Surviving the Teen Years, a Parent’s Perspective

Tips to Cope with Parenting a Teen – It ain’t easy, but it is worth it.

Recently, Cat posted a picture with her 21-year-old son, commenting that the teen years are tough, but you eventually get back to that spot where they love you again. She received a ton of comments asking “But how?!”, and requests for a vlog on the topic. So today, Cat has teamed up with AJ, another parent of teens, to dole out some tips. 

Whether you’re right in the weeds of pre-teen/teen parenting or looking out to the future, these tips will help you. Let’s cut right to the chase though and know that you WILL get through this. 

First of all… how do Cat and AJ know? While they’re not “parenting experts” (because is there really such a thing?), they both have teens of their own, and Cat even has a couple who have come out on the other side. AJ has two teens and one pre-teen, and full-disclosure thinks the pre-teen years maybe even worse. Cat often feels like a punching bag, and like many of us, has heard “you’re ruining my life” more often than she can count. She reminds us that our teens need to find themselves before they re-find you again. 

But how!?

1) You are their parent, not their best friend. 

They need parenting from you at this stage, and in fact, this is actually when you need to parent them more than ever. While they are out pushing boundaries, you need to be the one pulling them back to keep them from going too far. Often, that will mean you’re not the “cool parent,” but it’s still what they need from you.

This is definitely harder when you’re in a co-parenting situation with another parent not in the same household. There may be one parent who is more peripheral, not checking on homework, giving curfews, etc. In a situation like that, there may be even more push-back from your teens.

2) Show empathy. 

Cat with kids

We were all teens at one time and did similar things to our own parents. Think about what you were like as a teen to help put yourself in your teenager’s shoes. Try finding a story to tell that’s similar to a situation they’re dealing with. Above all, listen to them and make sure they know it.

3) Be sure they know they can come to you with things.

They will try things we wish they wouldn’t try. You are their safe place to land, so be sure they absolutely know that. They need to know that if they (or a friend) are in an unsafe situation, you’ll be there to get them out without judgment. 

You can still discuss the situation “tomorrow,” but wait to do so until you can be calm, empathetic, and without judgment. 

4) Offer therapy.

AJ compares mental health therapy to exercise. You don’t wait to exercise until you’ve had an injury. Rather, your fitness program helps to prevent injuries. Treat therapy the same way – help your teens keep up their mental health before it becomes an issue.

Offer and encourage them to give therapy a try, even if they’re resistant. Don’t require any long-term commitment. It may take a few attempts before you find the right therapist fit (and it may be a different person for each of your kids). 

There may be times when your teen needs to talk to a trusted adult who is not their parent. Having an existing therapist relationship will provide that independent adult ear for them whenever it’s needed.

5) It is normal to feel like their punching bag.

As a parent, it hurts to hear “you are ruining my life,” or “you are the worst parent ever.” Like us, you may even think “Am I?”. Nope, you’re not, and it’s fairly universal amongst parents. The times you are getting pushed the hardest are the times they need your love the most, even if they’re asking for it in a really tough way.

AJ with family cropped

6) You CAN still enjoy this stage.

Learn their interests and find ways to share with them. AJ grew up a jock, and now has three teens who want nothing to do with sports. Now, she’s learned to play D&D (that’s Dungeons and Dragons for the rest of us) so she can enjoy time with them.

The conversations in cars or at family dinners become so enjoyable as your teens’ minds develop. Cat loves it when they all sit down for family dinner. Do you need it every night? Nope, we love to pick one night that you all commit to each other. 

7) Choose your battles.

Your kids will mess up daily, and often. If you nitpick at every single thing (socks out of the hamper, missing device chargers, messy bedrooms… sound familiar?), you eventually just become white noise to them. Choose the battle of the day, and make it one that makes an impact. 

8) Remind them how much you love them.

Relationships are like bank accounts. They are strongest when you are making more deposits than withdrawals. When you’re constantly nagging your kids, you’re going to overdraw the account. Catch them being good. Give them unexpected compliments, but be sure they’re authentic and true. For example, Cat recently acknowledged to her daughter how impressive it is that she pops out of bed early each morning, ready to be productive. Let them know you are really seeing them. Not so secret tip: the more you call them out on the good, the more you and your teen will remember they really ARE great people. 

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2 Comments

That was really useful. Thank you.!!
I have also found with our 17 year old is saying positive things about him like: “I know you are such a a careful and mindeful driver, I want you to take me to … and he really believes it and is proud and careful of the car.

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I remember Cat’s post–and how I celebrated with her. My oldest son, especially, had ROUGH teen years and entry into adulthood (let’s face it — some people just struggle more with life, especially these crazy days). I experienced exhaustion, anger and despair–usually mirroring his emotions. I definitely WAS his “punching bag,” but always determined to never walk away from his genuine angst (while still protecting my sanity by occasionally saying, “Honey, I need a break. I’ll come back to you in a bit.” The reward for stamina, understanding, sleepless nights, crying, and unconditional love is a 25-year old man who is finding his way, becoming someone I genuinely like and admire, and who thinks to reach out to me to check on how I”M doing now and then. Love is hard and messy sometimes, but almost always it does have rewards. Plus, it makes us ever more compassionate toward our own parents for being imperfect. Thanks for sharing, you two. A lot of us struggle for support networks these days, and every affirmation is crucial. xoxo