How to Build Positive Relationships with Teens Today: Tips from Teens

The goal of my blog is to help adults understand teens today in order to build positive relationships and assist them in navigating the crazy, unpredictable, emotional time we call adolescents.

I like to engage teens in the conversation for most topics and discussions rather than come at it from the point of view of a bunch of adults sitting in a room assuming we know everything there is to know about teens today.

With this in mind, I recently asked a group of teens the following question:

How can an adult (teachers, coach, parent, teacher, youth minister etc.) build a positive relationship with a teen today?

adult and teenTo avoid feeling like the picture above, follow the tips provided by teens below regarding how to build a positive relationship with teens today:

  • “Adults need to have empathy and try to understand what it is like to be a teen today. Don’t assume everything is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago when they were teens.”
  • “I think in order to form relationships with teens, adults need to give up some of their power. Adults need to show that just because they are older doesn’t mean that the teen and the adult can’t be “equals,” they need to trust the teens, and trust them a lot. And if something does go wrong the adult needs to walk through the situation and talk about what the teen needs to improve on. Adults shouldn’t be using their age or job as a source of power, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and everyone comes from different backgrounds. Adults should show respect to teens and vice versa.”
  • “Simply be honest and put yourself out there. Don’t sugarcoat things to the teens and be honest. Honesty and being open has always been the most appealing traits that I see in counselors/mentors when consulting one.”
  • “I think the best way is to understand that neither the adult nor teen are better than each other. Also, they need to be accepting that both people make mistakes.”
  • “The adult must be willing to listen to what the teen has to say. Also, the adult must be able to create safe boundaries. Then, the teacher or advisor should spend time with the teen on a weekly basis, this will help the teen become more comfortable with the advisor making it easier for them to open up with the adult.”
  • “the easiest way to communicate with the teen. Teens want someone they can open up to. It is relaxing. They can proceed to talk with the teen without becoming to formal, as we still are younger. It helps the most when they can personally relate to something you are going through or need help with. It gives off a comfortable vibe and the teen is more likely to open up.”
  • “I believe the best way for a positive relationship between teens and adults would be for their to be trust and a lack of judgment coming from the adult. Teens need someone to trust with their problems and need to know there is no judgement afterward.”

I want to reiterate that the statements above are direct quotes from teens when asked the question, “how can an adult build a positive relationship with a teen today?”

One point I would make after reviewing this list, is to take a moment and think about the questions from the teens perspective. For example, we read the statement “adults need to give up some of their power” from one of the teens. That statement causes the hairs on the back of our necks begin to stand as we say, “but I am the parent, the teacher the coach and you are the child.”

When I speak with teens I do not get the sense that they want us to abandon our authority and just be their friend. What I hear them saying is include me and ask me my opinion. Let me teach you something that I enjoy or let me help solve a problem. Often I see adults who only lecture and never listen or only tell and never ask. I am not saying you need to give all decision-making power to the teen, but including them in the process can go a long way in building a relationship with them.

What tips do you have for building positive relationships with a teen today?

Teens Actually Look Forward to School

At the beginning of 2014 I promised to write more posts focusing on the positive aspects of teens. I think teens are great but often the media portrays them as running wild, trying the latest dangerous fads all while being ungrateful towards the adults in their lives.

I recently asked teens a simple questions, what are they looking forward to most about this school year? Indeed I did get a couple of responses about it being their senior year and they can’t wait until it is over, but those were clearly in the minority. Overall I received very positive responses and I wanted to share them with you:

  • “As a senior I get to intern for three hours two days a week in a second grade classroom. Since I want to teach those are the best days of my week!”
  • “I am looking forward to working with my classmates and to prepare for our different post high school opportunities. I want to work hard but also make the most of my senior year.”
  • “This year I am a part of senior walk, which is a fun experience at my school highschoolwere seniors perform different community service projects throughout their year. So I’m very excited about that! Other than that I’m looking forward to making the best of my last year as a high school student. I am going to get involved in my schools events as well as at the boys and girls club events as much as possible.”
  • This year I am mostly excited about the classes I am taking and starting my search for colleges. Since I am a junior at my high school, I have some time, but it’s never too early to start looking at colleges!
  • A closer relationship with God! Also to inspire more people to become more! Finally getting involved more!
  • This year I’m a senior!! I am most exited and looking forward to sports (fall cross-country and spring baseball) and applying to colleges. I am also really excited for my capstone project because I have been working on it for over a year now.”
  • I am looking forward to re-prioritizing my life and maximizing my potential! I have the power to put recognition to my name and I will seek to do it!
  • Hanging out with friends, planning my future, and become more mature is what I’m looking forward to.

