By Melissa Hed
June 27, 2023
When founders Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman, along with some current and former staff members, reflect back on the thousands of parenting interviews, articles, and essays Your Teen Media has published over the last sixteen years, a common thread emerges. All of us, in one way or another, say the most important lesson we learned is the importance of building healthy, solid, and loving relationships with our teens.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite lessons.
1. Parenting teens delivers lessons in humility.
What SUSAN BORISON knows for sure is that raising teenagers is a humbling experience. “My teenagers spent years scrutinizing my behavior (and my husband’s chewing). They forced me to look inward and take responsibility for reactions and behaviors that I wasn’t ready to own.”
She says all those years of emotional and psychological bumps and bruises made her keenly aware of how blessed she was in receiving life-changing advice from Your Teen experts and moms.
“We amassed thousands of videos and articles over the last 16 years, and there are too many pieces of advice that changed my parenting for me to list here. I can, however, tell you my very meta, big picture take-away, which is: I always want to be in a relationship with my children.
Borison says that feeling connected with her children is not always a given. She sometimes has to work hard to make sure they feel secure. “For me that means siding with my kid, especially when I think they were wrong. It means apologizing, even when I don’t believe I have any reason to apologize. It means trusting that they are the best person to make decisions about their own lives, particularly when I think I could make a better choice.”
She doesn’t always get it right, either. But that’s okay, because we all make mistakes in parenting and those mistakes provide opportunities to return to our goals and priorities. Borison says, “I try and fail and try again, but in the end, I return to wanting relationships with my children. That’s my North Star.”
2. We can fix our parenting mistakes.
STEPHANIE SILVERMAN says that parenting teenagers shook her confidence. “Parenting teenagers came with new challenges that often (daily) made me question if I was doing it right.”
She’s thankful for all the YTM experts, articles, and interviews that offer insight about how to navigate relationships with children in the midst of this exciting developmental time in their lives. “There was something about having these experts behind me that gave me the confidence and strength to parent each kid with new tools, words, hugs, and empathetic nods.”
One of the greatest lessons she learned from those experts is that there are just as many ways to parent as there are chances to get it wrong, and even when you get it wrong you can use it as an opportunity to go back and fix things. She says, “I came to see it as a gift, this ability to go back and fix things. There is no question in my mind that I became a different parent as a result. I am so grateful to our experts, writers, interviewees for giving me and my family this gift.”
3. We can deepen the parent-teen bond by cultivating connection.
SHARON HOLBROOK considers herself lucky that she began working at Your Teen when her oldest child was a tween. She appreciates the fantastic advice from our experts and from her colleagues, who shared real-life wisdom as they raised their own teens.
With so much good advice to choose from, she found settling on just one tidbit to share difficult, but she finally settled on the importance of nurturing connection with our teens.
“This is the drumbeat behind everything, yet it’s surprisingly easy to forget when you’re caught up in worrying about discipline, grades, risky behavior, and all the rest — not to mention the busyness of life in general. Connection is the foundation on which we have any hope of influence on our teens and lifelong, healthy adult relationships with them after they leave us.”
Holbrook explains how she nurtures connection. “So when my teens ask me to listen to a song, watch a TikTok, or talk to them late at night, I try to say yes. Yes, I want to know what you like — show me. Yes, I will try to listen more than I nag. Yes, I will set limits on you, but I will try to let you know why I do. Yes, I will help you this time. Yes, you can invite your friends over. Yes, I’ll be here, even when we’re mad at each other. I love you. Yes.”
4. Our job is to make it safe for our kids to practice leaving.
As an editor with Your Teen Media, JEN PROE often told people, “The best perk of my job was all the free advice I received from parenting experts, on demand, whenever I needed it. But in reality, the best perk was the great feeling of being able to share that advice with countless other parents over the years.”
Out of all the advice she was privy to, she says, “One of the nuggets of gold I shared over and over was this: as your child reaches adolescence, your job as a parent is to be left. You need to stay in one place as they practice leaving you, for successively longer periods of time. Their job is to explore, and try new things, and make mistakes, coming back to you at home base when they need a little reassurance. Of course, over time, those visits to home base will get shorter and shorter — that’s the gig we signed up for.”
It’s sage advice, and it’s great to have that perspective to help ease the pain of when they leave. And for parents who aren’t ready to fully let go, she offers this comfort: “They will come back — for those long weekends home from college, for example — and to your delight, they will be happy to see you. They may even unload the dishwasher unasked (your mileage may vary on that).”
5. Modeling impulse control helps unyoke our teens from destructive feelings.
When KAMYRA HARDING began working with Your Teen Media, she was so excited to help provide content that would help families that she didn’t consider how much she herself would gain from the experience. Looking back, she says, “From interacting with the staff and live show guests to learning new skills, I benefited from being a member of the team just as much as our audience did from our material.”
She points to an early article she wrote that contains a clear example of how summarizing an interview with expert Mark Goulston, MD, a psychiatrist, executive coach, author, and the creator and developer of Design Thinking Suicide Prevention helped her communicate more effectively with her teenage son.
“Goulston spoke a lot about ensuring that teens feel felt. On a lark, I tried one of his exercises during dinner that night. In the activity families talk about being upset, the impulses it ignites, and how to avoid acting upon those impulses. The point of the activity isn’t problem solving, but learning from painful experiences and making impulse control a habit. When our son opened up about a recent painful incident I seized the opportunity to employ Surgical Empathy. He wasn’t keen on sharing feelings until I shared what I felt when similar things happened in my life. My sharing and modeling impulse control was more impactful than the unsolicited solutions this problem solver was tempted to provide. Eureka! I’d been doing this parenting thing all wrong. Dr. Goulston’s activity helped me see the importance of reigning in my impulse so that our son could feel felt.”
