How to Build a Better Relationship with Your Teen - Part 1 of 4

We want to help parents understand their teens

Over the last two years of working on Orenda Academy, we've continually realized the importance of the role of parents in our attempt to help teens become more mature, independent, and motivated versions of their current selves.

Recently, our team has been working with a handful of parents 1-1 to more closely understand the struggles that parents have in interacting with their kids. We've begun to hear some common themes:

"My teen doesn't listen to me"

"We're locked out"

"I can't get a word out of them"

"I don't know anything that's going on with them"

And this contributes to why parents ultimately enroll their kids into our Orenda Teen programs. Many parents feel like they have exhausted all the tools they have to influence their kids and have hit a brick wall.

As a young adult who had a similar relationship with his parents during his teenage years, it's easy for me to understand the reasons why -- and one of the goals of Orenda is to help parents develop this understanding so they can move closer to their ideal relationship with their kids.

Over the next 3 months, Orenda will be publishing an ongoing series of things we are learning that are the keys to unlocking more healthy, whole, and more friendly relationships between parents and their teens.

We've heard parents give up and accept the "reality" that the teenage years "are just a phase." Some parents believe that it's inevitable that their teens are moody, not very communicative, and resent any influence from their parents.

At Orenda Academy, we KNOW that this isn't true. We've seen an incredible number of our students become more open to their parents, more motivated and start to take responsibility for their lives. We now want to share ways to help parents change their own "reality" out.

This is the first of four posts in a series called "How to Build a Better Relationship with Your Teen", each of which will cover a different topic. Below is an outline of the topics coming up:

Without further ado, let's get on with Part 1 of this series!


Why parents don't "get" their teen

I was the kind of teen that would cause worry and concern in many parents we've worked with.

  • I spent hours playing video games and often slept at 12am or 1am in high school for that reason

  • I never completed any long-term assignment early, it was always last minute.

  • I always gave my parents 1-word answers whenever possible ("okay ...", "mmmm ..." "yup...", "nope...").

  • I never wrote things down, I never planned ahead.

  • I wasted pretty much every school break glued to a computer screen unless I was attending a camp.

  • I quit many of the activities that my parents signed me up for.

Of course, these are not the signs that parents get very excited about. It does not lend much hope to a successful future by any measure.

And whenever I share with parents in our program about my experiences as a teen, they are often surprised.

I imagine they have the following thoughts in their heads:

What?! How is it possible that the person who helped co-found this educational company used to be like my child? Is it possible?

How on earth did he ever learn those lessons if he didn't learn them as a teen?

How can my teen learn these things ASAP?

And to answer some of those questions, I want to share 3 examples from my life that demonstrate what my parents tried to help me learn to be more independent and mature and what ultimately worked for me.

Example 1. Being on time

What my parents tried to tell me: "Be on time." "Be prompt, be respectful of other peoples' time."

How effective were their words: Very low effectiveness.

Why it didn't work: Half the activities I was signed up for were things my parents thought were important, not things I wanted. Also, in general, being late 5-10 minutes didn't have significant consequences for the activities I was involved in.

What actually worked: Missing meetings that I had set up for myself as a young adult, both professional and personal.

Missing meetings that I had set up was what led to me to be far more organized and finally using a calendar.

I never used my planner in high school because I actually had a decent ability to remember everything I needed to do in every class -- my failure rate wasn't significant enough for me to use another system.

As an adult, once I had more meetings than I could remember on my own, and being late or missing the meeting forced me to get better. I probably would have continued to try to remember everything if I never missed a meeting.

I remember one time, the feeling of disappointment I had in myself, after I missed a meeting I had self arranged. It was something I wanted and mattered to me. And I dropped the ball. There was no one else to blame. If I didn't care about the meeting, then it wouldn’t have provoked me to change. But I cared. So it forced me to change.

2. Working hard and being motivated

What my parents tried to tell me: "Work hard." "Always try to be the best" "Finish what you start."

How effective were their words: Very low effectiveness.

Why it didn't work: I didn't want to work hard for the things I didn't care about. I didn't care about finishing things that I didn't want in the first place, so I put very little effort into things that I didn't see a point to.

What actually worked: Finding things that I cared about or were within my strengths.

In high school, I hated every single writing, literature, or English class I was in. I never read any assigned book cover to cover -- I only read the summaries and notes online the night before quizzes and tests. I put in very little effort in virtually every paper I was assigned, put it off as long as I could, and never bothered to proofread before turning them in. Of course, I usually got B's and some C's in those classes.

But then after college, when I was living on my own, doing non-profit work that I was passionate about, and speaking at churches all over the country, I found myself wanting to document some of the talks that I did because I found myself repeating myself a lot.

Writing, I concluded was an efficient way to codify and distill my best ideas so that it could be shared with people more easily. I wrote long form articles and essays to summarize my thoughts and they were "works" that I was very proud of. I would spend hours writing, rewriting, editing over the span of a week to perfect my articles to make sure the flow of ideas, the introduction, closing, and analogies used were crisp and clear.

