The Proper Care and Feeding of Teens

Teens still need parenting—even though they think they don’t.

It’s no secret that parenting is tough work. It’s a job that comes with huge demands and no instruction manual. And parenting teens is especially tough—they’re trying to establish a sense of independence, but they’re not quite fully formed. They still need parenting, just in a different way.

If you’re the parent of a teen, you may find yourself pulling your hair out as you try to understand their unpredictable moods and needs. As you transition into a different chapter of parenting, here are a few guidelines for successfully parenting teens:

Provide structure. Teens have a lot going on. Not only are they busy with school, activities, and friends, but they also have a lot of internal chaos. They’re coping with changing hormones and social challenges. They’re trying to figure out who they are. As a parent, the best thing you can do for your teen is provide a sense of structure. Have a consistent routine—chores, dinner, homework time, curfew, family time, social time. Build a routine with little variation. This will create a foundation on which your teen can thrive. Furthermore, it helps them learn punctuality and responsibility—tools that will serve them throughout their lives.

Provide boundaries and consequences. Boundary is not a bad word. On the contrary, boundaries help kids stay on track. Teens think they are adults, but they’re not. They think they’re ready for more than they really are. It’s your job as a parent to set the boundaries. You do this not to punish your child, but to help them stay safe and learn how to navigate the world. Experts speculate that teens are silently screaming, “Love me enough to set limits.” So, set those limits and impose consequences when your teen violates them. After all, that’s what will happen in the “real world” of adulthood.

Allow room for independence. Although your teen needs boundaries, he/she also needs room to grow and learn. It’s hard to imagine, but soon your child will be living independently in the big, bad world. It’s your job to prepare your teen for this impending change and the best way to do that is by allowing some independence. Use your judgment as you gently introduce more independence into your teen’s world. Allow your teen to stumble and fall while they’re still living at home and have your support to get back up and try again. You want your child to make mistakes when the stakes are low—that’s how they learn. Your most important job as a parent is to prepare your child to live independently in the world.

Listen (more than you talk). Just listen. It’s tempting to talk and give orders, but you’ll learn a lot more about your teen if you listen. In fact, your relationship will grow. We all need to be heard and understood—especially teens. Give your child this gift. It will return in dividends with their healthy self-concept and your solid relationship built on trust and respect.

Be a role model. This should go without saying, but it always bears repeating. Set an example. If you want your teen to be a kind, authentic, honest adult, then you have to be a kind, authentic, honest adult.

Remember, not long ago you were a teen and you rolled your eyes in exasperation at your parents. Try to remember what it felt like to be a misunderstood, emotional teen. Take a deep breath and remember that this too shall pass. Before you know it, your child will be off to college and you’ll miss all that eye-rolling and door-slamming.