Not all teens hate school. Take time to build relationships with the teens you work with and understand their aspirations for this school year. Doing so will allow you to speak into their life, encourage them and provide the guidance and assistance they need.

Meet the Incoming High School Freshman Class

I desire for parents and youth workers to connect with and engage teens in order to help them navigate life and make positive choices. From personal experience, I have found that being able to understand teens – where they are coming from and what they are dealing with – greatly helps. When I speak and write about teen culture, I do so with the purpose of helping parents and youth workers gain insight into the world of teens today.

I love it when I find resources that align with these goals. One of my favorite resources is the annual Beloit Mindset List. “Each August since 1998, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students entering colleges and universities in the fall.” It’s initial purpose was to provide insight to professors regarding incoming students to help them better relate and connect. Love it.

Here are some highlights from Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2018:

  • Students heading into their first year of college this year were generally born in 1996.
  • Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, Carl Sagan, and Tiny Tim.
  • leslie_ackerman96During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
  • Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA.
  • Parents have always been able to rely on a ratings system to judge violence on TV.
  • Everybody has always Loved Raymond.

I thought it would be fun to think of a few cultural touchstones related to the incoming high school freshman:

  • Students heading into their first year of high school this year were generally born in 2000.
  • They never had to worry about Y2K.
  • Microsoft has always produced gaming systems. The 1st Xbox was released in 2001.
  • They have only seen Boy Meets World in reruns. The final episode aired in May of 2000.
  • Robert Downey Jr. has always been Ironman. Not Charlie Chaplin, a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination in 1992, or Wayne Gale from Natural Born Killers.senior_class_of_2018_blue_round_stickers-r6935b37067374bbeb57bccd1cbcfe8fa_v9waf_8byvr_324
  • They have always purchased music from iTunes (debuted in 2003) to listen to on their iPod (introduced in 2001).
  • For the majority of their lives, the US has had troops engaged in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq, making roadside bombs and RPGs common terminology for this generation.
  • “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child, “The Thong Song” by Sisco and “Bye Bye Bye” by N’Sync were in the top songs on the Billboard charts in 2000. Sorry if you now have one of those songs stuck in your head.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary has always been available online (Launched on March 14, 2000).

What experiences or cultural moments would you add to the list?

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Teen Culture Articles of Interest vol. 4

For those looking for some weekend reading or articles of interest to read at work instead of working, here are two articles related to Teens that I have enjoyed recently.  And a plug for a new resource for parents.

  • The Underchallenged ‘Lazy Teenager’ I hear people frequently refer to teens as “lazy.” They talk about how teens roll their eyes at being asked to complete a task and how they spend hours glued to a computer, TV or cell phone screen. In this article psychologist Dr. Price addresses why teens may be lazy and what parents might be doing that is contributing to their teens laziness.josh shipp
  • New Resource Alert! Podcast: Parental Guidance with Josh Shipp. I heard Josh Shipp speak to a large group of teens several years ago and was impressed with his ability to connect and motivate teens today. Since then, Josh has been featured on multiple news channels, several TV’s shows, written a couple of books, works with parents and educators and is considered a teen expert by many. I am excited to check out his new podcast that he just released on iTunes. Why don’t you check it out with me!

Oh Crap: The Fears of Teens Today

Have you ever seen a teen hesitate to do something you knew they were good at? Paint a picture, participate in a sport, speak in front of a group, be a leader? More than likely they hesitate because there is a fear holding them back.

I would bet very few of us, if any, made it through our teen years without some fears deterring us from participating in an activity or working to accomplish a goal. I remember being in class and not completing an assignment because I was afraid I would get it wrong. Logically, I thought it was easier to just not do the assignment than to get it wrong. I even recall deciding not to attend certain events in college, out of fear I wouldn’t fit in.

