Instead she wanted to stay home and go with her boyfriend to a party. Anne, her mum, was a bit taken aback.

She thought Sharon was too young, at 15, to stay at home by herself for the weekend. She definitely didn't want to leave her alone with her boyfriend.

Sharon had started spending hours in her room. She was always talking on the phone or writing in her diary.

Sharon's younger brother, Richard, was really keen to go away. He didn't want Sharon to wreck his weekend. Anne felt angry that she was spending so much time on Sharon. She was worried she wasn't paying Richard enough attention.

She suggested that Sharon's friend Fiona go away with the family. Sharon said she just wanted to go to the party.

Sharon suggested she could stay at Fiona's place on the weekend instead. Anne talked to Fiona's mum, Pam, about this and about her fear of leaving Sharon unsupervised.

Pam understood exactly what Anne was saying.

Pam promised to take the girls to the party and to pick them up later. She also told Anne about an entertaining speaker who was talking at the school parents' evening. They both went along together. They laughed at the familiar situations the speaker talked about.

The weekend worked out well with Sharon staying at Fiona's. Pam talked Anne into joining a parents' group she was involved in. The group talked about the challenge of bringing up adolescents. Top of page

Adolescents are finding their place in the world

They need a safe, caring space so:
  • they can come to terms with their identity and adjust to their changing looks and new-found sexuality
  • they can explore their own values
  • they can learn how to negotiate and set themselves limits
  • they can plan a future they are happy with.
Try to find a balance between independence and family involvement. Top of page

Be open to your adolescent's ideas

Spend time together

  • Find activities that you and your adolescent enjoy and make a regular time for them. Make time to eat together and talk about current issues.

Adolescence is a time of experimentation, change and increasing independence

  • As young people become older and more independent, families change. Remember that other families are going through the same changes.

Adolescents still need limits

  • Talk to them about what they want to do and why you need to set limits. Let them know that you set limits because you care about them.

Tips on communicating with adolescents

Talk to your adolescents

  • Talking to your adolescent is important. Remember to let them know you love them. Take an interest in what is happening in their lives.

Be open to your adolescent's ideas

  • Adolescents can be very idealistic. Try to remember when you were younger and idealistic. If you listen and try not to be judgmental, they are more likely to share their concerns with you. Top of page

Sex and drugs

  • It may be hard to talk to your son or daughter about sensitive topics like sex and drugs. Adolescents need information on these topics.
  • Many adolescents will experiment with both sex and drugs. Try to talk about these topics with them. There are often stories in the newspaper or on TV about sex and drugs that you can use as a talking point.

Let your adolescents know they can talk to you about their problems

  • Try to just listen without reacting. There are times when you may be concerned about behaviour or problems. Try to be supportive and assist them to find solutions.

You need someone to talk to, too

Parents need support

  • Talk to other parents.
  • Talk to your partner or other family and friends. Feeling supported yourself will help you cope with change.

Parent groups

  • There may be parenting groups in your area that meet and talk about adolescents. Contact your local area health service or school to find out.

If you are unsure about something, seek advice

  • If talking to friends and family does not help or reassure you, talk to your child's teacher or a health professional you trust.
  • You may have to look around to find the right person to talk to. Don't give up, keep trying. It may take time to find the right person who can assist you and your family. Top of page

If something is wrong...

  • Many adolescents have emotional ups and downs.
  • Some adolescents suffer from depression or anxiety.
  • Depression lasting two weeks or more may be serious.
  • Seek help early. Effective treatments include counselling.
All the kids are out riding their bikes, except Shane. He is moping around in his room again. Derrick and Susan, his parents, are getting worried about him. He is skipping school and they are sure he is smoking dope. In fact he has changed so much that they feel they hardly know him anymore. That night, Derrick helps Shane clean up after dinner. Derrick gets Shane talking about school. Shane says he hates it and doesn't want to go anymore.

Derrick tells him they are worried about him skipping school. He asks if Shane wants to talk to him about anything but Shane doesn't say much. Derrick tells Shane he seems really down. Shane agrees and says he has lost interest in everything. Derrick lets Shane know that if he wants to he can talk to someone outside the family.

Shane says this would be good. Derrick helps Shane make an appointment with a counsellor at the local community health centre. Shane is glad he has found someone to talk to about how he is feeling. Top of page

Signs that an adolescent needs help

If an adolescent's behaviour suddenly changes it is important that you seek advice, particularly if they show some of the following signs.
  • Their school work gets worse suddenly.
  • They start to use drugs and alcohol and this becomes a problem.
  • They stop coping with problems and day to day activities.
  • They begin to have trouble eating or sleeping.
  • They complain of lots of physical problems.
  • They become aggressive and start getting into trouble, like skipping school, stealing or vandalism.
  • They become worried about their weight without actually being overweight.
  • They become depressed and are negative for a length of time.
Talk to your adolescent's teacher. You can approach the school counsellor or your local health service for advice.

Get the set!

Note. This information has been updated to reflect current ordering arrangements.

To obtain a hard copy of this brochure, please email National Mailing and Marketing or ring (02) 6269 1080. The code for this publication is MH011.

You can also get brochures dealing with:

Useful numbers

Parent help lines in the following states and territories:

NSW 1300 1300 52
Vic 13 22 89
SA 1300 364 100
Qld 1300 301 300
NT 1300 301 300
Tas 1300 808 178
ACT 02 6287 3833
WA 1800 654 432

LifeLine 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Playgroup Australia 1800 171 882

Raising Children Network: the Australian parenting website

You can also contact Maternal and Child Health services, social workers, community health centres or your GP. Check the White Pages for phone numbers.

Tips for parents was funded by the then Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

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