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  • Jody B. Miller

How to Raise Happy Teenagers

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Take it from a mom who made it through raising three teenagers, all within 3 years of each other...


You have to have a LOT of patience, unconditional (not naive) love, open ears, and most of all... you can't overreact.

Your kids will do things you don't like. You'll tell them not to do it. But they'll do it anyway.

You'll take away privileges or ground them for the weekend. They'll do it again anyway. You'll catch them in the act. Guess what? They'll do it again anyway.

Why? Because what their friends think is now way more important than what you as a parent think. In fact, going against your approval seems to be their aim.

But trust me, if you listen, don't overreact and try to understand what they are going through, you'll get through it. And in a way that will make you closer than even the earlier stages. And... set you up to be a trusted confidant in the later years.

And yet, you don't want to be their friend, or their best buddy. But you do want them to trust you.

Here are highlights of a great talk by Raj Raghunathan | TEDxUTAustin, all about raising Happy Teenagers.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

- JB Miller

Watch the full talk here.

As some of you might know, I have an online course on happiness. I teach the same course to Macomb students, both MBAs and undergrads, wonderful students. I also teach the same class to fabulous students from the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad India.

I even have a book on happiness, so I get lots of emails every week, dozens of them from people from all around the world.

Some of them write to me to thank me for my course or for my book. Others write to me asking me for extra happiness tips, which I tell them.

I'm very happy to provide for extra happiness money. I'm just kidding. My tips are always for free. The topic on which I get the most number of emails by far, though, is the happiness or maybe, I should say, the unhappiness of teenagers.

Sometimes these teenagers write to me directly like this one here who feels suicidal on an almost daily basis. Other times I get emails from parents of teenagers who were desperate and at their wit's end not knowing how to deal with the huge mood swings of their teenage sons and daughters.

The teenagers are, of course, world famous for being difficult to deal with, and there is some evidence supporting it from science that these are difficult years.

There was a study conducted with over three hundred thousand respondents from all around the world.

How to Raise Happy Teenagers

A graph of the study plots self-esteem on the y-axis and age of the respondents on the x-axis.

It turns out that the happiest days in our life are all where, depending on how old you are as nine and ten-year-olds, after that it's a rollercoaster ride pretty much going downhill.

Another thing that stands out is that men report significantly higher levels of self-esteem then women. This is perhaps not that surprising, given that, even in this day and age, men enjoy greater freedom and access to resources than women.

Also, as one of my own studies co-authored with two other people, showed that men report feeling better on the outside than they actually feel on the inside, whereas women are more honest about how they truly feel.

But the thing that I want to focus on in this talk is this: that it turns out that our unhappiest our worst years often are as teenagers. That is not only at the teen years, our most awkward in terms of how we look and behave, they're also our worst in terms of how we feel on the inside now.

This is perhaps always been the case.

So, for example, if you're in your 30s, 40s 50s and above, you probably felt pretty miserable as teenagers.

But the unhappiness of teenagers seems to be especially pronounced now. Since 2005 teenager depression has increased by over 40 % over a third of teens today feel that they're already depressed.

High stress levels are going to be even higher in the coming year.

Perhaps the saddest finding of all is that more than three thousand teenagers in the US alone in grades 9 through 12, think about taking their own life every single day.

This is a huge societal and global problem actually, but it's also a personal problem in a sense for me and many other people.

I have a teenage son and a soon-to-be teenage daughter.

So what can we do about this problem?

Well, the first step is to try and understand what are the top reasons for teenager depression and anxiety.

Here are three top reasons:

First, unrealistically high pressure to perform in school and in life in general.

Second, too much time spent on screens, especially on social media and..

Third, lack of adequate sleep.

I'm, going to discuss a few things that parents of teenagers and teenagers themselves can do in order to address each of these three areas of concern.

Let's start with the pressure to perform.

Now it's, totally understandable that parents want their children the teenagers to succeed in life, that's, of course, very, very understandable, but I think a line is crossed when parents start putting undue pressure on their teenagers to succeed.

How many of you as parents are guilty of engaging in social comparisons in order to motivate your children to achieve success like, for example, saying things like? Why can you be good at math like Ranas? Why can't you start reading big books like Maya does?

How many of you, as parents, are guilty of trying to compensate for your own failures by pushing your children to achieve the success that eluded you?

I once heard a mom tell her teenage daughter, you better get into that school orchestra, because I never did.

How many parents are actually guilty of physically hurting your teenage children?