In my previous post I talked about the hopes and dreams teens have today. When asked, teens expressed dreams of graduating high school and making a difference in the world. With that same group of teens, I also asked them what fears they have.

I learned teens today have a lot of fears. In fact when I asked about their hopes and fears, they responded with considerably more fears. This was true in both the sheer number of responses, and also the diversity of responses.

This did not surprise me too much, as the teenage years are filled with change. The world around them is changing as they grow up and gain more responsibility. Their bodies are changing. Their brain is allowing them to digest the world in ways they previously have not been able to. Many adults experience fear in the midst of change, so it is no surprise to learn teens are filled with fears and anxiety.

scared teenHere are some fears teens have today:

  • Not being good enough (in their own eyes & their parents eyes) or that they will fail
  • That they will be forgotten, not noticed or alone
  • That they will not do well in high school or college
  • That they will not achieve their dreams or accomplish their goals in life
  • Fear of death
  • Stuck doing something they do not enjoy
  • That college will be totally different from their expectations, and that it will be difficult
  • How society will view them, and what others will say and think about them
  • That they are a waste of space and cannot do or achieve anything in life

As I read these now, they make me sad. I can remember having some of those exact feelings as a teen and young adult. I had my whole life in front of me. It was exhilarating and scary all at the same time, and I was still trying to figure out how to navigate it. To top it off, everyone expected that I would be successful and do great things. At times I believed this and at other times I didn’t.

We need to realize that while teens may seem relaxed and carefree at times, there are very real fears that exist within them. I have witnessed guys graduating from high school go from goofing around and playing basketball one minute, to having a blank stare on their faces as they realized their fears about their uncertain future.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • Ask them what their fears are and don’t criticize or belittle their responses. As adults we may know the fear is irrational, but it is very real to them and the world as they see it.
  • Provide them opportunities to experience new things, especially as young teens. We often fear the unknown. If we provide opportunities and experiences in a safe group setting, this may help to decrease their anxiety of the unknown.
  • Share the fears you had as a teen. Talk about how you overcame those fears, or what opportunities you missed out on because you let your fear control you.
  • Focus on their hopes and dreams and help them to be action-oriented in striving towards their goals. It is good to acknowledge the fears but we don’t want to dwell in them.

Teens today need people in their lives rooting for them, supporting them and cheering them on. Not crushing their hopes and dreams. Allow your teen(s) dream big and help them overcome their fears on the way to achieving their dreams.

Oh Joy: The Hopes and Dreams of Teens Today

What do you see when you look at a teenager? Do you see a goofy kid lacking responsibility? Or do you see an aspiring young adult who wants to change the world? Or maybe something else?

Often, we see an element of the first. We witness a young person navigating their way through uncertain times – not a kid, but definitely not an adult.

Often this emerging, vulnerable person has a lot of passion! Although it may be for something seemingly materialistic, like the latest movie or a pair of shoes.

hopeful teenHowever, my experiences have shown me there is more to teens than this. I believe they have untapped passion. They have dreams and goals for their life, even if they have never spoken them out loud before. They are there, sometimes deep down inside.

I remember as a teen I dreamed of hitting the winning shot in the championship basketball game. I had goals to become a police officer, to serve others and help those in need. I had hopes of just fitting in. If we think back to our teen years, the majority of us had hopes, dreams and goals too.

Knowing someone’s hopes and dreams can tell you a lot about that person. I have been blown away by some of the deep thoughts teens and friends have shared when I’ve taken the time to ask about their hopes, and listen to their answers. I still remember a friend who told me about his dream to open up a sock store in the mall. It was a weird idea, but he was passionate about it.

If you work with teens or have teens, I encourage you to ask them what their hopes and dreams are. Like any relationship, having a positive bond established will contribute to the quality and depth of the conversation.

