This is part four of our 6-part series on family relationships. Click to read parts one and two and three.  All of the blog posts in this series are focused on how families can use Search Institute’s Developmental Relationship Framework–the key elements of strong relationships–as their kids transition to middle or high school.
When they’re young, children depend on their parents for almost everything. But as they transition to middle school and can do more on their own, there are particular ways parents can support them while they learn to trust their own judgment and grow more independent.

Even though kids may become more skilled than their parents at some things (such as school subjects, computers, language or other talents), they still need their support.

But the ways parents provide support needs to shift. By changing how we support kids, they learn to take initiative, solve problems and be responsible—all critical parts of growing up.

What is Providing Support?

“Support” can sometimes mean different things. Our definition focuses on the practical or noticeable things we do for our young person: how to help them complete tasks and achieve goals. It involves four actions:

  • Navigate— Guide me through hard situations and systems.
  • Empower— Help me be confident and take charge of my life.
  • Advocate— Defend me when I need it.
  • Set Boundaries— Put in place limits that keep me on track.

We can support young people by giving them feedback and information, taking action to help them when needed, and standing up for them when necessary. Many of the actions related to expressing care (such as emotional support) can also be considered support.

Express care

Why Providing Support Is Important

Providing support helps young people stay on track to learn, grow, complete tasks, and achieve goals. When youth have support from parents, they are more likely to:
  • Feel secure and confident;
  • Be more engaged in school and learning;
  • Have lower rates of substance abuse;
  • Experience less stress or fewer emotional problems;
  • Be more resilient in times of stress and trauma.1

Support is best when it . . .

  • Is warm, friendly, and fun;
  • Doesn’t take over;
  • Focuses on putting in effort, not just finishing;
  • Shows you really believe the person can do it.

Tips For Providing Support

  • Praise your child for their hard work–whether they succeed or fail.
  • Encourage your child to try new things they might be interested in. If your child is afraid to try something new because they are worried it might be too hard, explain that everyone has to start somewhere. Tell your child that if he or she tries something challenging and it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t mean he or she failed; it’s just an opportunity to try again and get better.
  • When you teach your child a skill, demonstrate it by breaking it into smaller steps.
  • Model the values, attitudes, and behaviors you want your child to follow.
  • Talk with your child about the need to do some things they don’t want to do in order to be able to do the things they do want to do. Share stories of things you do that you didn’t want to but that enabled you to achieve other goals that were important to you.
  • When your child isn’t getting the help they need from another adult, talk to the person and try to find a solution.


FREE DOWNLOAD: Download the free, printable Talk About It Cards! Use them as conversation starters to share family experiences, feelings, and beliefs so families can get to know each other better.

challenges for teens, middle school, high school


Don’t Forget the Families
Relationships First: Creating Connections the help Young People Thrive
1  Teenagers who face bullying in schools are more likely to do well in the classroom if they have a lot of support from their families and peers. The stress of living in a dangerous neighborhood is reduced when young people have a lot of support from parents. Children who use special education services depend on their parents to speak up for their needs and strengths. High levels of parental (and other) support is associated with lower levels of depression and a higher quality of life among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. 

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