Parenting Teenagers – Tips for Parents

Parenting Teens – Tips for Parents

by:  © Alan Carson ACPI© Coach for Parents

Having taught, coached, counseled teens for a career, and being the father of a seventeen-year old, I think I know teens.  In my opinion, here is how we need to parent teenagers effectively:parenting teenagers article

1) Teens absolutely need to be trusted. It is beyond wanting to be trusted.  They need us to trust them. Even when they make mistakes, do stupid things, defy boundaries, they expect that we’ll trust them to learn from their mistakes.  That is the tough part— they do something ridiculous and we’re still supposed to trust them.

I know this is ludicrous, but here’s the problem.  If we communicate that we don’t trust them, then they internalize that and say to themselves, “My parents don’t trust me, so I guess I’m a loser.  Since I’m a loser, I’ll do what losers do. My parents don’t expect any better from me.”

Therefore, we need to say things like:

“We need to work on this trust issue.”

“Convince me you’ve learned your lesson. I should trust you because—??”

“I trust you’ve learned from this and it won’t happen again.”

“You do want me to trust you, right? Well let’s earn it, OK?”

“You’re a smart kid, I expect better from you.”

2)  Teens want the right to make their own decisions— when to study and do homework, how much to study, who to be friends with, when to go to bed, and so forth.  And they want to make these decisions to the extent that they will go against our logical advice just to do it their way.  Asserting control can be more powerful for them than the desire to be successful. Therefore, we need to plant seeds and trust they will give our opinions consideration.

3)  Power struggles are lose-lose. We can’t make teens do anything and if we try, the lose-lose is:

–  our relationship suffers

–  they possibly are going to do what they want to do anyway

–  if they do what we want them to do against their will, they’ll resent us

–  we get frustrated, irritated and angryteen parent conflict

4)  Our power when parenting our teens is in our relationship with them. If we create a heart connection with our kids, they will not want to disappoint us because they respect us. None of us like letting down people we respect. When they are out with their friends, they’ll think about us before they do something stupid or wrong. Why?  Because when they come home they’ll have to look us in the eye, and if they behaved poorly, that will make them uncomfortable. Did you want to hurt people you respected when you were growing up? Our relationship with our teens trumps all other issues.

5)  We can’t control who they choose to be friends with. All we can control is holding them accountable for their behavior, regardless of the circumstances. Therefore we say, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you

get to pick who you’re friends with. I resented it when my parents didn’t like my friends and so we’re not going to do that with you. The bad news is, if you get in trouble when you’re with your friends, don’t expect me to bail you out or buy your story. You will be held accountable.”

6)  Teens are hyper sensitive to both our opinions and our judgments. Don’t take it personally if your child gets irritated with you when you communicate your thoughts about something.  It is highly annoying, but just say “I’m allowed to have

my own brain you know.”  Adolescence is tough— growing up is about forming your own identity.  So they are not children and they aren’t adults. They are half way between, and becoming their own person can be a tough phase. One of the outcomes is that they get irritated when we open our mouth. Don’t create a conflict with them over it, but do set a boundary.parenting teens

7)  Teens want freedom. They don’t want to hear “no.”  While there will be times that we need to say “no,” we should do our best to negotiate. We express our concerns and require that our kids convince us that they have a plan to stay safe and fulfill our expectations. We’d love to protect our teens, but we often can’t.  We have to prepare them for the teen culture. We prepare them by talking with them about potential risks and how we expect them to conduct themselves.

8 )   Our kids want to fit in with their peers and specifically fit in with their own peer group. Therefore, we have to hope that our kids choose friends who we’re pleased with.  If we’re not thrilled with their friends, we probably won’t like our child’s clothing, music, media interests, activities— and so forth.  When that is the case, we communicate our concerns and discuss the impact their decision-making may have on their future goals. Regardless of our fears, we have to keep #4 in mind:  our power is in our relationship. The teen culture is powerful, but not as powerful as a connected parent-teen relationship.

9)   The older they get, the more we have to let go. Micromanaging a teen is counterproductive. They have to learn to make decisions, and it is best that we start to do that when they are young and poor decisions normally don’t have grave consequences:  going to school tired, failing to finish a project on time, and going to a Friday night high school football game without a coat are things our kids are better off experiencing when they are young.

Alan Carson is an ACPI® Coach for Parents specializing in adolescence. Alan has been a career educator, working with teens in his role as a teacher, guidance counselor and basketball coach. He just completed his first book, Before They Know It All: Talking to Tweens and Teens About Sexuality, with the goal of improving sexuality education. Alan is the father of a high school senior.  Alan’s website is


Questions? Add your comments and questions below:


  1. Thank you for this article- it came at a really great time- I was just feeling so badly about how my son and I argued this morning. This has concrete suggestions and I’m going to print it out and hang it at my bathroom mirror, as these morning arguments have been getting too frequent. Thanks.