The irony about these pressure tactics is that not only do they actually lower your children's, self-esteem, perhaps for life. They also lower your teenagers chances of achieving success.

Now don't get me wrong.

I'm, not suggesting that we pamper or mollycoddle our children, that's not good either.

Rather, what I'm suggesting is that, rather than use pressure and punishment to motivate our children, we use love and compassion to do it.

Motivating children through love and compassion might take a variety of forms, including actually participating in the activities in which we want them to succeed. So if you want your teenage child to be a great piano player, then take those piano lessons yourself too, or if you want your child to excel in history, then consider watching history documentaries with your children.

You should definitely not enroll your children in a class like Kumon format if they are kicking and screaming about it. You should at the very least, consult them and get them to be motivated to do it first before you enroll them in those classes.

Another thing that parents can do is recognize that the current world is very different from the world in which they themselves were teenagers. Today's teenagers have far more pressure because of the internet.

It's very easy for teenagers to engage in social comparisons at the click of a mouse.

A teenager in India, for example, can compare his life with that of a teenager in America.

This easy access to social comparisons highlights the discrepancy between a teenager's ideal life which might be to be in my own room or have my own laptop or go backpacking in Europe, which is his actual life.

The highlighting of this discrepancy between actual and ideal life is a big reason why there is a rise in teenager discontent around the world, and this discrepancy is further magnified by social media.

It's easy for teenagers today to see what their friends have on Snapchat or Whatsapp or Instagram or Facebook, and what they themselves lack.

Findings also show that teenagers today are subject to far more intense bullying than were teenagers in the past. This, too, is because of social media.

The cloak of anonymity that online mediums provide, make teenagers engage in brutal cyberbullying, so it's not a big surprise, as this study showed, that the more time a teenager spends on social media (on phones in particular) and the less time they spend on physical activities, the more prone to depression they are and the more they are likely to think about taking their own life.

So, as parents we probably can't do much to change the status of the world, but we can do a lot to mitigate the negativity that exposure to the Internet and social media has on our teenage children.


First, by keeping our lines of communication open with our teenagers, so that they feel that we understand them just as much as their peers and friends do and also by putting in place certain rules, rules that are not meant only for our teenagers to follow. But also for us to follow right.

So one of the big rules, I think, which is very important, is to minimize time on social media and digital devices, and one of the best ways to do this that I have discovered is to crowd out the time that our teenagers can spend on social media.

So here's an idea to carve out certain times of the week, let's, say Saturday mornings for going hiking, or Sunday afternoons for cooking together as a family and the more you get your teenagers buy-in and a great idea Is to actually ask them to suggest ideas for spending time together as a family, the better off it's going to be.

A final thing that parents can do is to practice good sleeping habits.

You might know this that teenagers need more sleep than do parents, or even preteen kids, sometimes as much as 10 hours a night. This is because of the intense hormonal changes that are going on in a teenager's, body right, and so the best thing to do here for them to be able to get that adequate sleep is to actually put in place certain healthy sleeping habits that everybody in the family, including the parents, follow so I'm going to give you three tips for getting a great night's.

The first is to make sure that you go to sleep and wake up at the same time, every day. This is the single best thing you can do to get a good night's sleep. It doesn't matter if it's the weekend or the weekday. You should do this. Why? Because our bodies are habit-forming machines and the more regular your sleep hours are, the better sleep you'll.

Second is to keep light emitting devices outside the bedroom.

If you're having an affair with your cell phone or laptops or iPads, and taking them to bed with you every night now is it time to stop. This is because the light that these devices emit actually lower the levels of a very important sleep hormone, called melatonin, so you're not able to fall asleep well, and you're not able to sleep deeply if melatonin levels are lower.

This is why you don't want to take light emitting devices in your bedroom.

And the third is to prepare for the next day the previous evening itself, so that come morning you have a little more shut-eye time.

Now, if you're a teenager, listening to all this, I'm sure that you agree that you could do with more support from your parents and from adults in general.

That's definitely going to enhance your self-esteem, but guess what - you can do more for yourself than can other people do for you. Even if your parents aren't doing all the things that I mentioned and they never will, for whatever reason - you shouldn't lose faith.

You are actually much more powerful than you might think. You have more control over your own happiness than anybody else.

Okay. So what are some things that you could do to enhance your own happiness levels?

First, try not to internalize the pressure that other people, including your parents or others, are putting on you.

One way to do this is to recognize that the single biggest determinant of your success is great and hard work; in other words, the harder you work at something the higher the chances of your success.

