The Challenge of Parenting Teens


In my line of work, I spend the majority of the day talking to parents about their children and the problems that they are having with them.  As a former high school teacher, this has been a very insightful experience for me to see what’s going on at home and get a different perspective on them.

One of the most common things that I hear is parents talking about how their children have changed since becoming a teenager.  A lot of teenagers who were once great students start struggling in school for various social, emotional, and psychological reasons.  Many of them show personality change, resistance to parent’s advice, and lack of motivation for things that they once showed interest in.  Although I have vague, painfully awkward memories of what it was like to be in middle and high school, I still can’t always access how they are feeling and why they are acting the way they are acting as my adult self. Although I can give you plenty of stories about teenage behavior from my teaching years, I don’t always have a lot of insight as to why they act the way they act.   I often find it frustrating and want to simply dismiss their feelings instead of trying to understand them.  However, the times that I have been able to understand them are the times that I’ve been able to reach them the most and make the most impact.

No matter how ridiculous a teen is acting, there is a real reason in their mind as to why they are acting that way.  It can be hard to remember that as an adult, but to a teen is it their absolute reality.  I’m finding that the more I read about the changes happening in the teenage brain, the more I come to understand their complex nature.  This allows me more patience when I am interacting with them as I am less likely to take things personally or say something that implies that I think they are acting irrationally.

If you are a parent who is wondering how to interpret your teen’s behavior, here are some great resources to help you understand.  It’s unrealistic to think that we will never butt heads with teenagers, but we can at least reduce the stress levels in the relationship as much as possible.

Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain This interactive webpage covers everything from brain structure to how much sleep a teen should get to optimize learning.

NPR: The Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet This concise article is available in both written and audio format and will help you understand the basics of brain structure in teens.

The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction This article from the National Institute of Mental Health explains things in slightly more technical terms.

Family Connection: Connecting With Your Teen  This webpage provides a series of links to editorials and articles about various topics surrounding communicating with your teen.

Talks with Teens-Tips for Better Communication This article, endorsed by Web MD, gives you the do’s and don’ts of talking to your teen.

Ten Tips for Parents of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender Child This article from Advocates for Youth provides insight on how to communicate with LGBTQ teens.

Teen Girls: A Crash Course This blog entry provides a series of links to topics related to teenage girls specifically.

Parenting Teenage Boys This article from Psychology Today provides information that is specific to raising teenage boys.

Five Signs Your Teen Needs Mental Health Treatment This blog from World of Psychology tells you what signs to look out for.

Child & Adolescent Action Center For parents coping with teenagers who are experiencing mental illness, this page provides you access to a variety of resources through the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

And for fun, How to Spend Quality Time With a Teen.

I hope this helps!