12 Practical Tips for Parenting Teens

four teens Nov 14
four of my teens back in 2014

“But, what should I do?” my friend asked as she told me about an issue with her teen. Her oldest is the same age as one of my youngest, which means I should have all the answers, right?

With one teen in college, three teens in high school, and Ebenezer turning 12, we’re still learning about parenting teens because every teen is different. We have basic principles to guide us, but our kids aren’t cookie-cutter versions of each other.

The variety of personalities, talents, interests, and even struggles in our children is astounding.

This means Russ and I still spend hours talking about our kids and wrestling through how to handle everything from their schoolwork, chores, how to guide their relationships, and pretty much everything else you can think of.

I recently read Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life  and Boundaries with Teens: When to Say No, How to Say Yes by Cloud and Townsend. I’m late to the party on truly learning the wisdom of having good boundaries in relationships, but I’m taking it seriously. I even signed up for an 8-week class beginning next month.

At the end of the book on teens, way back in appendix B, there are two pages of wisdom, Tips for When You Don’t Know What to Do. I’d like to share their tips and add my thoughts. Thank you to Drs. Townsend and Cloud for the great list of tips, which I’ve written in bold. The additional commentary is my own.

When in doubt, try to connect with your teen | If you’ve been around the world of Connected Parenting, Trust-Based Parenting, trauma-informed parenting, or anything similar, you’re familiar with the importance of connection. We do our best to connect before we correct – or at least we try. I’m pretty good at it with most of my teens, but it’s not always easy, and with some kids, it’s very hard.

Remember that your teen is probably miserable too | It’s pretty easy to see, and if we think back to our teen years, it’s not too hard to remember. Being a teen is rough sometimes.

Keep the future in mind, even in the present crisis | We try to think ahead to what we want our relationship with our child to look like when he/she is an adult. There are days when we feel a little hopeless, but having adult kids gives us wonderful perspective on the way these teens grow up. I know I appreciated and enjoyed my parents a whole lot more once I was on my own as a young adult.

Normalize “no.”

Be loving but direct.

I put these two together because I’m working on them at the same time. For whatever reason, I have a hard time saying “no” to my teens and being direct about certain things. I’m sure a therapist can tell me why – or I’ll find out in my Boundaries class. I tend to want to soften the blow, unless it’s something simple and obvious, but I’m not doing any of us a favor when I’m unclear.

Tolerate your teen’s anger | Anger, sadness, frustration – our kids have big feelings. Teens need coping strategies for their anger. For many kids it’s simple, but some kids, especially those with trauma histories may need help developing specific strategies for dealing with anger. Some of our kids are volatile and have anger big enough to trigger our own fears. If that’s the case, develop your own strategies to help you get through the worst of the storm.

Go for responsibility and freedom, not control | Keep in mind we’re moving them toward adulthood. We want to give them increased freedom as they show themselves capable of managing it. I know it’s scary and I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m trying to sort it out. A high school senior should have more responsibility and freedom than a freshman; there is a process of growth and maturity we want to encourage over four years of high school.

Be soft on preferences and style, and hard on disrespect and selfishness | In terms of preferences and style, we’ve boiled it down to basic modesty and respect for others. Every family has different standards, and try as we might to make good decisions, sometimes we have to reconsider decisions we’ve made. It’s hard, friends! As for disrespect and selfishness – honestly, we deal with it every single day with some of our kids and it’s a weary battle. But we aren’t giving up, even when I have to call Russ more often for support than I would like.

Be the grown-up; don’t get hooked into fights | Know when to say, “I hear what you are saying; I see you have strong feelings about this. We’re not going to discuss this any further right now; let’s wait until we are both calmer.” Sometimes the best thing I can do is say, “I don’t think anything good is going to come out of my mouth right now. I need to go to my room for a little while.”

If you are too tired, weak, or isolated, don’t threaten your teen with a consequence | Very good advice. It’s better to give a consequence when you can think rationally than toss one out in the heat of the moment you later have to take back e.g. “You’re grounded for six months!”

Plug into safe people who understand | I say this often, find your people, either online or in real life. Have at least one friend you can call or text who will be there for you – who understands your life and your challenges. My friend, Kathleen, has walked through the hardest days of parenting my kids with complex histories with me. Being able to call her and talk/cry or even process through a decision has helped me more than I can express.

Have a party when your teen makes a positive change | Truth be told, I’m not a big party person, but I do love to speak life to my kids and acknowledge when I see positive change. I affirm them when they respond with respect, clean up without being asked, or are especially kind to a sibling they struggle with. We’re working hard on positive changes with some of our kids and it means a lot to us when we see it happen.


