What Do Kids Need Most From Their Parents?

My wife and I have noticed something eery lately- our kids are watching us. When they were really little they hardly noticed us unless they wanted something. They weren’t listening in on our conversations or phone calls, they weren’t standing next to us when we talked with friends, and they didn’t open our phones and read our text messages. But they do now.

It seems like in every social setting lately one of our kids will hang around us as we talk with a friend and just sort of…stand there. We’ve tried shooing them away but that seems to encourage them even more! They don’t really interact much or participate in the conversation, they just want to listen in. It’s almost like they’re watching and learning from us. It’s creeping us out!

Implicitly we know that our kids learn about life from us. But what exactly do they need from us as they grow into teenagers? They might say they need us to leave them alone, they need more screen time, and they need more money, but what do they really need? How do we best guide them and help them grow and develop into the people who are healthy, wise, and mature? Do you know?

For years now we’ve been working with thousands of teenagers, middle and high school students from every demographic you can imagine. We provide structured programming for adults to guide kids into conversations and self-reflection regarding their identity, purpose, and sense of belonging. The adults in their lives- their parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are critical and essential to their growth. But it’s not just any adult being present, there are specific behaviors and dynamics the adults must understand in order to be effective. What do kids need most from their parents?

First of all, you need to understand that the teenage years are primarily about identity formation, and your kids need to do that for themselves. When they were little, their identity was rooted in their parents. As adolescence begins, their brains are developing to the ability to be self-aware and consider themselves in the third person. It’s almost like they’re waking up and realizing they are their own person everyone else is looking at them (hello: awkward middle schoolers!). Forming your own identity is a process:

First, there are developmental questions they need to answer, such as: Who am I? What do I believe in? In what ways does my life matter? Who would accept me if they knew the whole story?

Second, they’re looking for those answers in their peers. It might drive you crazy, but your kids are going to experiment by trying on different identities, copying the characteristics of their peers and friends. They’ll probably be changing clothing styles, listen to different types of music, watch different channels on YouTube, quit and start different sports or activities. They’re searching and trying on different personas to see what sticks. 

Third, they’re looking for validation from adults. Developmentally they pull away from adults in their life and seek to connect more with their peers, but intuitively they’re also looking for nonjudgmental validation from the adults in their lives. They need to have their elders affirm them, accept them, and reflect back to them the goodness that they see. 

What happens when kids don’t get what they need from those three parts of the process?

Well, it doesn’t go well from them. If they aren’t guided to understand what the unspoken questions of development are, they won’t be able to connect the dots, see patterns, or come to conclusions for themselves. They’ll continue to search for answers to those big questions and likely be prone to accepting other people’s answers to life’s most important questions. If they don’t learn to reflect and process what they’re learning and seeing and feeling as they spend time with their peers, they might adopt the values and characteristics of someone else, foregoing their own voice. If they don’t have adults both modeling healthy, vibrant living and they don’t have adults who are taking the initiative to connect with them, they will miss out on more accurate mirroring and validation from people who are wiser. 

Frankly, if they aren’t guided through the process of maturity and identity formation, they won’t be able to make wise choices, be less resilient in the face of challenges, go down paths in life that don’t resonate with who they really are, they’ll allow others to make decisions for them, they’ll be less self-aware and less confident in their own values and convictions. They’ll keep searching for their real identity well pass the time that’s appropriate, and miss out on the opportunities to carve their own path and write their own stories. 

Kids who do get what they need, however, are way more likely to make wise choices, live out their values, go down productive paths, have more resilience, feel more secure, experience less anxiety or shame and be able to connect with others in healthy ways. 

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That’s right- if your kids aren’t guided effectively through the years of identity formation, the stakes are incredibly high.

So, what can you do specifically to make sure your kids get what they need? Here are three crucial things you can do:

  1. Mirror what you see. With as little judgment or agenda as possible, frequently state in neutral terms what you notice about them, especially focusing on the positive. Say things like, “I notice that you laugh a lot when you’re with your friends.” Or, “I see that you really seem to care about your grades.” Or, “I notice that you approach problems with creativity.”

  2. Name the questions for them. Let them know many times that they’re going to be wondering about who they are, what they’re made of, what they’re made for, what’s most important in this world, and what it means to live well.

  3. Model the questions for them. Make sure that you’ve answered those questions first and foremost, and continuously integrate your answers to those questions in your daily life. Show them what it looks like to have values, to accept yourself, to be humble and grow personally, to contribute your talents in service of something bigger than yourself, and demonstrate what healthy friendships are like.

At this point, you might be admitting to yourself that you don’t exactly know what the big questions are, or perhaps you feel a twinge of guilt or discomfort with the idea that your kids are watching your life and learning from how you live. If they don’t learn about life from you, who will they learn it from? 

That’s why we created a curriculum called The LifeScript course. We’ve spent YEARS with THOUSANDS of students and parents to craft a process that is simple and common sense and guides people to reflect on the most important questions in life that lead to clarity and conviction. 

The LifeScript course is an online, interactive digital curriculum with a series of videos and reflection exercises that prompts you to process your responses to big questions about your life story. Additionally, you’ll be asked to select a few close friends to serve as advisors through the course, and we’ll structure the conversations you have with them so they’re on point. It’s by completing these self-reflection exercises and having these meaningful conversations that you can get to clarity and congruence about your identity and purpose. 

It’s available to you and it’s available for your kids (recommended at least 13 years old). We’re running a short promotion until the end of September for parents to get $20 off and if you sign your kid up, too, we’ll give you an additional $50 off for their course tuition. 

Here’s a 1-minute video overview of the LifeScript course:

We’ve seen when parents go through this course and sign their kids up, too, they’ll discover the kinds of insight, connection, conviction, and breakthrough in their families that they hope for. 

One parent who went through the LifeScript course with her kid said, 

I’ve never thought about those deep questions before! You made me think about parts of my life that I haven’t looked at or talked about, and I learned so much about myself. The conversations we had as a family because of this course have changed our family forever.

You have to be willing to do the work, though. So remember how high the stakes are, this is the most critical time for your kids to go through a proven process to define and own their identity and purpose.

The LifeScript Course

What you’ll get:

  • A series of short videos to help you understand how to reflect on your life story in productive ways

  • An intuitive, easy-to-use digital format to guide your reflection

  • Reflection exercises that will challenge you to think about your life story

  • Structured conversations with close friends and advisors so you can have the deep, meaningful conversations and reflection you need to get to clarity

  • Clarity about the most important questions in life

  • A personalized plan to integrate and align your life to your purpose and identity

  • Confidence about how your past has shaped your life, clarity about your next mission, the conviction of your personal values and principles, and inspiration by the dreams you have for your future

  • An ability to share your story in a clear and compelling way

READY? Start now.

Here’s what to do next. Go to app.theyouschool.com/register to create your free account, select the LifeScript course and use the promo code PARENT20SEPTEMBER for yourself and STUDENT50SEPTEMBER if you sign your student up, too, in their own account. 

The YouSchool