Parenting Teens PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bethany Kientzel   

 Moving From Anger and Conflict to Assistance and Collaboration

Parenting teens can be a confusing time for adults. Their role is shifting from guiding their child to their child guiding themselves. It’s a time when literally and figuratively their child goes from being a passenger to getting behind the wheel. With only a few short years to go parents feel a pressure and a responsibility to turn out the best version of their child into the world. During this time it can be very difficult for a parent to refrain from being a back-seat driver. Anger and conflicts can arise when the parent and the teen have different ideas about which route the teen should take.


Most conflicts with teens can be resolved with two simple questions: #1 What are you trying to do? and #2 How can I help? When teens go down the wrong road it’s important to first find out where they were trying to go. Just like when your toddler threw his food at the end of a meal because he was finished and wanted to go play, your teen also has a good idea behind their behavior. Be it bullying, cheating on a test, experimenting with substances, cutting class, lying, refusing to do chores, or insulting family members, if you dig down deep enough you can usually find an original good idea. They may want to be accepted in to a certain peer group, or are trying to release stress and anxiety, or want more sleep, or are struggling with how to handle their feelings.


Teen’s self-identity may not always be stable. One day they may feel like they are the center of the universe and the next day be questioning their very worth as a human.

It is important for parents to hold the knowledge and truth that their teen is an amazing wonderful unique person even when it may not appear to be the case. Chrissie Hynde said it best when she sang, “When you’re standing at the crossroads and don’t know which path to choose, let me come along, ‘cause even if you’re wrong I’ll stand by you.”


When parents move in to the role of assisting their teen to become the best version of who they want to become of themselves, parenting becomes more of a collaboration with their teen than a power-struggle. Your teen cut class because they didn’t have their report ready to hand in? Take the judgment, disapproval, and punishment out of the equation and ask if you can assist them in figuring out how to meet report deadlines. Your teen posted a bullying hurtful remark on social media? Find out what their intention was; to hurt the other person? Dig deeper. Why did they want to hurt another? Did they themselves feel hurt? If so, it’s time to build some skills toward learning how to deal with feelings. It’s about abilities and skill building.


Parenting teens from an “assistant” role does not mean that parents forgo setting limits and boundaries. It is still a parent’s job to keep their teen safe. Seeing your teen through the lens of abilities and skills provides a solid framework of how and when to set limits. If your child doesn’t make it home before curfew it can be assumed that they are lacking some of the skills needed to complete that task rather than they are defiantly disobeying the rules. This may sound ridiculous because how can a teenager not have the skills to get home on time? Well, just like when they were toddlers and learning to use the toilet, they may have had most of the skills down: muscle control, ability to keep track while engaged in play, ability to maneuver clothing, etc.…But the final skill of being emotionally ready may not have been present yet. This is a common source of struggle between parents and toddlers, and that same struggle emerges again in the teen years. When teens know how to tell time and know their way home, but are unable to break away from their friends to get home on time, it may be about emotionally not being able to deal with the feelings of disappointment of leaving a fun night. When you view your child through the lens of “not able yet” your teen has something to work towards rather than compounding their struggle with discourse with parents. That is not to say that your teen won’t have feelings about having some limits put on their going out activities, but the focus will be on themselves gaining skills rather than being distracted by thinking their parents are being jerks.


Turning your young adult out in to society with the ability to think about gaining skills as a way to problem solve is about the most useful thing you can do as a parent. Punishment never taught anybody anything, and even if it did let’s face it, when your young adult goes out in to the world, they are not going to punish themselves as a way to “teach themselves a lesson.” The teenage years are much needed practice time to figure out abilities gained and further skills needed. Assisting and collaborating with your teen not only will improve your relationship with them, but will set the groundwork for them to go out in to the world and be successful at “adulting.” 


Bethany Kientzel is a licensed marriage and family therapist, #102272. She can be reached at 831 429-6399.

Last Updated on Saturday, 03 March 2018 06:05
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