I recently asked a group of teens what their hopes and dreams were. Here are some of their responses:

  • To achieve greatness
  • To be a role model for younger kids
  • To be successful
  • To be happy, achieve my dreams and be stress free
  • To graduate high school and go to college
  • To be happy in my career, what ever it ends up being
  • To be successful in college
  • To fit in and be the best I can be
  • To choose the right path
  • To help make a difference in the world
  • To be a teacher and impact future students lives

Many of the teens I spoke to had a level of uncertainty about what exactly they wanted to do or be when they got older, but they did know they wanted to be successful. They defined success as making a difference, being happy and persevering when dealing with challenging situations or failure. None of them defined success as being rich.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • As you build a relationship and get to know your teens, take time to ask them what their hopes and dreams are. You can do this in a small group setting or one on one. If they don’t know that is ok. They may be embarrassed to say, or may have trouble articulating their thoughts. In a small group setting, writing, drawing or creating a collage out of magazine clippings can be a meaningful way for them to express their passion.
  • Share what your hopes and dreams were as a teen with them, no mater how silly or far-fetched. If you did not achieve those dreams, or perhaps went down another path, take time to explain that process. Teens will likely be comforted to hear how common it is to change course. Many teens fear their current dreams will not be satisfying in the long run. If you accomplished your dreams share with them how you did it. It can be helpful for teens to hear what steps you took, failures you experienced along the way, and how you overcame adversity.
  • Make a point to practice sensitivity with teens, and do not laugh or poke fun at their hopes and dreams.
  • Encourage them to pursue their dreams and to embrace their passions. My parents knew of mine and my brothers dreams of becoming police officers and connected us with a local law enforcement explorers program. Find opportunities to explore, experience and dive into their passions and dreams.

The next post in this series will focus on the fears teens experience today. Stay tuned!

Finish this Sentence. Teens Today Are…..

Lazy, selfish, narcissistic, entitled. These words have angered me in recent years. Why? Because adults have used these words to describe teens today and I don’t feel they are accurate.

I will admit that teens can and do have these traits. But I have also met and interacted with hundreds of teens that are passionate, care for others, are focused and are having positive impacts on the world around them.

I decided to compare what adults thought about teens today with what teens think about their generation. I asked each group to share with me words or phrases that they thought described teens today. Here is what they told me.

How adults described teens today: 

adults describe teensThe five most common words used by adults to describe teens were: Lazy, Creative, Entitled, Disrespectful and Connected.

I was not surprised that the majority of the words were negative, but was pleased to see some adults responded with positive words such as creative and bright.

How Teens described their generation:



The most common words teens used to describe themselves and their peers were: Confused, Technology Dependent, Socially Connected, Open Minded and Creative.

One interesting note was how teens felt the need to expand and explain their descriptive words. Almost like they were in a defensive posture just from me asking them the question.

Here is one example. One teen used the word focused to describe teens today. Then they went on by saying that if there is something a teen really wants or a goal they have, they are focused on achieving that goal.

Several teens were also quick to point out that it is hard to describe all teens with just a few words or phrases. They seemed to recognize that their were some negative stereotypes of teens today but they felt strong that those should not define all teen. I found it interesting that no adults made the same point.

My point.

My intent was to do this as a fun experiment to see the differences between how adults and teens describe teens today. I am sure we could do this with previous and future generations and get similar results of positive and negative descriptions.

I do want to challenge those adults that work and interact with teens today to not assume that all teens fit into one category or description. Imagine if an adult did that to you when you were a teen? I am guessing we all had moments we are not so proud of when we were teens that could have caused us to be labeled disrespectful, lazy, or a troublemaker.

In my experience, the more we approach teens as if they are lazy or disrespectful, the more likely they are going to act that way.

I want to encourage you to treat them as if they are amazing, talented, creative teens with something to offer. You might be surprised that they fulfill those expectations.

What are Teens Plans for the Summer?

That last school bells are ringing and that means one thing for teens. Summer is finally here. After spending nine months in classrooms learning, growing and hopefully maturing, teens get 2-3 months off. I am sure they are going to use that time to reflect on all the amazing things they learned and prepare themselves for the coming school year. Heck maybe they will even change the world.

summer and teensOk, maybe that is not how they plan to spend their summer. We can dream right?

I was curious what teens will actually be doing during their summer break, so I asked a group of teens the following questions. What they were most looking forward to about summer and what were their plans? Here are their responses:

  • “I am looking forward to hanging out with family and friends.
  • “Going to the Beach!”
  • “I am really excited about starting my first Job!” Several teens mentioned they were looking forward to working this summer both for the experience and making some spending cash.
  • “I am looking forward to hanging out with friends and making new memories.”
  • “I am looking forward to some camps I am attending.”
  • “Camping, beach, 4th of July, and also some of my friends and I are gonna go on a road trip out-of-state! I’m getting fired up just thinking about it.”
  • “I am looking forward to meeting new people and volunteer opportunities.”
  • “Looking forward to the beach( a lot of beach!) and a possible sky diving trip ! And honestly , I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to read a book that I want to read!”
  • “Getting Ready to start College.”

Sounds like a pretty awesome summer. I would go back to school in a heartbeat if I could have a summer vacation again. I wonder if my boss will let me take the next three months off. I want to go to the beach, hang with friends and go to camps too.

How are your teens planning on spending the summer?

Teen Culture Articles of Interest vol. 2

I read a few GREAT articles related to Teens last night and I thought I would share a few of my favorite with you. Enjoy!

11 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to After Facebook. Via Common Sense Media. The best breakdown of social media sites and apps I have seen. Not only do they hit on the popular apps teens are using, they provide an explanation as to why it is popular and what parents need to know. I can’t share this article enough. Seriously I have tweeted it several times, posted it on my Facebook page and shared it on LinkedIn. If I could share it through smoke signals I would.

Is 25 the new cut off point for adulthood? Via BBC News Magazine. While discussing the age range child psychologist work with, this article provides a great overview into the recent shifts of adolescent development.  Here is one of my favorite passages from the article is, “Neuroscience has shown that a young person’s cognitive development continues into this later stage and that their emotional maturity, self-image and judgment will be affected until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has fully developed.”

What Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and Internet Porn Are Doing to America’s Teenage Girls. Via Vanity Fair. Prepare yourself, this article is covers a lot of topics and issues. It takes a look at the role social media is playing in the sexualization of our youth, how cruel youth can be on social media and much more. What I like about this article is that they talked to teens and got their thoughts, stories and perspectives. Warning this is pretty graphic and you will probably feel sad for our youth after reading it.

17 Reasons Why The Kids Don’t Like Facebook Anymore. Via Huffington Post Tech. I laughed out loud reading this article. Then I tried to tell my wife about it and could not stop laughing to relay what I had just read. The article shares examples of parents interacting with their teens on Facebook that would embarrass their teen but make us laugh out loud. I thought you might need a good laugh after reading the previous article. I guarantee you are going to want to share this one.

If you come across an article related to teen trends, culture or development that you find interesting please pass it along. Hit my up in the comments section or tweet me (@daverozman).

Teens Vote, Ashton Wins

One of my favorite awards shows each year is the Teen Choice Awards. Why you ask? Not because of their cool surf board awards or because One Direction performs. It is because the Teen Choice Awards are a great glimpse into what is popular with teens.

This year over 150 Million votes were cast online BY TEENS. That is a huge number of teens voting for which artist they like, what TV shows they view and who they think are the trend setters.

If you did not see the show, here are a few notable award winners: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Bad Part 2 won awards in 8 different categories, Pitch Perfect took home 4 awards and Pretty Little Liars scored 7 awards. Miley Cyrus was honored with a Fashion Trendsetter award and her song “We Can’t Stop” won Choice Summer song. In the Social Networking realm, Twitter took home the award for Choice Social Network.

To view all the winners head over to the Teen Choice Awards website.

This year the highlight of the show for me came from Ashton Kutcher. He took home the Ultimate Choice award and then delivered some of the best advice I have ever heard a celebrity deliver to teens. If you have not seen it, please take a minute to watch it. I guarantee you are going to want to share it with the teens in your life.

Here are a few notable quotes that I particularly enjoyed and felt were powerful messages for our teens today:

Opportunity: “I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job.”
Being Sexy: “Be Smart. Be Thoughtful. Be Generous.”
Living Life: “Build a life, don’t live one.”