Move to the Back Seat But Stay in the Car (Parenting a Teen)

By Sharon Knapp Lamberth

Any parent who has navigated the teen years will tell you that around age 13 something dramatic happens. Some liken it to their child transforming into a werewolf! Gone are the days when parents could simply rely on strong leadership and authority to effectively address childhood behaviors. Peers and the quest for independence take center stage. Suddenly, as parents, you know nothing! 

The good news is that if parents have impressed upon their children (prior to age 13) positive character values, unconditional love, authoritative leadership, and sound decision-making, they will likely have earned their children’s respect. Evidence of parental respect reveals itself when children begin to apply what they have been taught to life situations. Even as peers take on a new level of importance, and parents have seemingly taken a back seat when it comes to exerting influence, teens who have a healthy respect for their parents hear the quiet whisperings of their parent’s voices. Parents may never know how often those quiet whisperings win out over potentially harmful peer pressure. My guess is more often than not. Parents may be in the back seat, but they are still in the car.

A parent who suddenly decides to start bringing the hammer down after being lackadaisical, emotionally distant, and/or inconsistent during the formative pre-teen years will likely be met with stiff resistance. Compliance will be temporary at best. Trying to demand obedience during the teen years is not so unlike building a house of glass and hoping it will stand. Eventually, with enough force and pressure, the house will shatter.

When a teen becomes demanding and confrontational, a parent’s response and tone can cause the situation to escalate or de-escalate, often in a matter of seconds. Below is a list of parent responses that can lower the temperature, change the overall climate – and foster self-reflection to boot:

• You know, when I was your age, I felt the same way….

• I remember how frustrating it was when my parents said that, too.

• As far as your request, we cannot do that specifically but what we can do is……….

• Let me think about what you have said. It may be that we can……….

• We/I understand why you want to do __________ but, as your parent(s), we are looking out for your best interest and must consider other factors like _____________. 

• How about we try……………?

• I have thought about what you said and have come up with two options. I will leave the final choice up to you.

• A fair compromise would be …………….

• You can always save face with your friends by blaming us (your parents). I used to do that when I was your age and it worked!

• As your parents, we understand why you are upset with us. You don’t like the consequences. You are no different than thousands of kids who make mistakes. The sad part is that many don’t have parents like us who care enough to intervene.

• Consequences are a part of life. Their function is to force us to recognize, rectify, and resolve our misdeeds. That is exactly what we expect you to do, and we have confidence that you will (a pat on the back or handshake never hurt).

You get the idea. The bottom line is that from age 13 on, children need and want to exercise their independence and feel trusted to do so.  

If, as a parent, you missed the boat during earlier years, you do not have the luxury of a do-over. However, you can absolutely change course. Teenagers want to be heard! Rather than focusing on demanding obedience from your teen, make the decision to change how you respond to your teen. Admit to and apologize for your shortcomings, express your unconditional love, and your commitment to listen and guide responsibly. Resolve to be the adult you want to ultimately see in your child.  

It is never too late to change. Move to the back seat but stay in the car!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *