When you’re parenting teens

This weekend I am at the Refresh adoption conference in Seattle, speaking about older child adoption and about hanging onto joy in hard times.  Here’s just a taste of what I’m talking about in the older child session.


I started this post two and a half years ago, at which time I stared at the blank screen for a few minutes before deciding I wasn’t enough of an expert on teens to write a blog post about parenting teens.  These days– bad news–  I am still not remotely an expert.  The good days come only by the grace of God.  And there are definitely plenty of hard ones to go along with the good.  But here are some things that do seem to help, when I can just remember to do them!  I thought I’d write a few of them down here in case some of you might be like me– working hard to make this time of our kids’ lives as good as we can help it to be.

Get good at apologizing.

Even if you’re sure the problem is 80% your kid and only 20% you, there is huge power in humbly admitting that you had a part in an interaction that didn’t go well.  I am continually amazed at how soft my kids will get when I am willing to say, “Hey, I’m really sorry I lost my cool.  I should have been kinder.  Will you forgive me?”  Often a kid who was quite angry a while ago will at least accept my apology graciously, sometimes even adding their own apology.  This is SO hard to do, but so worth doing.


Try not to assume that your way to solve a problem is the best way.

Again, this is something that is very hard for me.  And I still don’t believe that every conversation should turn into a negotiation, but when a discussion with a teen isn’t going well, I’ll sometimes say, “How do you think we can solve this?” Or, “I want x and you want y. I’d love to hear your ideas for a compromise.”


Say yes as often as possible.

Sometimes we as parents get in the habit of a default no, just to simplify life. (This is a big problem for me as a mom of many– I can only handle so much complication, after all). But, wow, yes is a great word to be able to give a kid, even if sometimes it needs to sound like ‘yes, after you clean the bathroom’ or ‘yes, if you’re willing to be home by 10,’ or yes, let’s do that next week.’  Especially in the teen years, we should be thinking of ways to give them more freedom AND more responsibility (in finances, time management, work skills, etc) so that when they do head out into the world, instead of it being a bone-jarring thud, the leap will be as graceful and as prepared as is possible.


Ask yourself if a consequence or a decision will build relationship or hinder it.

This is a fabulous question to ask yourself when you’re wondering how to handle disobedience and rudeness. Certainly there are times when kids need consequences for their actions. But almost always there are options to choose from– and some will build relationship, and others may hurt it. You can have a teen skip an activity as a consequence for disrespect to you, or you can offer him the chance to redeem himself by redoing an interaction with you kindly and appropriately and also doing an extra task alongside you.  The former may lead to more resentment, and the latter is a chance to have a good interaction AND reinforce what should happen next time. I would much prefer connection than a young person whose heart is far from me.  Tho I don’t always succeed, I try to aim for connection, and I trust that kindness will have results later even if they’re not evident in the moment.


 Avoid assumptions and communicate clearly. 

Often hard moments come when you expect something that seems obvious to you, but turns out to be not so clear to your teen.  For example, I assume a 10PM curfew means the kid will be in the house no later than 10.  If a kid thinks 10:15 is close enough, that could make for some unhappiness. I still sometimes slip up and forget to clarify details, but just taking a minute to talk through assumptions and ask a few questions before a teen drives away makes for lots less misunderstanding.


 Ask your teen, “Who are you pleasing? Yourself or God?”

When a teen has a serious attitude problem, this question sometimes helps him see his motives more clearly.  We can all get so intent on our own desires that we forget our responsibility before God, and teens especially can be prone to selfishness.  Another question to ask when selfishness rises is, “Are you being a good friend?”


Find something you like to do together.

I have a daughter who doesn’t seek time with me, but she will offer opinions on clothing, and she enjoys looking at clothing on Pinterest with me. It’s not huge, but it is one thing we can do together and that’s a win! Speaking of individuals and interests, remember to praise your teens for any special strengths or skills that you notice.  This is especially crucial for kids whose talents are non-academic.  They need to hear they’re good at things!


Memorize the Word Together!

Our family spends maybe 5 minutes at breakfast on school mornings reading a section of memory work and usually within a month or two, everyone knows it pretty well. This spring we are memorizing a couple chunks in 2 Corinthians 4.

2 Corinthians 4: 7-9, 16-18  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

My hope is that these words will stay in their hearts forever, and (like the words of praise I also try to speak), I know God can call them to remembrance in hard moments throughout their life.   I may fail daily in parenting.  But God never does.  I’m so glad this is not all up to me!


I’d love to hear ideas that you have for making life easier while parenting teens.



  1. Oh how I wish I could be at the conference and attend your class! You spoke the words that I so much needed to hear during this difficult and wonderful time of my life.

  2. Great and oh so accurate advice for teens!

  3. I began praying when my kids were still in elementary that their adult temptations and sin would be evidenced during their teen years while they still had us to coach and help them develop a battle plan for life. My generation was taught to fake perfection, and most of my friends were derailed by sins that started in their teens.