    Nikki S, NY

  2. Thank you. You put things nicely and concisely. Your tips are very practical and can be applied immediately.

  3. Wow, this is good stuff! My son is almost eighteen, and even though he has Down syndrome, all of these points resonate! Thank you; I am bookmarking this page! I hope I remember to refer back to it . . . :O

  4. I agree that your timing is awesome – been having a few issues with one of my three teens, as well! There are some really great points here – thank you, Ellen!!

  5. These are good pointers – but to trust teens absolutely – are you for real? My teens lie as easy as the wind blows, and I remember lying to my parents. Would be nice if you could speak about what to do when you know they are lying right to your face….??? Then what! Thanks!

    • Jocelyn: Your question deserves its own article, as it is a multi-layered issue. But I am, “For real,” and consider lying to be unacceptable. Stay tuned!

  6. jean clayton says:

    Number 6 was especially helpful, as my sixteen-year old grandson spends a lot of time with me, and although I try to be tactful, he seems critical of so much I say, even when he seems to want help. They’re all great tips, and I passed the site on to his parents. I love seeing him develop, but sometimes relating is like flying through an asteroid field, and I want to do it right! Thanks…

  7. Christina says:

    This advice may work for some teens, but I have a teen, who if I gave her more freedom, she would definately take advantage. She has major anger issues and is in counseling and I am praying and believing God for a heart transplant for my daughter. This may work for some, but not all teens, has anyone ever heard of tough love?

    • Christina, I believe in tough love. When I discussed “kids want freedom” in #7 above, I could have also added that they must earn their freedom by making good decisions. When they make good decisions, we give them more freedom. If they make poor decisions, we have conversations with them and they need to earn freedom back. They just don’t get to go out and put themselves in harm’s way. It is our job to keep our kids safe. Our kids have to demonstrate to us that they will make good decisions. They earn privileges— but it is counterproductive to address this issue in a way that communicates “I don’t trust you.” We can say: “You haven’t demonstrated to me yet that you are able to handle this responsibility. Start making better choices and then we’ll talk.” Or— “Look, Josie, when I was your age I wanted to do things too. I’m with you on this. But I refuse to spend all night worrying about you. You created this problem and you need to fix it. Show me you are worthy of being trusted and we’ll have a win-win. I will trust you and you get to do more of the things you want to do.” Alan

  8. I have been teaching teenagers for close on 40 years and raised 3 of my own, who thankfully are not teens anymore. Daddy got brains when they turned 21. I now head a secondary school and I find myself counselling parents more often than my students. I tell my parents that my own daughters to this day will tell you that the worst thing I said to them when they were growing up was’I trust you’. But it worked because they knew that if they messed up I would be disappointed but they knew that I was there for them because of a parent’s unconditional love. I always told them that if they messed up I was the first to know.

  9. with my two boys just entering their teens, this is a gr8 guide line, i’m happy i read it on time.

  10. Again, great article. I’m trying to work on that “trusting” thing… 🙂

  11. Glenda Rodrigues says:

    Point no.1 is so true and so effective. A good practical hint to those of us parents who are feeling frustrated.

  12. I have given my 17 year old son every opportunity to show his responsibility. Yet, he lies, he drinks, has terrible grades; and he uses pot. He refuses to accept our very kind and loving guidance and prayers. We have done everything in giving him chance after chance to regain our trust saying exactly what you are saying to communicate. He falls short every time and in the last episode of us trying to get him to do an important paper so that he could go to a friend’s house, he threatened to hit his father and physically injured my arm and face. Then, I found out (as I have to make sure he is safe) that the place he had asked to go was an unsupervised party planned with girls and booze! Help me, as I would love to think the above article works, but my husband and I could be guilty of nothing more that loving too much and giving too many chances. My husband and I live a very moral life no drinking and we are home with our children always–we are completely dedicated to their care.

    • Kaye: I would like to help you, but numerous parenting behaviors interact to shape who our child becomes. How does a child become a defiant, potentially violent teen? Granted, some teens are oppositional, but I have had the privilege of meeting the greatest teens on the face of the earth– and remain friends with some of them as they grew into adulthood. Our parenting decisions shape our kids; for example:
      * did we micromanage them when they were young?
      * did we allow them to experience failure when they were young, when the consequences
      were not meaningful?
      * did we show them respect?
      * did we raise them to understand that when you make poor choices, things won’t work out
      for you
      * were we comfortable consequencing them?
      * did we punish or did we discipline?
      * did we positively shape their self-concept and self-worth?
      The list goes on and on. But how did we get to where we are today?