Some of my teens read my blog, so I write today with respect for them and sensitivity. Being a teen is hard. Being a teen from “hard places” is extremely difficult. My teen years were very challenging for me and my parents – I would not want to live through them again and they would definitely say the same.

Of our eleven children, we’ve had nine teens and while Eby is almost 12, he looks and seems very much like a teenager. Let me tell you, I don’t feel like an expert, but I’ve been down this road a time or two.

I actually love having teens. It’s fascinating watching them figure out who they are, what their interests and passions are and what they want to develop. They begin to figure out their social groups and how they view themselves within those groups. It’s a time of tremendous growth and change.

The conversations we have with them are fascinating. When they start talking, I try to listen more than talk, ask questions without pressing, and not get more serious than they are. It’s a fine balance and the last thing I want to do is shut it down by pushing too hard or steering it in my own direction.

We learned a lot from their older siblings’ teen years, and sometimes we even ask our adult kids for advice about how to manage something with our younger kids.

They are quick to remind me that my fear looks like anger (truth), and I am fully aware that the worst parenting I’ve ever done has been parenting rooted in fear.

If I can leave you with one piece of advice from me to you about parenting teens and parenting in general, it’s this:

Don’t parent in fear – fear can look like control or anger and never leads to connection or trust.

If you’re in the trenches with teens – hold on! It gets better.

I’m sending out a short Friends Email sometime this weekend. If you’d like an update that’s a little more personal, I would love to send it to you too. It’s very quick to read and includes links to all recent posts so you won’t miss a thing. It’s one of my favorite things to write. Sign up here and I’ll be sure to send it to you.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

12 Comments

  1. Emily Wynsma
    March 30, 2017

    Mmm, I love these. We have a few years before our tiny bean is a teenager 😉 but it’s still good principles to start considering!!
    Love you and love your teens! (And your pre-teens and your adults :))

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 30, 2017

      They love you too!

      Reply
  2. Becky
    March 30, 2017

    “Don’t parent in fear – fear can look like control or anger and never leads to connection or trust.”

    This final statement felt like a kick in the gut. I have so many fears for my kids from hard places. It’s hard to not let them dictate decisions.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 30, 2017

      I learned this through many years and many instances I wish I could do-over. I quickly default to fear and have to be reminded! This and Love is patient – over the long haul – months and years.

      Reply
      1. Robin Douglas
        March 30, 2017

        Thank you so much for this post, Lisa! We have 5 teens right now–3 from hard places. I agree with Becky that it’s so hard to let go of fear, and I’m grateful for you shining the light of truth on it. I often go into extreme control mode, so I’m grateful for the reminder to go for responsibility and freedom. I’m so grateful for the time you spend to share your thoughts here.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          April 1, 2017

          Robin, I was talking with a friend yesterday about the struggles some of our teens are having and truly, it’s fear that does me in and moves me to make bad parenting decisions. God has a hold on our kids’ lives, we are shepherding them and doing our best, but ultimately, as they move toward adulthood, we have to do a lot of praying and trust that He will not let go of them. It’s hard and good and hard again. One of these days we need to meet over coffee!

          Reply
  3. Claudia
    March 31, 2017

    This article was so spot on what I needed to hear as my husband and I “process” an issue with our teen. An issue we are absolutely clueless about how to handle. Thank you so much-tearing up right now.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 1, 2017

      I’m so glad this is helpful to you, Claudia – it’s a blessing for me to know that.

      Reply
  4. Molly Kitsmiller
    March 31, 2017

    I feel like I have been through the wringer already and mine are just 17, 15 and 13. However I am learning a lot especially how to connect through mistakes. I am thankful for the mistakes they make at this age and pray that they will learn a lot while they are in my home so they will not have to make the same mistakes when they leave. Thank you for your insight!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 1, 2017

      Connection is so important, Molly, you’re right. One of my teens said to me yesterday, “You mean, I’m not grounded?” This teen had told me about something that happened four months earlier. Grounding would have been of no benefit and in fact, this child has never been grounded, but assumed there would be punishment. Punishment is not always our most useful tool – right? Mistakes made at home while they are with us can be useful for building connection that leads to discussion, useful and appropriate consequences, and in the end learning from those mistakes in ways that impact the heart, help them become wiser, and guide future behavior.

      Reply
  5. Julie Sanders
    April 8, 2017

    Love this!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 8, 2017

      Thank you, Julie! I am so excited!

      Reply

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