Part I: The Experience of Parenting A Teen

The Teen Years

In this series, called “Riding the Waves of the Teen Years,” we will explore the huge emotional and social changes of adolescence, which are difficult for both parent and teen to understand.

Much confusion and tension can be lessened when parents are clearer about why their teen acts the way he does. You will learn about your child’s development and how you can meet both your child’s and your needs during this stressful life stage, while still maintaining a healthy relationship with your teenager. This article focuses on the experience of parenting a teenager.


The Mixed Bag of Parenting a Teen

road sign saying rough road
We have found that many people with young children anticipate with dread their children’s teenage years.

  • Teens can be risk-takers since they often lack the judgment to keep themselves safe.

  • At the same time, teens push parents away and become immersed in their peer group.

  • They can become uncommunicative and sullen and resistant to rules when they used to be compliant.

  • They can be very critical of our every move and comment.

  • It can feel that we are being rejected by our children who we raised to this point and love beyond words, but who we don’t fully understand anymore.

Parents can be worried, feel helpless, be at a loss as to how to treat this ‘new’ person in their midst, become infuriated at their refusal to follow rules or to engage in family events, and sad at the loss of their younger child who has morphed into a distant and, at times, angry or irritated young person.

All of this may be true, but on the flip side, we like to remind parents that the teen years can be also be wonderful.

  • Teens are full of fun, high energy, passion, commitment, idealism, loyalty to friends, creativity, and enthusiasm.

  • They are, with increasing frequency, able to show true empathy.

  • You will begin to be able to relate to your teens on a more adult level in terms of their intellectual capacity.

  • And you can take a step back and watch with amazement your children’s growth and maturity and increased ability to function in the world.

They enter adolescence as children and come out of it as young adults eight or so years later. But remember: this march toward maturity occurs over years in an uneven progression.


Tug of War: parents vs. TeensThe fact is that what is called “adolescent angst” is not as common as many people think. Only about 10% of teens really struggle with serious negative behaviors such as drug use, sexual acting out, or criminal activity.

Most teens go through these years with emotional ups and downs and some behavior stemming from poor judgment that causes parents concern and worry, but they survive unscathed to enter the next phase of their lives ready to take on the new challenges that await them in young adulthood.


What’s Going on With Parents of Teens?

Crossing life paths with teens

During these teenage years, parents are going through their own adjustments and adaptations; they are also growing and changing and grappling with forces in their lives brought on by their children entering this new stage.

There is a developmental irony that is playing out in the family during these years:

  • Just as parents are beginning to realize they are aging, their children are on the cusp of full vitality.

  • As mothers are reaching the end of their child-bearing years, their children are just entering that phase.

  • While parents can see their options closing down and perhaps their optimism and idealism waning, their children have the whole world open to them.

This crossing of developmental paths often causes parents to feel resentment, jealousy, envy, or sadness.

Coming to terms with the reality of who the teen is

As when children enter any new stage, parents of teens often struggle to reconcile the image they had of what their child would be like with the actual child they have.

  • Perhaps they had a vision of a very social and popular child who would be part of a large peer group; their child actually is an introvert who prefers having two or three close friends.

  • Or perhaps they had an image of a teen who would excel academically, but their child does average work in school although is very successful on the soccer field.

Parents can initially feel disappointed, sad, frustrated and even angry that their teen is not meeting their expectations and being the kind of person the parents envisioned. The parents’ job is to come to terms with and accept the child they have for who he is.

Beginning to let go

passing the baton
Parents of teens often meet resistance if they try to ‘micro-manage’ their teens’ comings and goings.

It is the parent’s difficult, but necessary, task to accept their children’s separateness from them and to find a healthy mixture of being involved and keeping them safe while still ‘letting out the rope’ enough so they begin to learn to manage their own lives.

Parents need to find new ways to connect that allows them to let go enough, but not too soon and not too much.

Adjusting discipline approach

In line with this, there is a re-negotiation of the rules in the house. Parents of teens often don’t feel their children are ready for the degree of freedom that their children want.

Parents can feel scared as they realize they can’t protect their children as they once did. This fact often causes conflict in the home and in the relationship as parents question how much control they should exert.

Parents need to be flexible as old rules are re-negotiated to reflect the teens’ new-found ability, judgment, and push for independence.

Finding ways to stay connected

mother and teen
Parents need to find a way to be involved in their teens’ lives without hovering and without abandoning them – they need a new role, and it usually takes some trial and error, some mistakes, and great flexibility to find that place that fits both the needs of the parents and the needs of the teens.

Accepting teens’ sexual development

Parents of teens also have to accept and find ways to deal with their teens’ sexual development.

  • How do they continue to show physical affection?

  • What rules and guidelines are established regarding dating?

  • How do parents make sure that their own privacy needs are met?

Admiring their children’s development without being seductive is a fine line and a challenge that this stage of parenting brings with it.

So if it seems like parenting a teen is challenging, this list explains some of the reasons why this is so. Not only are parents adjusting to the changes in their child and figuring out how to manage the new demands this stage brings, parents are also dealing with their own images, visions, disappointments, roles, and examinations of their life up til now.



For more information about raising a teen, check out the following books. Purchasing from through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Yes, Your Teen is Crazy by Bradley Uncommon Sense for Parents of Teenagers by Riera The Roller Coaster Years by Giannetti and Sagarese The Second Family by Taffel Raising a Teenager by Elium How to Hug a Porcupine - Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years by Ross You and Your Adolescent by Steinberg

<recommended books about raising adolescents

<all our recommended parenting books


<return to top of page

<additional articles about teen issues

<Library of Articles topic page

<additional online resources for parenting teens