Harding has continued to employ Goulston’s advice and says, “Since that success, expanding upon and concentrating on this goal has improved many of my relationships.” Hers is a great example of how the expert advice we share at YT is not only good for parenting teens but also for navigating other relationships in our lives.
6. Embrace affection: teens still crave hugs, fist bumps, and pats on the back.
A saying mentioned in the article How Often Do You Hug Your Teen? goes like this: “A child needs four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and 12 for growth.” MINDY GALLAGHER’s first reaction when she read that was, “12 times a day!?! Are you kidding me?”
Gallagher says, “It sounded ridiculous to me, that my teenager needed at least 12 hugs a day, but it turned out to be one of the most influential posts in my parenting journey. I realized it wasn’t so much about actually putting my arms around each of my teenagers and securing a hug 12 times a day, but rather the importance of physical contact with my teens.”
When our kids were babies and toddlers, showing them physical affection was important. Teens need that same safe physical affection, too. And they’ll continue to appreciate it as they get older. Gallagher says, “Even now as my boys are in their 20s, when they are home I make sure I give each of them as many hugs, fist pumps, pats on the back as I can fit in. And honestly, I think it makes each of us feel a little bit better!”
7. Be flexible, open minded, and willing to experiment with ways to parent.
Working at Your Teen Media made ECA TAYLOR realize that “Everyone parents differently and no one way is the ‘right’ way.”
She says the best advice she ever got at Your Teen was to be open minded about parenting styles. By listening to stories from other parents, she learned about what worked, or did not work, for them and that gave her insight about how she might apply those same lessons to her family.
“It’s amazing what I’ve learned from others, ideas that were nothing that I would have figured out on my own, but are truly brilliant! It’s the whole “it takes a village” concept.” She says it’s also important to remember not to beat yourself up for past mistakes. “Just move forward,” she says.
8. Our teens don’t want us to fix everything. Most often they just want us to pay attention and listen, so they feel heard.
JODY PODL calls herself a recovering fixer. She says although she sometimes lapses back into “let me fix it for you” mode, she learned at Your Teen Media to prioritize active listening over jumping in to solve her child’s problems.
“Most of the time, they don’t want to hear what I would do or what I think they should do. And offering them solutions doesn’t help them figure out how to manage on their own.”
Podl says it’s not always easy to act counter to her natural inclination, and there are times when she cannot stop herself, but she has found a strategy to help check herself. “Sometimes, I ask them, ‘Are you telling me this because you need to vent, or do you want my advice?’ Even if they want advice, I try to shift from being the advice-giver to the question-asker. I ask them what they’re thinking of doing, and I say that I’m sure that they’ll figure it out.”
She says now when she offers ideas to help her children problem solve, she does so in the “spirit of collaboration” rather than telling her kids what they should do “because they’re the only ones who know what’s right for them.”
9. Asking questions helps illuminate the path forward.
When JESSICA PORT was thirteen, she found an issue of Your Teen magazine tucked away in her parents bathroom. “I saw the smiling, perfectly happy teenage boy with a basketball grinning up at me and thought to myself, ‘Oh. This is silly.’ Because, I mean, why would someone need a magazine explaining how to parent? After all, I was thirteen and knew everything, so why didn’t my parents?”
She says her perspective changed as she matured. “You grow up, and you realize no one knows what they’re doing. Your parents, your older siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, whoever. No one actually knows what they’re doing. They just get more time to learn how to find the path forward.”
Her work at Your Teen Media entails reading every article on the Your Teen website and she says she’s seen writers pose the same questions over and over again. Questions like, “Am I doing this right? Is there a better way? Where did I go wrong? How can I do better next time?” The questions might not be obvious, but they’re there.
Port’s maturity made her realize she did not, in fact, know it all, as she believed when she was a teenager. She says working at Your Teen helped hone her ability to ask questions, which is important, because “as long as people are still asking the questions, they can still move forward. Now I know how to ask targeted questions. I may not know where I’m going next, or where life is going to take me, but as long as I’m asking questions and trying to find answers, well, I’m sure I’ll get somewhere.”
10. Choosing progress over perfection transforms failure to success.
The most important lesson I learned working at Your Teen Media is that it’s more important to teach our kids to aim for progress, rather than perfection, and we can teach them best when we follow that same advice ourselves.
In my family, the advice to set aside perfection isn’t easy to follow. Every one of us is an overachiever and we all put massive pressure on ourselves to perform. Still, I keep reminding myself, and my kids, and my husband, to aim for progress rather than perfection because I’ve seen how our perfectionism can very quickly devolve into self-sabotage, whereas striving for progress consistently opens pathways for growth.
Reminding my family to “aim for progress, not perfection,” has provided welcome relief. I’ve seen tears dry up and confidence restored. Without the pressure of attaining an impossible goal, we become more loving, honest, communicative, supportive, tolerant, patient, consistent, kind, cooperative, present, and involved. That’s a long list of traits we value more than reaching perfection, and I’m certain by continuing to follow this advice, we’ll discover more.
Through countless interviews, articles, and essays, we have learned a multitude of invaluable parenting lessons. We discovered the humility that comes with parenting teens, the transformative power of fixing our mistakes, the importance of cultivating connection, and the beauty of embracing affection. We realized the value of flexibility, open-mindedness, and experimentation in our parenting approaches. And we saw the power of active listening, the illuminating potential of asking questions, and the freedom in choosing progress over perfection. These insights shaped us as parents and have allowed us to foster thriving relationships with our teens.
As we continue on our parenting journeys, guided by these lessons, we will embrace opportunities to strengthen our bonds and create a future filled with love, understanding, and growth. We hope that’s your future, too.