Saint John

Parent Trap

Parenting is the most rewarding and challenging undertaking of a lifetime. Each stage of the parent child relationship has its pains and pleasures. One of the most complex stages in parenting is during the time that children are becoming adults, the TEEN years.

I once heard adolescence described as the time when children want all the privileges of adulthood without any of the responsibilities. One day they assert their independence and challenge the limits. Then next they turn to their parents to handle a problem that was theirs in the making.

This roller coaster of emotions and behavior is enough to send the whole family into a tailspin. It is at this time that parents need to be able to make rational choices about their responses to their child’s behavior.


This means identifying your teen’s strengths and nurturing them. It seems natural to point out trouble spots and correct them but the most powerful tool by far is that of encouragement. Your teen has strengths and abilities and as a parent, you are proud of those qualities.

Limits and Choices

“You cannot make anybody do anything they do not want to do!” That’s true. You cannot control your teen but you do have influence on the quality of your relationship. Part of the teen experience is testing the limits and pushing for more independence and freedom. Smart parents understand that if they do not grant more freedom, teens will often take it anyway, either defiantly or deviously. The trick is to provide choices with limits. Slowly and consistently widening the limits so that the teens have opportunity to prove themselves responsible and earn more freedom, which will encourage them to respect the limits that are set.

Teach Responsibility

Natural/Logical Consequences – for every choice we make in life there is a consequence. The role of the parent is not to control the teen’s behavior but to work together with the teen to agree on guidelines for the relationship and what will happen if those guidelines are broken.

There is no guarantee the guidelines will never be broken. The point is that the teen will learn that there is a consequence for every choice.

Points to remember:

  • Make sure the consequence makes sense or is directly connected to the behavior.
  • Involve your teen in helping to set the consequence ahead of time.
  • Be as specific as possible so there is no room for misunderstanding.
  • Set consequences that are enforceable.
  • Avoid lecturing.
  • Do not set consequences out of hurt or anger.

When Tempers Flare

Teens today are much more vocal then ever. They say what they think and expect to be listened to. The role of the parent in this situation is to help teens express themselves in ways that are respectful to others. Often this assertiveness is perceived as disrespectful and tempers flare on both sides. It is the goal of the parent in these situations to help everybody stay calm. It is the parent’s role to model behavior that will teach the teen to get calm when they are upset.

Self Care

In any relationship we operate on an emotional bank account. Often we make deposits when we have good times by showing affection or sharing memories. These are the things that carry us throughout the difficult times. We make enough deposits so that we can draw on the emotional bank account and hang in for the long haul. The trick is for parents to make sure that there are other people or things in their lives that can help them make lots of deposits.


Adolescence is a time of turbulence and upheaval for your teen. It does not have to be for you. Learning how to care for yourself can give you the strength you need for all the roles required of you as a parent.

Lynn Jones, RSW.