      Getting a 17-year old to respect you and your authority is a monumental task. Attempting to control an older teen will result in a power struggle, and power struggles always end in a lose-lose. So what do we do? At this late stage I think we:
      1) State our expectations; if your son ignores you, say “I wouldn’t do that if I were
      you.” And he has to pay a price if he chooses to be uncooperative.
      2) Establish a boundary; ex. “We have no intentions of paying for college– we believe
      we’d be throwing our money away. If you want to go to college, that’s your choice, but
      you’ll take out loans. If you shape up and fly straight, we’ll gladly help you pay
      off your loans.”
      3) Control what we can control: we control paying for car insurance, signing permission
      slips, writing excuses for school, etc.
      4) Stop trying to control our older teen’s decisions. In the case of the school paper,
      I’d say, “What’s your plan for getting the paper done.”– end of story.
      5) When our son wants something– which they always do, the answer is “No, not until you
      show us respect.”

      In this format I’ve tried to throw out ideas. When you said “guilty of giving chances,” I was thinking– “We don’t give chances, they earn chances. My heart goes out to you– who wants to battle daily with our child?


  13. I have four teenagers, and one younger daughter. My son (age 13) was adopted 2 years ago. My other kids behave really well b’c we did put in all the hard work when they were younger. I trust all of my other kids, but our adopted son is a totally different story. What are some practical ways I can give him opportunities to earn trust and privileges? We have let him already have lots of natural consequences, but it doesn’t work like our other kids. I know that he is emotionally much younger, but it’s hard when he’s 5’7″ and doesn’t follow our rules. Any suggestions?

    • Paula: Sorry it took awhile to get back to you. As we both know, raising an adoptive child can present special challenges, but that does not mean that we compromise what feels right. We could even say, “I love you just as I love our biological children, and I have the same expectations of you.” But we might have to work harder and longer to get him where he needs to be.

      The way I see parenting is this: our job is to raise responsible, disciplined, caring, emotionally healthy kids who can function fairly independently by the end of high school. Therefore, we have to parent our children so that they can make it in the real world. Talking back to our bosses, showing up for late work, not following the dress code and not doing quality work won’t cut it. Why should our kids get to do all the things they want to do, and yet behave irresponsibility? We cannot allow them to be uncivilized people. Privileges are earned. Privileges are things they want but don’t need. At age 13, what does your son want? Wants are different than needs. They need love, friends, sports, hobbies, etc. They do not need computer games, unsupervised trips to the mall, middle school dances, etc.

      If you want to give him the opportunity to earn your trust, say “yes,” to things that have minimal risk. For example, an after-school basketball game. You set the expectations: you are at the game, not someone’s house; you watch the game, not hang out in the hallway; you follow school rules, so forth. When he agrees, he gets to go. When he gets home, you ask him how things went. If you get a good report, you say, “Great, doesn’t it feel good to do what you want to do? When you make good choices, good things happen.”

      None of this fits my definition of natural consequences– they are logical consequences.
      Our decisions logically are based on their behavior. One of the keys for me is that we
      communicate our expectations. We don’t just say “DO the right thing!” We explain what we need.

      Lastly, you said your son is “emotionally much younger.” Use this weakness as evidence he isn’t ready for certain privileges. He may grow up quicker as a result! Alan

    • From one adoptive parent to another, Paula, I think it is imperative that he AND you begin to work with a counselor who is knowledgeable about adoption issues. It is difficult to imagine what your son has gone through in his life–and what learning and emotional opportunities he missed out on–by not being adopted until 11 years old. The techniques you use with your other children don’t work with him because he doesn’t have the background with you that they have. Even if he doesn’t show it outwardly, he is very, very fragile inside, and is likely terrified that he will be abandoned again. He is probably testing you (and doesn’t realize it) to figure out where his boundaries are. In a way, he’s daring you.

      The most important thing you can do for him is to let him know that you love him and will NEVER, EVER leave him, and that he is just as important to your family as all of the other children. You may not want to use those words exactly, but find different ways to say it. It may take a long time for it to sink in, but never stop telling him that. He likely didn’t have the opportunity to hear that from anyone for his entire first 11 years, so that is a steep, steep mountain to climb for him.

      Also be sure to give him plenty of opportunities to have one-on-one time with you, as well as with your husband. Don’t force him to talk about his feelings, but try to initiate conversations that could encourage him to do so, i.e. “What do you think about that movie ‘The Blind Side’?” or “Do you think you’ll want to get married and become a father someday?” He needs to have the opportunity to form a solid attachment with you and needs to feel that he is SAFE. If he doesn’t feel safe–deep-down inside–his behavior will always be dictated by gut reactions (using the brain stem); he will not be able to truly learn from his mistakes, not to mention to be able to think things through before making a mistake (using the frontal lobe), unless he feels safe and grounded in his relationship with his parents.

      Again, I really encourage you to seek out a counselor that can help you understand his feelings of loss and help both of you work through them. Good luck!

