Parenting teens into adulthood with Nellie Harden

Parenting Teens Into Adulthood with Nellie Harden (Episode 312)

Fostering self-worth, confidence, and self-esteem in our kids is a given, right? How in the world do we navigate parenting teens and prepare them for adulthood, especially when they're perfectly content to just be a kid and play around? I went deep with my notes from my conversation this week with Nellie Harden to discuss how we are "architects of change" in our children's lives, and, specifically, how critical these teenage years are.

As parents, our biggest impact in this world starts in our living room.

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About Nellie Harden

Nellie Harden is a wife, mother, family life and leadership writer, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping parents raise the next generation. She believes in building a strong foundation of worth, esteem, and confidence.

Her own journey of lacking these qualities when she left home led her down dark and difficult paths. However, after decades of healing, including a season of infertility, she went on to experience the joy of having four daughters in four years, who she is now raising with her husband of twenty years.

Nellie believes that parenting is like being an architect, where the responsibility is to plan, design, and build the beginning of someone else's life. Drawing from her previous experience working with animals as a marine biologist, she saw a clear purpose in what animals would teach to their young. Nellie approaches parenting with the intention of raising adults rather than just kids, similar to how animals equip their offspring to survive in the wild.

She is determined to make the highest impact possible in her own daughters' lives by instilling in them a foundation of worth, esteem, and confidence to launch them into the world.

"I call parents architects because we are planning and designing and building the beginning of somebody else's life, which is a very humbling experience. 

It's a very huge responsibility. And it's not just about getting them to physically survive to 18 so they can go off into the world and be released. It's really about building them so that you can launch them out into the world."

6,750 Days

6,750. That is how many days are in 18 years. What a powerful reminder for how fleeting our parenting experience with children truly is! Yes, I did the math, and it was truly eye-opening. My daughter Clara is sixteen years old. As of today, we have 637 days left before she turns 18. My husband Nathan just pointed out that we've essentially already experienced 90% of her childhood. Talk about a wake-up call and some tears from me - my baby isn't a baby anymore! 

Nellie shared in the interview how her clarifying moment was early on when her children were just 4, 2-year-old twins, and a newborn. When her husband was hospitalized due to heart issues, there was a real chance he wouldn't make it. And she sat there, having conversations with her children that completely went back to her own childhood (she lost her own father when she was 1 1/2 years old). And she started seeing life in the days they had left - not simply an indefinite promise. 

6,750 days for your highest impact as a parent. 6,750 days your child will look to you as their guardian. 6,750 days to launch them into their own independence.

Are you walking alongside your teens, building a life together so they have the tools, resources, skills, know-how, and foundation to go do life on their own? Have you fostered a relationship where they will ask you questions and consult with you as needed once they enter adulthood?

Think about what other things you can calculate. How many days have you been slammed against the same friction point with your child? Are they aware of how many days have been spent? (I share on the podcast about Nathan informing our daughter how many days she'd spent hitting up against the same issue, and it really sunk home for her.) 

When we calculate and quantify things, it adds a bit of intention and clarity to what is going on. Whether that's calculating how many days you have left with your child, how many days you've been working on an issue, or even how many steps to learn something, it can be powerful. 

Nellie tried this with her 15-year-old twins as she calculated the six months of driver's training they needed, and how many steps they needed to learn. It helped clarify for her and her daughters that balking over her direction in the car wasn't going to help them learn any faster, and they were able to move past emotional walls and really learn the steps needed. 

It helps so much to give systems, to share concrete cause/effect, and look at the numbers around what you're doing and how you can move forward. 

6, 750 days of childhood. How many do you have left with your kids?

The 3 Essentials 

We often can get fixated on things like getting good grades, being involved in extracurricular activities, and doing chores and responsibilities, and we miss the underlying foundation. Nellie compares this to a cloud - you can lay it all out, yet when you go to grab it, you just go straight through it - there is no structure upon which to build. 

Those things are tangible that we can check off. Our kids have good grades - check. They passed the driver's ed - check. They are on the softball team - check. But do they have confidence in what they're doing? That may be harder to check off. 

There are three foundational components Nellie mentioned on repeat - worth, esteem, and confidence. I asked her to elaborate a bit more on these and what the distinctions were between each of them. 

Nellie looks at these like a 3-tiered foundation - and each aspect is essential to stand on solid ground:

Self Worth:

This is the bottom, thick foundation. If you don't believe in your worth, it's hard to have good self-esteem or any confidence about it. So at the core, it's believing in your own worth and that you deserve the awesome in this life.


This is how much you value yourself and appreciate yourself. You may recognize your worth and yet still beat yourself up over not getting it right all the time. Your esteem is the lover of your soul that celebrates your worth and doesn't hide it away. 


Here is the final layer where you believe in yourself enough and value yourself enough to share it with the world and stand boldly on your own two feet. 

"And I say what good is an A in calculus if they are breaking apart as a human being on the inside, right? "

There is a solid framework to cover all of this from the inside out. It's looking at the components that build self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence. 

The 5 Needs of Self-Worth

Everyone in the world has these five needs - no matter your age, your gender, your environment...these essentials are part of simply being human. 

Nellie explained that during adolescence when the frontal lobe is having all those massive connections, it looks like an electrical storm in there. With all the connections that are happening and the framework that is being laid, these needs are just abundant and they're exploded for them.

So what are those needs?

  1. The need to be SEEN
  2. The need to be HEARD
  3. The need to be LOVED
  4. The need to BELONG
  5. The need to have PURPOSE

Can you say you feel all of these yourself? If these are the foundations of self-worth, where are you, personally, lacking? And how is that potentially impacting the rest of your family and creating a ripple effect beyond it?

Yes, you can build those foundations in adulthood. And Nellie really had a great analogy here. If you think about cement when you first pour it (or you're cultivating this in the super moldable childhood), it's liquid and formable. You can push it here and there - just like the developing brains and personalities of our kids during childhood and adolescence. 

Once you're an adult, that cement has cured into a solid rock. Yes, you can still break up cement, however, it's not quite as easy. Oftentimes it takes a jackhammer to break it up, and that can be a super painful process.

What better time to reinforce these five essentials with our children when they are changing, moldable, and open to the positive support it can provide?

If you are not seen, you feel invisible. There are many young people feeling invisible today.

If you are not heard, you feel ignored. Sometimes that's even worse because it shows you spoke up, people know you're there, yet people chose not to listen.

If you don't feel loved....what do you feel? Hated? Pushed aside? Irrelevant? Un...worthy?

If you don't feel a sense of belonging, it can feel like utter rejection. Feeling alone and isolated can feel like rejection, or simply eliminate any feeling of purpose. 

If you're lacking purpose, what's the point? This is definitely a scary one - and aimlessness and lack of purpose/drive can explode in the teen years when kids are overwhelmed and trying to figure themselves out. Do they have a higher purpose and calling than simply surviving another day?

The Malleable Years of Adolescence

What a great quote by Nellie. I talk so often about how change comes from the inside out - and this definitely includes how we are living and connecting with each other in our own homes. 

During adolescence, even though your child may look like an adult, there is still a lot going on physiologically. The more you can establish these five needs from the inside out, the less they need to go elsewhere to find out who will see them, love them, and hear them. Do they feel any belonging and purpose in their role in your family?

"If we could teach our children to know their worth instead of chasing it, they will be different people. We won't have the 20s experience that so many go through that tumultuous time because they will have a leg up on life and be able to know their worth and go out there in the world and affect it in only the way that they are designed to do, right? The world is waiting for their awesome."

Simple Steps

If we were to take just any of these layers, we could go deep on simple steps to build and reinforce this foundation.

