Parenting Adolescents


Direction and Discipline for Older Children and Adolescents

When parenting a child, how you speak to the child is very important. When parenting a teen, what is important is often remembering what not to say.

There is no single right way to raise children to become responsible young adults. There are, however, some basic principles of understanding and communicating which seem to help develop positive self-esteem and self-discipline.

Adolescence has been said to begin with the question “Who am I?” and end with the statement, “This is who I am.” It is our challenge as parents to both facilitate this process and stay out of its way. These suggestion have assisted many families on their perilous journey through adolescence and parenthood.

Communicating with Adolescents

  • Say less, listen more. When they are ready to talk, give your undivided attention.
  • Express sympathy, empathy and interest. Ask real questions; guard against baiting questions.
  • Don’t offer solutions unless asked. Ask if they would like your suggestions.
  • Use shared time for listening and talking, such as in the car.
  • If angry or alarmed, take some time to think out a plan.
  • Respect your teen’s need for solitude.
  • Respect your teen’s need for someone other than you.
  • Consider using notes to communicate some things.


  • Remember to be authoritative rather than authoritarian or passive.
  • Use “I” language to speak for and about oneself.
  • People generally respond best to negotiating solutions rather than orders or criticism.
  • Make sure family rules and policies are really important… Don’t sweat the small stuff!
  • Separate hurt and angry feelings from requests for behavior change.
  • Avoid assuming the adolescent has bad motives.
  • Focus on the solutions.


  • Define for the family the rules and policies already in your own mind.
  • Be brief when possible. Say what you really mean, rather than hinting or implying.
  • Avoid asking “Why?” when the answer won’t make any difference. Stick to solving a single problem rather than a list of bad behaviors.


  • Most families function better with regular routines. Be as consistent with rules and routines as is reasonable. Parents need to agree on or at least accept similar rules and polices.


  • Role-model courtesy and respect within the family. Discipline yourself to express yourself in a way that does not injure the person or the relationship. Avoid: name-calling humiliating using sarcasm blaming threatening commanding lecturing prophesying (predicting failure)
  • Ask your children how they feel and what they think… then listen.
  • Accept differences of opinion when reasonable. Role model admitting your own mistakes and correcting yourself.

Criticism and Appreciation

  • Express appreciation daily, briefly.
  • Praise process as well as products.
  • Criticize behavior rather than the person or the motive.
  • Compliment and criticize directly rather than by comparing.
  • When criticizing, let the person know what you need from him or her.


  • Offer choices only when you can accept the adolescent’s choice.
  • Offer alternatives to unacceptable behaviors.
  • Make contracts rather than nag.
  • Develop a new perspective on boundaries… what is your business and what isn’t.


  • Allow logical consequences to follow behavior when reasonable and safe.
  • Reward with time and privileges rather than objects when possible.
  • Use ignoring as negative reinforcement when appropriate.
  • Set small increments of punishments such as loss of privileges or “grounding.”
  • Follow through with consequences.

In Conclusion

  • Promote an identity as a family. “In our family…”
  • All parenting should prepare children for increasing competence and independence.
  • Be a mentor, or help find a mentor, for your adolescents.

Suggested Reading

  1. Your Ten to Fourteen Year Old, Louise Bates Ames, et. al.
  2. Altered Loves, Terri Apter
  3. Don’t Stop Loving Me, Ann Caron
  4. Adolescence, Elizabeth Fenwick and Tony Smith
  5. Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen, Judy Ford
  6. Between Parent and Teenager, Haim Ginott
  7. Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher
  8. The Shelter of Each Other, Mary Pipher
  9. You and Your Adolescent, L. Steinberg, Ph.D. and A. Levine
  10. Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, Michael Riera
  11. The Courage to Raise Good Men, Olga Silverstein and Beth Rashbaum
  12. Get Out of My Life… but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the Mall?, Anthony Wolf


Worst Teen Worries

  • Parents Dying
  • Nuclear War
  • Poor Grades
  • Own Death
  • Illness, Disability, Accident
  • Not Finding a Job
  • World Hunger
  • Ecological Destruction
  • Violent Crime


Youth Suicide Warning Signs

  • Behavior change- giving away possessions, loss of interest in regular activities, decreased self-care, increased or decreased sleep or major appetite change
  • Trouble concentrating, agitation, prolonged lethargy
  • Repeated episodes of serious misbehavior
  • Repeated or increased lying
  • Unexplained cheerfulness after long depression
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Expressions of hopelessness
  • Absence of expression of future hopes, dreams and plans
  • Suicide threats or gestures
  • Suicide or attempt by friend or family member
  • Suicide or attempt by a person known to the young person
  • Constant self-denigration, self-hatred
  • Excessive risk-taking
  • Preoccupation with death in conversations, art, writing
  • Prolonged bullying
  • Excessive hurtful criticism from a family member or significant adult

Call for help!

  • It is better to ask for help and not need it, than to fail to get it when needed.
  • Call your pediatrician, your own doctor, your own therapist, or your clergyperson.
  • Get a referral to someone who has experience with adolescents in whom you can place your trust.
  • Call suicide prevention.
  • Call the police if you think a suicide attempt is in progress or imminent.


Talking With Your Teen


Adapted from


Parenting for Independent Adulthood

We all want our children to grow up and become healthy, independent adults. This article is intended to be a reminder of the specific skills we need to teach our children, adolescents and young adults to help them make the transition to independent adulthood. Each skill will need to be taught multiple times and at age-appropriate levels, but the reward will be great for you and your young person.

  • How to communicate and solve problems cooperatively
  • How to make decisions
  • How to cope with a disappointment or failure
  • How to take a compliment
  • How to receive criticism graciously and learn from it
  • How to spend time alone
  • How to identify an unhealthy relationship and either fix it or leave it
  • How to take care of personal health, including taking medicine correctly and hygiene of teeth, hair and body
  • How to be responsible to go to bed at a reasonable time, set and use an alarm to wake up
  • How to dress for different weather, and different situations (formal, work, recreation)
  • How to clean his or her own living environment
  • How to handle trash and recycling
  • How to shop for groceries
  • How to prepare simple meals
  • How to maintain a reasonably clean and organized living space
  • How to do laundry
  • How to use good social skills and courteous manners
  • How to make an appointment, such as a doctor’s appointment, and attend on time
  • How to pack for a trip
  • How to make travel arrangements
  • How to manage money, including paying bills on time and keep necessary financial records
  • How to do at least simple banking, include using an ATM safely
  • How to use a computer to communicate and do research
  • How to use public transportation
  • How to be a civil community member
  • Knows what to do and whom to contact in case of different kinds of emergencies