Surviving and Thriving In the Teen Years

by Betsy Little

Those of us who have raised our teens are sometimes reluctant to spend a lot of time reliving the experience.  It’s not that the time spent with a teen is awful but it can be challenging at times.  If we have been doing our parenting “right,”  as our children enter their teen years we continue to give them more responsibility and more age-appropriate choices.  However, we are still the parent and they are still our children.  I think it can be helpful in parenting to devise a mantra that can be repeated as often as necessary as we parent our teens.  One of my mantras was “My job is to keep you safe.”  Another useful mantra for me was “It is hard to be a teen and it is hard to be the parent of a teen.”  I am not sure these mantras helped my teen but they helped remind me what I needed to focus on at this important time.


A current advertisement in a national magazine says “Why do most sixteen- year-olds drive like they’re missing part of their brain?  Because they are.”

The part of our teen’s brain that has a role in his/her decision making, control of impulses, planning, organizing and making good judgments is not fully developed until the teen is in his/her twenties.  Our teens may look full grown and sometimes they may act like adults, and they certainly want to be treated like adults, but the reality is they are not adults.

In comparing the brains of two- year-olds and teens we see some similarities.  A two year old might say “me do it” while a teen might say “leave me alone.”  A two- year-old may have a tantrum by throwing himself on the floor and screaming, while a teen might slam the door, pout and/or refuse to talk.  A curious two- year-old might get into things s/he should not get into while a teen takes risks while driving, going out and/or using illegal substances.


1.  Pick Your Battles: Try to determine what is most important and let go of some of the smaller annoyances.

2.  Whenever possible, let teens experience the natural consequences of their actions. A good example is if the teen oversleeps on a school day, let her figure out how to get to school and/or explain to the school why she is late.

3.  With your teen, (and your other children), devise a set of written family rules.  Have no more than seven rules and list the behaviors you want to see and what you don’t want to see.  Decide as a family what the consequences will be for following the rules and for breaking the rules. Instead of saying “Be home by your curfew” or “Don’t be late” say “Be home by 11 pm on week-end nights.”  “Do not come home after 11 pm on a week-end night.” The reward for following this rule might be that your teen gets to go out the next night.  The consequence for coming home at 11:30 pm instead of 11:00 might be having to come home a half hour earlier the next night.

4.  Learn How to Argue:  Pick a time that works for you and your teen.  Make a decision with your teen about what you will discuss. Stick to the subject—neither you nor your teen should talk about other incidents that occurred long ago.  Try to stay calm and listen to one another.  If you feel you or your teen is losing control, reschedule your discussion.

5.  Address risky behavior before it becomes a problem.  Let your teen know  your expectations of him/her.

6.  Remove computers and T.V.’s  from your child’s bedroom.  Place them in more central areas of the house.

7.  Establish rules and consequences about the use of cell phones.


1.  Listen, listen, and listen!  When you are driving kids in your car, listen to what they are saying.  If you are really quiet, you become almost invisible and you may learn a lot.

2.  Be sure to compliment your teen for the many things s/he does right.  In the course of a day, teens need to hear a few more compliments than critical remarks.

3.  Have fun with your teen— find reasons to laugh together!

4.  Try to be available when your teen is talkative.  Sometimes it means staying up a few minutes later when s/he arrives home and sharing a snack.  It may be well worth your time.

5.  Ask your teens to come see you when arriving home at night.  Give them a hug or a kiss. This closeness may also let you know if they have been smoking and/or drinking.

6.  If your teen is watching T.V., sit down with her/him.  Just be there.  Conversation may occur.

7.  Insist that your family eat dinner together at least a few nights a week.  Research is showing that families that share meals together have fewer problems with the kids’ behavior.

8.  Be a model of the behaviors you want to see in your teen.


Why Do They Act That Way?  A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen by David Walsh  “Adolescent Health”

Betsy Little is a Family Health Educator at the Marquette Co. Health Dept. She works in-home with families who have children birth—18 years, and with pregnant and parenting teens. Betsy and her husband have two young adult children. You may reach Betsy at 315-2613.

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