If we were to address self-worth, here are two simple steps to helping your child (or anyone else) feel seen - 

When they walk into a room, do you look up at them? Do you make eye contact? "Eyes are the passageway to the soul" - that's not a saying for no good reason. Eye contact is super important for someone to truly feel seen. 

How about saying their name? Their name, to that person, can be the sweetest sound in the world. Nellie shared how the brain actually has neurotransmitters that react when your name is said but don't react at other times. It brings a certain air of attention and understanding and honesty to the room whenever your name is said.

Can you imagine a different impact when your daughter enters the room and you stop what you're doing, look up at her, say her name and ask her how her day is going? Those simple steps are one reinforcement after another that you see her and that you care. 

How about self-esteem - with such an inward process, how can you build trust in yourself?

With teens, their neural network is all haywire right now. When you can give them a thinking structure, they can build trust in themselves by simply going through that process. The more they align their thought process with who they are trying to become and the outcomes they're seeking, the more likely they are to open up to that. Instead of just going from thought to behavior, what if we were to simply remind them to HALT - and to break it down to check it against their values and self-accountability?

Nellie has a process called HALT that checks them on this and reminds them, hold on, let's think about this for a second, okay? Now let's move on and make sure whatever behavior you're about to do is actually in line with who you're trying to become and the result that you're actually seeking.

The more you can give them tools and strategies - in emotional, physical, and mental ability - the more they will be equipped to go where they want in this life.

We all can be triggered by different things. When our specific fears, things that are anti-motivators come up, we can react. So if you see a child falling into reaction mode, what would shift if you went through this five-point checkpoint?

Are they feeling seen right now?

Are they feeling heard?

Are they feeling loved?

Do they feel like they belong?

Do they have a feeling of purpose right there?

Now you have a direction for how to connect. 

My Teen Just Wants To Be A Kid!

Let's go ahead and throw out there that being a responsible adult does not mean you can't have any fun. And it's important we teach our children that! Are you simply reminding them about the responsibilities and weight of adulthood?

Have you opened the door to more "adult" fun with them? No, I'm not talking about taking them out for a night on the town with porn, drugs, and alcohol. "Adult" doesn't have to mean unhealthy, illegal, or reckless in any way. 

Here is some grown-up fun we've had with our daughters lately - 

  • Playing more complex games like Cashflow and Wingspan
  • Letting them play more in the kitchen with their own food creations
  • Going deep with discussions on all kinds of complex topics, and learning about debating as well as how we can find common ground even with people we disagree with
  • A new level of entertainment with more movies, documentaries, and books that are labeled "adult" that they are actually interested in - like going through the Food Revolution Summit with them and reading books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and The Chameleon
  • Doing more intense hikes at higher elevations for longer distances

Looking for joy sparks and pursuing happiness is a lifelong adventure. Let's be careful about stressing "adulthood" as the slam of responsibility and the loss of fun in our kids' lives. They will be adults one day, and yes, they can still have a blast. 

What does "fun" look like to you? Are you adding any of it in your own life? Is your child looking at your life and recognizing the stress and overwhelm and lack of fun, or are they seeing the freedom to find joy in adulthood?

When we can share our own fun, and break down how we make it happen, we give them more tools. How do we pack it in? Do we have some parameters around it? 

For example, I am currently doing 100 pushups a day. Yes, for some that may sound awful. For me, I do it in four quick sets of 25, and I do it throughout the day. However, as a little incentive to ensure I do it, I make myself do these before I have a meal, or before I have a break. When I prioritize those things I want to be accountable to, and intentionally schedule them, I feel more freedom to play. So yes, I'll take a quick nap, or have that fun treat my daughter made....after I knock out a set of 25. 

I know my responsibilities to myself and to my family that I want to fulfill, and that are part of me being the person I'm proud of being. In Nellie's house, she says "responsibilities before recreation."

