Words with Kids: Tackling the Teen Years


Ah, the glorious teen years. The magnificent, insanity inducing ages between 13 and 19. And in our case, my 21-year-old son is making me re-think the idea that 19 is the end of this phase. Experts say brains don’t fully develop until age 25, afterall…

So, I am currently in the throes of raising two (or three) of these mysterious human beings and I thought I’d share a snapshot with you.

What An Amazing Time!

These years are brimming with excitement and anxiety for the teen (and for parents, too). They grow from a dependent child into an extremely independent person with their own thoughts, ideas and values, which are often different than yours.

They experience every major milestone. First date, kiss and heartache. Learning to drive and obtaining a license. Graduating from high school, entering a vocational school or college or getting a job. Possibly leaving home. The whirlwind of changes can be difficult to grasp.

But it also is a wonder-filled time. You witness the amazing person they are becoming. Some of the dreams you had for them start to come to fruition. It is easy and fun to have adult conversations with them.  These talks are a great opportunity to see their take on the world and to discover their own hopes and dreams. Listen to them when they want to share and encourage them to take steps to make these dreams a reality. Preparing to get into their dream college, for instance, can start as early as junior high in regards to the classes they take, grades they need and extra curricular activities they choose.

Talk to Them Constantly, Even If It Doesn’t Seem Like They Are Listening

It is important to have numerous conversations during these years about all of the huge concerns they will face. Peer pressure, drugs, sexual and dating relationships and other risky behaviors.

Please do not assume that these subjects are covered in school. These lessons often don’t sink in unless they are repeated again and again. And it gives you a chance to mention your view points on tough subjects and to reinforce your values. Maybe share some of your own experiences, if appropriate. If they ask you personal questions that you are not comfortable answering, however, it’s okay to tell them that you are not willing to share certain private information.

Don’t Lecture, Listen

Try to listen to them and ask plenty of questions instead of going into lecture mode.

Remember on the Charlie Brown cartoons how they portray the voice of the parents as unintelligible mumbling? This is how you sound to your teen when you’re in monologue mode. They are probably tuning you out. Asking questions and listening to their answers helps ensure they are not thinking of pizza while you are channeling your finest Dr. Phil.

Be Prepared To Be Frustrated!

Think back a few (or more) years to when you were a teen. How did you see your own parents and adults in general? Chances are high that you probably thought they were out to spoil your fun with their old-fashioned values. Of course, they could not possibly begin to comprehend what life was like as a teen! Now, you know what your teen thinks about you.

Isn’t it fun to be the parent?

There have been many, many times while raising my teens that I have tried my best to make them think about their choices and to give wise counsel. Terrific advice based on my own personal experiences and the knowledge I have gained over the years. I hoped my sage consult would lead them to experience the “AHA!” moment that would change their life.

However, because I know nothing according to them, they simply ignored me and made their own choices. Sometimes poor ones. Then they had to live with the consequences. That can be difficult to watch as a parent, but that is how they learn and grow.

Sometimes Your Little Birds Will Tumble Out of the Nest

No matter how much you want to protect them and to prevent them for making bad choices, you can’t always do that. Sometimes, they have to find out for themselves.

It’s important when this happens to bite your tongue and refuse to say “I told you so.” Let the consequences of their actions be the real lesson, instead of having them turn their focus to how mean and unfair you are. Remember to tell them and show them that you still love them, even though they made a poor decision. They need you to be their support system even when you are angry or disappointed by their behavior.

Try To Not Take It Personally

Believe me, I know this is much easier said than done! But here is a quick analogy. Young children are like puppy dogs: adorable, playful, and forgiving. Teens are like cats: elusive, temperamental, and you may only see them after they hear a can opening. They don’t mean to be distant and to act moody. This behavior is a reaction to huge changes they are experiencing on biological, emotional, mental and social levels. They feel safest with you, which is why you get the brunt of the sarcasm and attitude. Sometimes, if they have a terrible day or are wrestling with a huge decision, they will take out their frustration, anger or hurt on the one who simply asks, “How was your day?”

Attempt to maintain a sense of humor at times like these instead of saying something abrasive in return.

When my boys act this way toward me, I simply let them know that they have every right to feel the way they do. However, they don’t have the right to be spiteful and hurtful to others because of it. I encourage them to go to their room to have some space to sort through their feelings. Or I will excuse myself for a time out in my own room. I can’t always control their behavior but I CAN control how I react to it. 

Through the teen years, they might begin distancing themselves from you by sharing less and spending less time with you. This is not a personal attack. They enjoy being with their peers at this stage and they are preparing emotionally to separate from you.

The Years Are Too Short

Focus on good communication, loving moments and precious memories—even during this turbulent stage—because one of the hardest parts of tackling the teen years is realizing that with each passing day, you are a little closer to saying goodbye. 


Did you enjoy this post? Read more from our “Words with Kids” series here

This is the seventh in a series about communication between you and your child. Why focus on communication? Brazilian educator Paulo Freire says it best: "Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning." We talk to our children from birth; we spend countless hours and millions of words communicating with them over a lifetime. It's critical to our success as parents to communicate well. Our conversations and connections give lives meaning for both us as parents and our children. Over the next several months, we will continue to explore ideas of what good communication looks like in different facets of parenthood.
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Adrienne is a Colorado native and would not want to live anywhere else! She spends her days juggling the many demands of three sons, and her school-age daughter. When she is not busy deciphering the perplexing young boy brain, or trying to please her diva daughter, you will most likely find her nose in a book, or writing. She loves encouraging her fellow parents in their journey. Recently she has begun a new career as a Real Estate Broker with Colorado Home Finder Realty and is definitely enjoying the roller coaster ride. She also loves finding great happy hour places with her husband, Shawn, and acting young and sometimes crazy with friends! She does not spend enough time outdoors (unless forced to) and comes up with any excuse to put off cleaning her chaotic house. She is very grateful for her completely imperfect life.