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Parenting Teens

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

A parent asks the questions that every parent has about rebellious teenagers.

Dear Alex:

My 16 year old twins (boy and girl) have become much more difficult in the past three years. In early childhood, they were obedient, fun, happy to be with us, and did great in school. We built some wonderful memories together. Now I can hardly recognize them. They are rebellious, angry, sullen, uncommunicative, and would rather die than spend time with us.

This is impacting my relationship with my spouse. Among other things, I think we should insist they spend time with us even if they don’t want to. I also think we should drug test them. I would be in favor of confirming, rather than just blindly believing what they say because we have caught them in lies previously. They lied about staying overnight at a friend’s house only to have stayed at another friend’s house where no parent was present. I don’t think that’s right!

My wife disagrees, and it causes conflict between us leaving spending way too many nights on the couch.

HELP (Hanging on Every Little Problem)

Dear HELP:

First, welcome to a very big club. Many parents experience exactly what you are going through. Do you remember the “terrible twos?” Developmentally, what your twins are going through right now is similar to that. Around age two, children begin to realize that they are separate organisms from parents. They push away, become rebellious as they experiment with their newly found sense of separateness, and they go exploring. That developmental stage is called “Separation and Individuation.”

If what you’re experiencing now feels a bit familiar, it’s because teens are going through a second round of the same thing as they shift their affiliation from family to peers. As they separate and individuate again, it is appropriate, to a degree, that they shun your advice and denigrate your example. The more you push, the more they will pull away.

Teens need different things from parents than they did when they were younger. They need less guidance and yet still need to be kept safe. It is your leadership that helps them learn to think for themselves, rather than relying on your thinking.

Here are my "Dirty (Baker's) Dozen" Teen parent tips:

  1. Don’t fall for being pitted against your co-parent. Discuss parenting issues you don’t agree on calmly, and not in front of your teens. Check with one another before giving permission.

  2. Don’t hesitate to monitor and investigate but be sure to set expectations of privacy so that it doesn’t feel like a violation of trust if you look into things further.

  3. Your house, your rules, it is your right to investigate.

  4. Beyond your house, it’s a great idea to know your teens’ friends and their parents. This way, you can be sure that your teens are where they say they are, that parents are present and that drugs and alcohol are not allowed. You can also verify overnight trips if you allow them.

  5. You should have access to social media accounts and other be aware of internet usage. Know who your teens are friends with and ask how they know them.

  6. Know your teens’ teachers. Confirm what homework is due and track progress and attendance.

  7. Know the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse and consider home drug testing. Many parents like to speak to a professional about this step.

  8. Talk frankly about safe sex, drugs and alcohol use. It’s fine to talk from the standpoint of your values, but don’t forget to listen – even if you don’t like what you’re hearing. You don’t want to shut down the channel because you don’t like what’s flowing through it.

  9. Show your love. More important than “Great touchdown pass!” is “I love to watch you play!”

  10. Do your best, don’t worry too much and don’t fight every battle. Choose which ones are most important and focus your energy there.

  11. Be good to yourself. A completely self-sacrificing approach depletes you and is not sustainable.

  12. Ask for help. Often, friends and family members are willing to step in and give you a break when you need one. There’s nothing wrong with using resources available to you to be the best parent you can be to raise the healthiest kids possible.

And finally (here's your bonus, number 13): Keep the teen years in perspective. While they may feel taxing and challenging, you will get through them like your parents did! Remember that these years are not just a transition time for your kids but also for you. Your role with them is changing. You may be preparing for a new stage of life as well in which your focus might change from being a parent to career, community, or other pursuits.

Best Wishes,


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