I have a feeling she and I are on the same page when it comes to this. It's not just barreling through responsibilities to "get them over with." It's recognizing our responsibilities are a part of life. There are few people that get super excited about scouring a toilet, yet it needs to be done. And, if you're going to do it, do it so that you are proud of your work. 

My grandmother used to drill into my head, "If you're going to do it, do it RIGHT." Oh, the number of seams I had to pull out and restitch as my grandmother would push me to where I truly was proud of my hard work with sewing. And one point my mother cleaned houses. You better believe she had me by her side, showing me what "clean" really looks like down to the finest detail. 

We as parents can strive to do our best every day. We won't get it perfect all the time, and neither will our children. However, when you are setting the example - 

  • I take care of our house because I want there to be a nice place for me to rest and recharge. I clean up after myself so I'm a good roommate for others, AND I can find where things are. 
  • I take care of myself, so I can focus outward and share my best with the world and not be lost in my own funk of poor health, fixed mindset, or being trapped in trauma. 
  • I do my work. I have expectations and responsibilities that either contribute to the cash flow in the house or keep the house running while my partner brings in the income. I treat it as an important job, no matter what money I'm bringing in. I'm invested in being a responsible contributor to the life I want to live by working hard to continue to grow and stand on my own two feet. 
  • I pursue my passions and add in rest and recharging. When I make time for the things that revitalize me, everyone wins, as they get my best and most energized/happy self. 

If you aren't setting the example, recognize you're already fighting an uphill battle where you aren't practicing what you preach. And kids can call you out on that every time. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't go far with earning respect or attention from someone. 

Yes, there is only one time in this life you can really be a kid with no responsibility. Is this just a big 'ole playing field, and then you "turn on the switch" to responsibility and awareness in adulthood? 

It doesn't quite work that way. They will never have this time in their life again. They will also never have this training opportunity again, where they can try, mess up, and not pay the same consequences they would in adulthood.

Pay attention to this oh-so-important training zone to life. How are your children going to flip the switch from a child with no boundaries/consequences/responsibility to navigate this world of cause and effect, natural (and legal) consequences, and responsibility?

Watch the full podcast interview here!

Outside Influences

I have to also recognize we all have outside influences. And not always even just outside. Sometimes it's under our own roof. It's parenting differences. And you can have parenting differences even with a happily married couple where one parent is very lax with the way the child is being raised, the other one wants to be very authoritarian, or you have a divorced family where one whole household runs completely differently than the other. 

How can you stay true when you know your child is already slipping away from your grasp? Not just with you being that influence, but you have now the external influence of peers or another parent you may not see eye to eye with. How can you navigate that?

Welcome to this colorful and multifaceted life! There is a lot impacting our children that may not be in our control. 

First and foremost, if you are co-parenting with a partner or even ex where you both have the same goals and intentions in mind, the number one priority is you two representing a united front. 

Nellie stresses, "There are no decisions in discussions." That really hit home with me, as I recognized how, in our family, sometimes we go through the whole process and decision-making in front of our kids, and then are stuck in an awkward place of either showing up as a united front when we didn't agree, or breaking that and causing the whole family to question what is "right." This is a way to build resentment for everyone! 

Some great ground rules for decision-making with your kids - 

  • Talk with your partner or whoever is involved in the ultimate decision-making before you present to everyone. Determine what is non-negotiable, what is a priority, what your ultimate goal is, etc. 
  • Be clear with your kids that it's a "no" if you are pressured, or if they ask in a public setting that makes it awkward to have a real conversation about it. 
  • Present a united front whenever possible. That means before you say yes or no, you're double-checking that parents aren't being played against each other, for example. If kids are always going to Mom as the pushover, reinforce that Mom will only be saying yes if she's talked with Dad and he's in agreement with it. You are on the same page with other decision-makers, or a decision isn't being granted. 

What About The Ex?

Not all parenting relationships are amicable. Sometimes, not even in the same house. If we go to the extreme here, this is often split households where children are navigating two different homes with very different values, lifestyles, responsibilities, etc. 

