How To Parent Teenagers Without Going Crazy

Parenting our children’s teen years is challenging. We must adapt our parenting skills to the changes taking place in our teenagers. Here’s how to parent teenagers without going crazy. 

Parents are at a disadvantage when it comes to their teenage children. We view them as immature children who need our guidance to keep their lives from imploding. Teens are slightly taller and pimplier versions of the people we’ve been driving to games, feeding, cleaning up after, and tucking into bed at night.

Despite some physical changes, our teen’s behaviors, attitudes, and interactions with us clearly keep them in the “child” category. Parents are often the last to acknowledge their teenagers are no longer children. And this causes problems.

Teens, however, demand to be treated differently. They don’t want to be told what to wear, watch, and eat. They have become keenly aware of what their friends think about those things. Any discrepency between what their friends may think and your opinion is quickly decided in the favor of their friends.

As our teens demand more and more autonomy, we watch all our hard work of raising them be offered up to the whims of “what’s cool.” It can be a bit unnerving!

The Parent Card

One mistake parents make it to think they have the ability due to their authority and financial position to demand a teen do what they say.

Parents, faced with a defiant teen who will not submit to our loving guidance on who to date or our wisdom about the virtues of doing one’s chores before 9 PM (“…but it’s still Saturday!”) lay down the law:

  • “If you don’t… (fill in the blank) …then you’re grounded.”
  • “While you live in my house, you’ll follow my rules.”
  • And the ultimate: “I am your Mother. You’ll do what I say.”

Each of these is a version of what I like to call, Playing The Parent Card. The Parent Card trumps all others arguments. It wins – for a while. 

You Only Have A Limited Number of Parent Cards

The reality many parents don’t understand is you only have a few Parent Cards.

Many parents behave like they’ve got thick stack of these cards in their pocket. They play them frequently. At first, it works fine. Later, the power of the Parent Card diminishes until it holds no power at all.

In order to understand why, let’s imagine you get a new boss at work. He micromanages not only what you do but when and how you do it. He keeps a tight watch on your schedule. He wants you to consult him on every decision. Each time there’s a difference of opinion, he reminds you that he is your boss and to do what he says. When you ask for more independence, he responds, “I’ll give it to you when you’ve earned it.”

How would you respond to someone playing Boss Cards against you? You would find ways to avoid your boss. Try to transfer departments. Or, finally, you would quit.

At work, we know we must function relationally when we manage others. We trust employees and empower them work using their minds and will. That means we show respect, give responsibility and authority, allow them to make decisions, and give direction sparingly. In doing so, we build trust and relationship with employees.

Then, when the day comes that we must play a Boss Card, we play it in the context of mutual respect and relationship. They may not like it, but they will accept it.

How To Parent Teenagers Without Using The Card

With our teens many parents have a very positional mindset: I’m the parent, you’re the child. As our children grow into teenager years and beyond, we must adjust our parenting style. We need to communicate more and in new ways. It’s difficult because we are changing our long-established habits. Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Talk less. Listen more. I think of what Carl Rogers wrote, “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.” My tendency when not communicating well with my teen is to say it again, in more detail, then louder.
  2. Ask questions. Teens are reluctant to engage with our questions mainly because they think answering them will somehow lead to an unfavorable conclusion. Don’t manipulate with questions. Engage with genuine curiosity to understand them, not to know every detail. Remember, they may not understand themselves nor wish to share with you.
  3. Show respect. Yes, this is for us parents. We need to show respect to our teens. I remember mocking my 13 year-old daughter’s favorite boy band. One day we got in the car and my jazz station began playing. She pushed the button to change the station and said, “turn that crap off” – directly quoting what I had said about her music a dozen times. Ouch! I learned that I can disagree, but I need to show respect in the way I talk about the things my teens are interested in, their friends, and how they look.
  4. Be patient. Love is patient and kind. Your teen won’t be, but you must be. We feel badly for the difficult things our teen experiences, but then are rejected by them if we try to help. Teens can batter a parent’s self-esteem if we let them. Be patient, which means: respond graciously, suck it up, and get over it. Sure, we shouldn’t allow our teens to walk all over us. I’m talking about modeling grace and truth. With teens we can easily forget the grace in our irritation and focus only on the truth.
  5. Build relationship. When our children were young, they were happy to be with us. They related to you as Mom or Dad. Teens are transitioning how they relate to you. We need to intentionally build relationship with them in new ways. They are often reluctant. And we are confused about how to do it. Go with their interests and don’t feel slighted that you get all the left-over time slots in their busy schedule.

By doing these things, my need to play a Parent Card has dropped exponentially. Often we reach some mutual agreement. With me flexing because I understand them better, as well as them adjusting to me.

When I have played the Parent Card, it comes after listening and understand their point of view and explaining my own. They are not happy about it, but our relationship continues to grow and evolve in new ways. I think we’ve all matured.

Question: In what ways does your parenting need to adjust to your changes in your teenager? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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