  14. Hi
    I have a 13year old who has been doing exams this week. The problem is she says she is studying but I think she has been mostly worrying and playing Ipod games. I have tried to help by going through the subjects with her and creating Q cards to help. How can I get her to do this for herself next time. We have talked about stayng ahead next term but we also discussed this same thing last year. I think the thing is she is very bright and most of the term tests she can get by by reading the stuff the night before or remembering what was said in class, but for the final exams the content is too great for this. She wants to go to bed to avoid everything. Throughout the year she has been home sick a lot and I think this was also avoidance mostly. I would like to help her over this over the summer if possible but not sure where to start.
    Have you any suggestions?

  15. This is a great article! I wish my parents had parented by these guidelines and suggestions. I am now 18, and have a very strained and resentful relationship with my micro-managing, controlling parents.

  16. Our 18 year old daughter went to beach week following graduation. She told us that she was not going to drink alcohol. When she returned, she told us that she did drink and that she had known that there was probably going to be alcohol present in the house where she was staying. Her father and I feel that she broke our trust. Her father worries that it is a pattern that may impact her future life in very negative ways. I am concerned that our over-the-top anger about this situation and the consequence we have followed up with may have been too harsh and may have caused harm to our relationship with her. She has lost the use of the car indefinitely. (She had been told several months ago after breaking a long-standing family rule and lying about it that if she broke our trust in the future, she would lose the use of the car indefinitely.) Of course, she does not remember that agreement. I think we have missed an opportunity to apply appropriate consequences in a way that builds on our relationship rather than harm it. Do you have any suggestions on how we can repair the damage and move forward on a better foot. I would like us to be in a better place or at least heading to a better place as our daughter heads off to college in a few weeks.

    • Fay:

      I am sorry your daughter broke your heart. Your daughter drank against your directions, and knew that alcohol would be there and be a temptation. I hope she did not drink to excess and
      be subjected to mistreatment. My fear in taking the car from her is that she’ll conclude, “I am not telling my parents anything from now on. I’ll just keep my mouth shut— it doesn’t pay to tell them the truth.”

      With respect to repairing the damage, I believe I would say this:

      “Jennifer, I have given a lot of thought to how we responded when you told us that you drank alcohol at the beach. Our response was counterproductive and I apologize for my reaction. I should have been appreciative that you told us about your drinking, rather than responding in a way that probably hurt our relationship. I hope you can understand that I(we) felt powerless and responded in the manner we did in an attempt to force you to make better decisions.

      “The truth of the matter is that we can’t manipulate you to make good decisions. You are 18-years-old and in many ways an adult. You need to start making good decisions for yourself. It is your life. Your dad and I love you and it would pain is deeply to see you get hurt. However, I now realize that it is your life and you need to accept responsibility for the choices you make. I can’t make them for you. I want you to be happy, but to be happy you will need to make good decisions.

      “You are off to college in a few weeks and you need to care of yourself— for you, not me.
      As I said, it is your life. I trust that you’ll make better decisions in the future, and hope that you’ll continue to talk with us if you don’t always do the right thing. And I promise to handle it better.”


  17. THank you for this great article. I think number 4 is the most important – our power is in our relationship with them. We only have them for a short time and then we set them free hopefully with good tools to take care of themselves and make good decisions.

  18. Great article-thank you. I just recently implemented some of the positives from this article after getting tired or “gulp” a little micro-managing. I’m giving her more space, more trust, so this article came at a time when I need to feel like it’s okay to let her be her own person more.

  19. Thanks for the great article…My daughther is 13 and is in love with a 14 year old guy..i am not able to control her or stop her from getting into new relationship, how do I handle this.. help me.

  20. I have a 14 year old son, internationally adopted at age 8. It seems he has always had a difficult time processing situations, relaying stories correctly (always omitting intentionally or unintentionally important details of the story). Now that he is 14 we find these issues more of a problem as responsibilities and issues grow as a he grows. He does not appear to purposely defy us, but he does neglect to follow rules or process a situation and come up with the best, safest conclusion. He enjoys being home, he does well in school when we monitor and encourage him, but we do not see a lot or remorse after the afore mentioned actions. There is little we can take from him or even reward him with as he doesn’t seem to mind (we have tried rewarding with video games, but now he doesn’t really care about that, we have had him owe money, go to bed early, do extra chores, but none seem to effect him). He does journal, and I don’t know whether or not this is helping but he expresses himself much better in writing (even can relay a story properly). We have a 5 year old biological son and two dogs, that due to his poor decision making (mind you not seemingly purposeful) has put them and himself in potential harm. Initially family told us that he’s 14 and a boy, and that it is normal, but now we have some who have seen his actions and agree, something seems to be missing. We don’t know what else to do!