It can definitely be hard to build these foundations of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence when it includes hard work ethic and responsibility, and your ex's house is like a carnival. When it's so fun over there, how do you help them see the need for this without just demonizing your ex (never helpful, for the record)? 

This one is tough. And so necessary. Get vulnerable with your kids. Be honest about your heart's desires for them. Be honest about your fears for them. There are four tools that are absolutely necessary for deep inner work. They are:

  1. Vulnerability
  2. Resilience
  3. Discipline
  4. Vision

Keep these in mind as you talk with your children.

Yes, it's fun to have the easy button, and there are times I want that as well. It would be so fun to just play all day and have everything magically cleaned up and my bank account overflowing all the time. Wouldn't that be awesome? 

I know it's super fun over at [other parent's house]. However, have you seen them stressed out? Have you seen them angry? They have their struggles as well. And I want to help you avoid as much struggle as I can, and give you the tools to do anything you want. And that includes being a trustworthy and responsible adult people can rely on to be authentically them and true to their word. 

I know you have so much to give this world and to give yourself. And I want to see that happen. At your other house, I'm concerned there are some habits and actions that aren't going to support this. So I want to work with you when you're here at this home and to ensure this is a sanctuary where you can be a kid, AND you can learn how to be an adult that still has fun, too.

You can put up boundaries around what is okay in your home without putting up a wall between you and your ex. And the more acrimonious your relationship is, the more I advocate for a third party to create some clear boundaries and guidelines you both align with for the health and safety of your child.  

I'm Afraid It's Too Late...

 The beautiful thing is, it's never too late to seek to repair a relationship. As long as you have two willing parties, it can happen at any point. There are many parent-child relationships that have a huge breakthrough of healing even in their 30s, 40s, and 50s and beyond. 

It just gets harder the longer you wait and the longer pain and resentment can build up. Remember that concrete analogy from above. 

We as parents are the architects. We're planning, designing, and building the family we love to come home to. We're influencing and impacting every person under our roof. 

We want to love and lead our children in a way that then teaches them to love and lead themselves before they leave home. Your very first step for any reconciliation is to have a really honest conversation and be vulnerable with them because they can't learn vulnerability unless you're vulnerable first. 

Let them know where your heart is. Let them know the dreams that you have for them, too.

I just want you to know how incredible you are. 

And what can I do? Is there ever a time that I didn't help you feel seen or heard? 

Wow, I really didn't intend to make you feel that way, but now I know, so I can do better. 

I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. And I've learned now there is another way. 

We have 6,750 days to help our children become the people they are proud of facing this adult world with. And if we can hand the baton of self-discipline over to them before they are 18, we give them the power to continue their own discipline without others having to do it for them (in the form of the law, broken relationships, debt, their health, etc)

Keep things simple - the world is complicated enough. Equip your children with the tools you yourself use to step into your own awesome. Be a walking narrator of your life, your lessons learned, and your excitement for what is, and what can be.

Meet them where they are, be curious, and invite them to grow with you. 

Our Challenge:

If anything else this week, just think of these five statements - for you and for your family.

  1. Are you feeling seen? 
  2. Are you feeling heard?
  3. Are you feeling loved?
  4. Do you feel a sense of belonging?
  5. Do you have a purpose?

The more we can celebrate all of this together, learn how to be good roommates, and kind people, and learn to interact with one another, the more we can celebrate how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste. 

Ashley Logsdon

Ashley Logsdon is a Family and Personality Styles Coach and Lifelong Learner. She and her husband Nathan are RVing the States and unschooling their 3 girls. Her mission is to shift the mindsets of families from reaction to intention, and guide them in creating the family they love coming home to. Looking deeper than the surface, we assess the strengths, triggers, and simplifying your lifestyle so you truly recognize how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Join the Mama Says Namaste Facebook Group

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