King Solomon, the wisest of all men, would have good parenting advice. He teaches: “Educate the child according to his way.”1

Now notice what happens when we emphasize different words of the phrase. Try saying it with the different emphases:

Educate the child according to his way.

Educate the child according to his way.

Educate the child according to His way (his meaning G‑d’s).

Educate the child according to his way.

It’s interesting how this now becomes four different pieces of advice. I think that perhaps different emphasis is required at different ages, and for teenagers, the last one is most appropriate. In their efforts to exert their independence, cast off authority and find their paths in life during a very physically, emotionally and academically taxing (and often ambivalent) time, the only way you’re going to have any influence on your child and maintain a good relationship with him or her is if you do it their way, following their lead and offering them a roadmap.

Here are 12 strategies for accomplishing this and achieving harmony in this parent-teenager relationship:

1. Listen non-judgmentally. This is something that’s good to do with everyone, not just teenagers. People don’t want to talk to you if you interrupt while they’re speaking, are not prepared to listen to them or seem judgmental of what they’re telling you. Just listen calmly. Shimon (son of Rabban Gamliel) says, “All my days I have been raised among the Sages and I found nothing better for oneself than silence.”2

2. Don’t tell them what you think. Ask them what they think and why they think that way. Don’t assume that you know what they think and feel, and what is motivating them. “No two minds are alike, [just as] no two faces are alike.”3 Teenagers as a group are idealistic and ambitious, and they might rekindle that spark in you.

3. Take an interest in their interests. And don’t deny their reality. They’ve grown up under a different reality than you did, and this affects their perspective which affects their choices.

4. Respect their essential needs. The biorhythms of teenagers differ from the rest of the world. They need more sleep, more food and more stimulation (when they’re awake). They also need more time alone to process whom they are becoming. Their moodiness is biologically based and shouldn’t be taken personally. While you don’t have to suffer rudeness or disrespect, they need a little more slack than children or adults.

5. Set and keep limits. There’s something still underdeveloped in the teenage brain that makes them impetuous and careless. Make sure you have rules in place to keep them from getting in trouble. However, if they do get in trouble, make it clear to them that you’re the first person you want them to call.

6. Teenagers like to negotiate. It’s a good life skill to practice and, let’s face it, you’re not in a position to demand very much because they are older and usually bigger than you. If G‑d consented to negotiate with Abraham over the fate of Sodom,4 you can negotiate with your teenager.

7. Choose your battles. If you don’t want to be in a constant state of battle, pick the issues that are most important to you and let the rest go. Also don’t fight about anything superficial or transitory simply because it will very soon not even be relevant. “Just as you are obligated to speak when your words will be heeded, you must remain silent when you know your words will be ignored.”5

8. Appreciate the amazing person your child has grown up to be. True, they are still works in progress, but you can already see signs of the magnificent human being they are going to become. Let them know you appreciate them and are proud to be their parent. A person sees themselves, first and foremost, through the eyes of their parents. When you look at them, your face should radiate pleasure and love, not anger and criticism. Light up when they come into a room; don’t scowl at them. As King Solomon also famously said, “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one's heart is reflected back to him by another.”6 If your teenager is acting aggressively or disrespectfully, take note of your own mien and attitude when you speak to him or her.

9. Relate. Kids at this age believe they are the first to ever walk the road into adulthood. Tell your teens some stories of when you were their age—not the ones where you were more responsible or mature than them, not fantasy; tell them about some of the things you did that, in retrospect, are funny or quirky or weren’t even that smart. They’re more likely to be willing to learn from your teenage self than your adult self. Show them that you were there, too, once, and that they’ll weather the storms of adolescence and be an adult some day—and that you also had foibles and quirks to work through. If you share this with them, then they’ll be more likely to approach you feeling that you can understand them having been there and are less likely to judge them. “Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation.”7

10. Love them. People respond to kindness and love. Everyone has his or her own ways of receiving and expressing love. Try to notice what your child responds to: praise, hugs, gifts. Try to incorporate as many expressions of love in your communication, remembering that different ages favor different forms of love. If your child isn’t responding to one way, try another. The Torah tells us that we are supposed to love our fellows as ourselves. If we are supposed to love strangers, then how much more are we supposed to love our children.

11. Bond. Find something to do together—a common interest or project, a cause or hobby that will help you make lasting memories.

12. Stress family traditions. These are what keep families close and together. Celebrating Jewish traditions together helps keep families, as well as the Jewish people, united. Spend holidays together, eat Shabbat dinner together (in fact, try to eat every dinner together) and invite them to bring their friends.

Adolescence is only a stage, but it also sets the stage for adulthood. If there are storms, dance in the rain with your teenagers. And don’t be afraid to get wet!