Posted by: coachingparents | September 25, 2009

Top 12 Ways to Effectively Parent Teenagers

By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

Surviving the teen-age years of your offspring can be as difficult
as going through adolescence all over again yourself.  Life for your
teenager is entirely different than when you and I were their age. 
But some of the underlying principles and values have remained the
same.  Here are what I believe to be some very important principles in
creatively surviving the teenage years of your children.

1.  Trust them implicitly and watch them like a hawk.

You need to be “two-headed” about this one.  Your child needs and
deserves your trust while at the same time still needs your protection
and guidance. A key to understanding your teenager (and their
self-concept) is knowing who her/his friends are.  When chauffeuring
your teenager and her/his friends, listen to their conversations. 
Make a point of getting to know the parents of your child’s friends. 
Allow your son or daughter to bring their friends home.  In fact,
encourage the use of your house as a meeting place.  Remember, you
can’t watch them like a hawk unless you can see them!

2. Lead by example, or to put it another way, walk your talk.

Teenagers are very sensitive to hypocrisy in adults.  Make sure that
your actions are consistent with your own values.  They are watching
you to see how well your values are working for you.  For example, if
you preach honesty and then cheat on your income taxes, you send a
mixed message to your child.  If you want to raise your teenager to
become an honest adult, be one yourself.  You need to be clear about
what you value.  Your actions will communicate “louder” than your
admonishments and punishments.

3. Pick and choose your battles.

Is blue hair/a bald head/a pierced eyebrow really so terrible? 
Remember long, unwashed hair/bellbottoms/love beads?  Your kids need
room to experiment with who they are just as you did when you were a
teenager.  For behavior that is dangerous, inconsiderate, vindictive,
intolerant…draw your battle lines and stand your ground.  Maintain
confidence in yourself and the values you hold, regardless of how much
they seen to be attacked by your teenager.  However uncomfortable it
is for you, testing your integrity and dependability is one of the
normal tasks of adolescents.  Don’t fire your big guns over small

4. Be a wall.

Make and maintain as few family rules as is practical.  However,
when your teenager has broken a family rule, be swift and consistent
in implementing the known consequences, or allow the natural
consequences of their chosen actions to occur.  If there is one
message all teenagers need to “get,” it is: there are always, always
consequences to their actions and they have the power to choose their
actions.  If there are two parents in the family, be sure you both can
stand like a wall for your teenager, either together or individually.

5. Develop your sense of humor.

Don’t take yourself, or your job as a parent, too seriously.  Look
for, and learn to see the absurdities of daily life.  Laugh a lot. 
Develop your sense of humor…you will need it.  Laughter is a great
stress reliever, and laughing together is a gentle way to strengthen
your relationship between you and your teenager.  Periodically let go
of your role as “parent.”  Often you can afford to be “fun” around

6. Learn from your children.

Your children are becoming young adults.  They are eager to be
heard even if they do not tell you much about themselves.  They may
know more than you about technology, and how to make it in today’s
world.  One way to connect with your children is to pay attention to
what they are passionate about.  It may be animal rights, music, skate
boarding, drama… Whatever it is, become a student…their student. 
Without trying to change or control them, ask them about the political
demonstration they are participating in, the music they enjoy
listening to or playing, the skills they have learned while skate
boarding.  Attend their plays, sporting events, and recitals.  You may
not initially understand their passions, but you can become a student
and learn to appreciate their skills and their interests.  You may
even find that you have something in common to talk about!  Become
your teenager’s greatest fan.  Don’t play their games.  Only coach
them if asked to do so.  Stay in the bleachers.  Cheer them on.  Stay
off their playing field.

7. Honor their individuality.

Avoid comparisons.  Comparing your teenager to one of their older or
younger siblings, to the way you were when you were their age, or to a
friend or neighbor’s child, implies that your teenager is in some way
the same as other individuals.  Remember, they are a one-of-a-kind. 
Celebrate and value their uniqueness.

8. Loving them unconditionally doesn’t mean that you always have to
like them.

Just as distinguishing between who they are and the behavior in
which they engage, loving versus liking is an important distinction
for parents to understand.  Your son or daughter may at times behave
pretty “unlikeably.”  If the context of the relationship with your
teenager is that they know you love who they are unconditionally, you
can let your teenager know what they do that you don’t like, without
damaging your relationship with them.  In fact, teenagers have a reputation
for trying to behave unacceptably from time-to-time.  Let them know
that you love them, AND that a specific behavior is unacceptable.  Be
consistent, fair, and swift implementing the known consequences for their
unacceptable behavior.
9. Don’t ask to be included, but if you are invited say “yes.”

Your child is beginning the process of separating from you.  You
need to begin the process of letting go of them.  Teenagers need to
exclude their parents from much of their lives, if they are to
eventually leave home as autonomous adults.  The hallmark of good
parenting is how well your offspring are able to happily function
without you.  They need to exclude you in order to successfully
separate from you.  However, if they extend an invitation to you to do
something together, say “yes.”  There is no greater gift they can give
you than the gift of themselves.

10. Plan for your obsolescence.

Your years actively parenting are coming to a close.  Your teenager
is putting you out of a job.  It is a bittersweet transition.  To
succeed as a parent your children must ultimately leave you to create
their own lives.  What future will you create for yourself when the
nest is empty?  Plan for and create your own lifestyle without them. 
Your ability to let go and to look forward to the next phase of your
life will help your teenager to separate from you and take the next
step toward independence and into young adulthood.  One of the last
great gifts you can offer your teenager is the example of how to live
a fulfilled and happy life of your own.

11.  Listen.  Actively listen.  And listen some more.

Listening to a teenager is like hugging a child.  It validates them.
It makes them feel valued and loved.  It affirms their importance to
you.  Listen, not with the intention to reply, to change their minds,
to control them, or to change their behavior.  Listen with the intent
to understand!  Become genuinely curious and interested in what is
going on inside your teenager.  What they are feeling.  What they are
thinking.  And listen to them to update your knowledge of them.  They
are rapidly changing.  Listen for those changes. 

12.  With pride and acknowledgment, quit your job as parent.

Take pride in your accomplishments as a parent.  Acknowledge your
teenagers as the fine, developing adults they are becoming.  Then
gradually abdicate your role as their parent(s).  They need to
practice being their own best parent.  They will imitate you, if you
have been their best parent.  They do not need to be controlled by
you.  They need your love and support, and the permission to become
adults in their own right.  They won’t unless you quit your job as
their parent.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton
2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on
Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and
Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area
presented in “Practical Life Coaching” (formerly “Practical
Psychology”).  Initial coaching sessions are free.  E-mail:


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