The less hard you work at something, the lower the chances of success. It's as simple as that.

In other words, the pressure to perform doesn't really enhance your chances of success. In fact, if anything, it actually undermines it.

On top of that, it also undermines your self-esteem. Now, you might have noticed that, sometimes you try to motivate yourself by putting pressure on yourself. It makes you sometimes work harder.

A much better way to motivate yourself, though, is to find something that you're passionate about, find something that you love to do and then carve out some time on a sustained basis to devote to that activity.

Ideally, every single day, if you can do this on a sustained basis, everything else will fall into place.

Second, minimize, the amount of time you spend on screens, I can't emphasize this enough. I actually like to call what we call smart phones, dumb phones, because their mere presence in the environment, even if somebody else is using it, impairs your cognitive ability and on top of that, it also makes you feel worse as we saw earlier now.

You might argue that everybody that you know is on social media, and so you can't really afford to be off it. So do this - limit the amount of time you spend on it. Nowadays we have apps like moment and screen time that can monitor the amount of time we spend on apps and on various social media platforms.

You should aim to spend no more than two hours every day on across all your mediums.

The third thing that you should do is to lead a healthy lifestyle. You should never ever compromise a healthy lifestyle for anything.

Partying pressure, peer pressure, parental pressure. Nothing should come in the way of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle really constitutes three things: eating right, not eating junk food or eating it very rarely, moving more, exercising every single day and sleeping better is the most important of these three things,
I would say sleeping better - is the most important sleeping at least eight hours every every night.

One study showed that students who had slept eight hours or more the previous evening scored significantly higher across a battery of tests, including an IQ test than did students who slept less than eight hours.

What can you do to make sure that you get at least eight hours of sleep every night as a teenager?

Well, in addition to the three things that I mentioned earlier, namely making sure you go to sleep at the same time, wake up at the same time not take light emitting emitting devices into your bedroom and preparing for the next day.

The previous evening itself.

Here are three additional tips:

First, lower the temperature free room to be about 68 degrees Fahrenheit or about eighteen point; five degrees centigrade, that's the temperature at which we get our best sleep.

Second, exercise every day for at least thirty minutes.

Hopefully, in your school, you have a period dedicated to sports. Don't spend that time alone by yourself, reading a book or chatting with a friend, even certainly not on your devices. Digital devices use that time to go to the gym.

Pick a sport that you like, even if you're, not good at it. Just do it. engage in some physical activity. It is guaranteed to improve the quality of your sleep and last maintain what I call a gratitude journal.

Okay and one of the easiest ways to do it is to actually write every single day in your journal.

Just before you go to sleep three good things that happen to you that day.

I have somebody with my journal here and you can see in my journal that every single day I actually do it. I maintain a list of three good things. That's what I end with every single day,

I've, been doing it for five years, because this is one of the most powerful practices for getting a good night's, sleep, not just that, but for feeling happy overall!

Okay! Now, if you're writing new journal every single day, then there won't be big good things.There won't be things like today.

I got my job today, I got a raise in my salary or today I found my life-partner.

There's also going to be small, good things.

Things like, I found a parking spot close to my office, so I didn't have to walk a whole lot. And the second one actually happened to me a couple of days back that I took my journal to my class and I forgot it. But thankfully it was there the next day. Sometimes you do get lucky and there are big good things that happen. Like yesterday, I wrote, I'm giving a TED talk on teenager happiness.

I'm so grateful to be in a position to help out teenagers around the world. This is a very, very powerful practice and I highly recommend it to the teenagers are difficult to deal with it.

There's no doubt about it. It's a time of great hormonal changes. Boy-Girl problems arise There's a lot of social comparisons. Who's the coolest kid in town - Who's the nerdiest kid in town... It's also a time of great uncertainty.

Depending on how well you do in school, you might get into the College of your dreams or fall by the wayside with the rest of your life seemingly in jeopardy.

It's also a time and a lot of teenagers feel that they ought to be given the same freedom and autonomy that adults enjoy, but they simply lack the access to resources to be able to do what they want to do, and so there is a lot going on in a teenager's life, but that's always been the case.

So what's new is that the advent of the internet and social media has made it far more far worse for our current batch of teenagers. So maybe it's too much to aspire for teenagers to be as happy as 9 or 10 year olds.

But we can definitely hope that teenagers are less depressed and less prone to suicidal thoughts than they currently are.

Researchers, look at the relationship between self-esteem and ages across the u.s.. We might have together turn teenagers into a much happier group than they currently are. Thank you.

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