Relationship-Building Exercises for Teens & Parents

by Lauren Mills

"You don't understand me!" is a common refrain from teenagers. Adolescence is a challenging time because teenagers are developing physically, mentally and emotionally. A trusting relationship between teens and parents can be invaluable during this period. In a 2006 article published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine,” researchers concluded that when adolescents perceive low levels of parental caring, they are more likely to have difficulty talking to their parents or value their friends' opinions when facing serious decisions. These outcomes were significantly associated with compromised behavioral and emotional health. You can improve your relationship with your teenage by trying some relationship-building exercises.


Open communication is a key factor in forming a positive relationship between parents and teens. In a 2009 article published in the “Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing,” the authors report that communication is the primary indicator of the quality of an adolescent-parent relationship. One communication exercise is to each write down one thing you appreciate about your relationship and one thing you would change. Take turns reading what you wrote to the other person. In order for the exercise to be effective, agree in advance to listen carefully without interrupting the other, give your undivided attention and do your best to react respectfully without becoming defensive.

Trust-Building Exercise

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health suggests that parental monitoring be balanced with sensitivity so parents don’t unnecessarily invade their teen’s privacy. In addition, increased trust is beneficial to the parent-teen relationship. Try a blindfolding exercise to build trust in your relationship. Take turns wearing a blindfold and guiding each other around the house for 15 minutes. Afterwards, talk about the experience and how it felt to be without sight and needing to fully trust the other person.

Shared Experiences

A 2004 report by the nonprofit organization Education Training Research Associates found that themes in parent-child connectedness are a climate of trust, communication, structure and time together. Parents and adolescents can work together to find activities that are positive and fun. Ideas include attending a sporting event, taking a cooking class, going to the park to play catch, biking, hiking or playing board games. Having at least one meal together during the day is a good way to connect. When engaged in these activities, avoid topics that typically lead to arguments or power struggles.

Building Mutual Respect

It’s normal for relationships between parents and teens to go through turbulent times. Reinforcing the idea that adolescents are loved and cared for is important, even if they may feel unappreciated in the moment. Taking an interest in activities together will help foster a trusting relationship. Parents can let teens know that if they come to them with a problem, the first reaction will be to listen and not to jump to a punishment. Although there will be conflicts, make time for positive communication. Strong relationships between parents and adolescents lead to healthy development and mutual respect.

About the Author

Lauren Mills, L.C.S.W. is a licensed psychotherapist and mental health writer with a private practice based in New York City. She has extensive experience providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults and families. She holds a Masters of Science in clinical social work from Columbia University.

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