My English teachers would have been so proud!

I posted my writings on a personal blog -- 122 articles over the span of 3.5 years -- and garnered over 300,000 views during that span. People still message me to this day about my writings and many have asked me when I’m publishing a book.

3. Wasting time on games, computers and phones

What my parents tried to tell me: “Only 30 minutes of games a day”, “Have you finished your homework yet?”

How effective were their words: Very low effectiveness.

Why it didn't work: I didn’t know how to manage myself. Video games, watching videos, and social media were far more interesting than anything school-related.

What actually worked: Finding things that mattered more to me than video games.

I don’t think I ever told my parents this (but I’m sure they suspected)...

When I was in high school, I probably spent 3-4 hours playing games after I got home and maybe only truly worked on homework for 1-1.5 hours each day. Sorry mom and dad!

When I went to college, I repeated the same process and to be honest, wasn’t really proud of how I spent so much time on screens doing things that weren’t productive or weren’t really valuable in the long run.

During college, I was working closely with a local church that did a lot of outreach to the homeless and the sick and that ended up igniting a passion in me that I didn’t even know existed. I got a “high” on life working with the less fortunate. During this time, I would happily forfeit my time playing video games to do this work.

I never minded spending more time in that arena even if it took away from video games because it was meaningful and fulfilling for me. This continued to be true in the next stages of my life in real estate investments and now working on Orenda.

I still play video games, but far less addictively, and I basically never touch any social media platform other than to communicate with people.

By now, you may see the theme here.

The qualities that my parents wanted me to have didn’t develop simply because they said, “this is an important quality to have.”

I developed those qualities when I had an experience that helped me see the importance of that quality in relation to something I cared about.

For example:

  • Being late and forgetting things kept me from meetings that I had arranged and personally wanted.

  • Writing helped me reach more people with my ideas and experiences, writing was an extension of ideals and thoughts.

  • Video games were far less meaningful and interesting compared to helping the homeless.

So if this is true, what does this mean for you and your teen?

In order for your teen to start developing qualities like work ethic, timeliness, and prioritization, they need to do so in the presence of something I cared about. Changed happen in that context, and it was very hard for me to change without it, given these 3 examples I shared.

This seems be the case in our work with students at Orenda Academy.

For example, students often don’t care about “being a leader” unless it’s something they really care about. They don’t really care about the cost of wasting time when they don’t have anything they deeply want to spend their time for.


Many parents think that their children are wasting time on video games and screens.

Well, did you know that I found out about the usefulness of spreadsheets because I wanted to find out the most efficient way to beat a video game? I learned basic Excel formulas and shortcuts as a result of wanting to get play a video game better!

For parents who are frustrated or concerned by the current state of their teen might have more patience and understanding if they realized that often, teenagers want to change, but only for something they deem is worth their time and energy.

Think about it this way. Imagine if you went to one of your co-workers and told her that she should write Christmas cards to every single person that they know this year. Now, this is in concept a great idea, but it’s 1) very tedious 2) feels unnecessary 3) does not acknowledge the fact that your coworker might not want to write a birthday card to everyone they know!

Asking teens to have excellence, promptness, and organization in an arena they don’t care about is the same thing.

But written communication is important! It’s good to build relationships! Saying Merry Christmas is polite!


These are not compelling enough answers to persuade anyone I know to actually write Christmas cards every year.

Then, why do we think simply “telling” students that something is important will causes them to immediately do it?

Now I know there are some teens you've met who seem so easy — you tell them once about a better way to do things and they gladly listen and start applyIng it immediately.

But the reality is that not every kid is like that. And what I’m sharing is the key to reach teens who seem to not care about most things. Helping them find something that is important to them, and using that as a tool to develop qualities that we know are important to success in life is a very viable strategy.

Some examples of this:

  • Some students really care about doing well in their video game — many multiplayer games actually have great opportunity to develop leadership qualities.

  • Some students really care about their peer group — this would be a great environment to learn soft skills like influence, persuasion, and boundary setting.

  • Some students really enjoy getting lost in a TV series, or Sci-Fi novel — their favorite characters in these storylines can become role models they pattern their life after and how students might determine some of their values

On the outside looking in, it’s not always clear how a certain activity can help someone mature, but if you take time to understand it more deeply, you can find opportunities everywhere to (1) support your teen in a way that matters to them and (2) help them grow into the independent, self-motivated, and happy adult we all want them to be without creating more strain in your relationship.

The biggest thing I’m try to say is this: the easiest way to get a teen (or anyone, actually) to change is to give them a reason they care about, not a reason you care about.

And for parents who have teens who seem very hard to influence, this is likely the biggest missing component.

If you understand this, you will see that simply “telling” and “reminding” is both ineffective and also erodes your relationship.

You must understand that finding something that matters to them is a huge prerequisite for change, and without it, verbal reminders will often fall flat.


Want to learn more?

Next Article:

Stay tuned for the final part of this series on "How to Build a Better Relationship with Your Teen"!

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