Top 5 Qualities Needed to Work with Adolescents

Respect. Authenticity. Kindness. Acceptance. Predictability.

This past semester, I had the privilege to take a course titled “Counseling Adolescents” as part of the child and youth track I’m on for the graduate program I’m in. Throughout the semester we went through the book titled, What Works with Teens and it gave me an amazing insight into the different qualities that parents, leaders, teachers, counselors, and mentors alike need in order to grow in understanding the adolescent they are in relationship with. These characteristics include being respectful, authentic, kind, accepting, and predictable. These concepts are the foundation in which we build relationships with teenagers, in either a negative or positive light. 

In order for teenagers to want to respect us, we must show them respect first. As social modeling illustrates to us, if we want the adolescents that we work with to respect us, we must illustrate this to them first. Whether it is through interactions with colleagues, family members, or friends, how we show respect to one another will emulate through their interactions. 

Next, we must be true to ourselves by showing authenticity to adolescents. There is a fine line between sharing too much and being transparent with teenagers. It would be appropriate to share why you cannot attend an event, yet inappropriate if you overshare when it’s not needed or important for them to know. We can be authentic by sharing our genuine thoughts, feelings, and emotions about hard topics as well. 

Being kind to teenagers is one of the main tenets that all of these components should be laced with. Adolescents can be hard to deal with and be kind to in situations where emotions are high and intense, yet reacting in a kind way despite the situation is necessary to build relational rapport. As mentors, coaches, parents, and teachers, we must approach adolescents with kindness and generosity. By exemplifying being generous with our time, resources, and the state of mind that we operate from while engaging with teenagers. 

Accepting adolescents comes by meeting them where they are at despite the developmental changes that are occurring emotionally and physically. Adolescents may show up late to an event, change their appearance, and alter the way they interact with you, yet regardless of the roller coaster of changes occurring within them, we can first accept them for who they are. This doesn’t mean justifying their behavior if it is negatively affecting them or someone else, but it does mean that regardless of these changes happening, we remind them that we don’t see them in a different light despite this. 

Being predictable is one of the most important aspects of being involved in an adolescent’s life. Showing up on time, communicating, and letting the teenagers know when you cannot make a meeting, or even if you are running late, reminds them that their time and presence are important to you. Most adolescents are extremely busy these days running from sports, to musicals, to school events, to family gatherings, and everything in between. Letting adolescents know that the time they set aside with you is a priority to you will remind them of the important role you also play in their life. As stated in the book, I’m referring to “…one caring and dedicated adult who develops and maintains a consistent, supportive alliance with an adolescent can counter the effects of life stressors and adversities” (p. 140). 


Rathbone, B. H., Baron, J. B., & Wiseman, R. (2015). What works with teens: A professional’s guide to engaging authentically with adolescents to achieve lasting change. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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