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Seasons in parenting: the teenage years (part 2)

On Friday I shared my first six tips for parenting teens. I can’t tell you how encouraging your responses were! We’ll continue here with seven more suggestions, and I’m already eager to hear your thoughts. Don’t be shy.

7. Don’t overreact.

Whether your teenager brings home a poor grade or confides information about friends or classmates, hysteria is never a welcome response. I don’t know how many times our kids have thanked me (us) for not making a big deal over a bad test score. FYI, that’s one of their friends’ biggest frustrations about their parents.

Consequences might be warranted; but if we’ve seem them investing time for that class, we don’t berate them. When grades dip and study time is non-existent, activities are restricted until there’s improvement. Your nagging will only make them numb.

If your child reveals shocking news about their peers, nod your head as if you’d expect to hear it, and offer your opinion when invited. Later, look for opportunity to discuss it further, not as judgement, but out of concern. The quickest way to get your teen to shut down is to shriek when you find out Kara got drunk last night or Kevin is sleeping around.

One of the highest compliments I’ve ever been paid was when my 16-year-old son’s best friend said, “If I ever REALLY screwed up, I think I could talk to your mom about it.” Why did he feel like he could come to me in that event? He had spent enough time in our home and observed how I reacted to “stories.” He knew I would have a truthful, loving and reasonable response; not judgment and condemnation.


When you don’t overreact, your children are much more inclined to reveal what’s going on in their world. They’re less likely to withhold information…or to feel “forced” to lie about it.

8. It’s not about them.

From the time babies exit the womb, they rightfully demand your time and attention. If they’re still thinking the world revolves around them when they’re 17, you’ve got a problem.

Continually guide them in consideration for others. Encourage mission trips or local volunteerism through church and service organizations. Be sure your actions and choices model this. Sometimes what a child learns is taught, but often, and more effectively, it’s caught.


Your children will be ambassadors of the Golden Rule.

Photo by Paul Keller

9. Prepare for the future.

(You’re going to hate me for this one.) Remember — you’re raising your children for someone else, not yourself. Ouch. When a pastor friend shared this, I wanted to hurt him.

But I’m thankful to have let that thought percolate for years, to help prepare my head and heart for the eventual. Hold your teens with an almost-open hand; then when it’s time, let go! You’ll gain much more than your perceived loss.


Leaving and cleaving…it’s required for a healthy marriage!

10. Say “yes” more than you say “no,” and take time to explain your reasons.

“Because I said so” doesn’t fly well with teenagers. Freedom is important to their development, so give them opportunities to make choices while they’re still living under your roof. Sometimes they’ll make mistakes, but more often than not, they’ll do the right thing.


They’ll respect your decisions more when you share your rationale for your choices. They still might not like them, but they’ll respect you (even if it takes a while for them to come around).

11. Hillary Clinton was spot on–it takes a village to raise a child.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to know your children’s friends’ parents. It’s not critical to be BFFs, but it serves everyone to have a friendly relationship. Because the BEST of kids–yes, even those “good, Christian” kids–will do things that disappoint you (It’s not the end of the world; don’t treat it as such.).

Follow up to confirm plans with other parents; make sure they know your “house rules” (no Internet without filters, number of kids allowed in a car, and the like). If your teens try to shame you or make you feel guilty, call you overly-protective, or complain that “you’re the only one” who does this, you’re probably on the right track.


If your children and their friends know the parents are in conversation and agreement about expectations, they’re less likely to play one against the other.

Photo by Nicki Varkevisser

12. Final words of wisdom

Oh, and advice from my teens themselves? Don’t talk in text abbreviations, don’t try to dress like a teen, and do not comment to their Facebook pages. You may think you’re cool and accepted, but they’ll be rolling their eyes behind your back.

Especially those imperfect teens.

Okay, parents… What questions or thoughts do you have to share about parenting teenagers? Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a teenager than when you were one? Or is it just… different?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. se7en

    I have loved your teen posts – how hard to find good honest stuff about teens!!! I read a book called “The other woman in your marriage” when I was a newly wed… thinking I would learn how to “cope” with my mother in law!!! The very humbling shocker was that I was actually learning how to be a good mother-in-law and that I needed to rethink clinging onto my dear children… and I needed to think intentionally about letting them go right from the start!!!
    Here’s the book review if you would like to take a look:

  2. Abel

    My kids are not teenagers yet but some of the tips here can still be used. I might make a mistake if you didn’t mention Tip #12! As you said, I thought it was cool and trying to be relevant. Great tips, Robin. I have bookmarked this for future reference.

  3. Melissa

    Thank you for Part 2! I’ve been waiting for it 🙂

    The image of holding teens ‘with an almost-open hand’ is a helpful one.

    I’d really like to know what kind of volunteer/community work those of you with older teens do ?

    • Snapper

      My son is young(ish) yet at almost 13, but he volunteers at the library, an animal rescue, and a Christian based re-sale store. His sisters (10 & 7) help out at the store with me also. Their volunteer hours decrease during the school year though.

    • Jenni

      My son has volunteered at our nearest family connection center, which has included sorting and shelving cans for the food bank and raking leaves at the day care. The elementary school always has need of projects as well–planting trees, painting basketball backboards, or painting hopscotches on the pavement. My son is more likely to go do it if I suggest he get some friends together (boys AND girls) to go do the service.

      • Anne

        Our family tried a project this year of doing one service project per month with our 14 and 10-year-old sons. We’ve done all kinds of things and it’s helped us to see what they enjoy. As a class at church studies the 7 spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6-8) and we look at what serving we’ve done, it’s becoming more clear that we don’t have kids with the serving gift. 🙂 Dad and I will continue to serve because that’s really important to us, but I think 2011 will focus more on cultivating what’s near and dear to our sons’ hearts and helping them serve others with more specific-to-them activities.

        Examples: helped with Little Dresses for Africa (yes, with boys); serving in a soup kitchen; cleaning our local university grounds prior to a big event; making Valentine’s for people in a hospice; helping during a local emergency; volunteering at a church event; we will knitt scarves in Nov (yes, boys); and address Christmas cards to Veterans in December.

  4. Alison @ Femita

    Aaah kids in their teenage years. It’s not for me for at least ten years, but I share your thoughts on the subject. I hope I’ll be able to have a positive, open relationship with my teens, based on sharing and respect. Thanks for the guiding principles, Robin. Still, there is also something that worries me. I feel like my parents had the right attitude when I was a teen, but still we didn’t get along for a few years. I was too rebellious from their conservative point of view. Now I understand what a dumbass I was, but back then we were really unable to connect although they tried many many times. This frightens me a little…

  5. Nadene

    I love that we are “raising them for someone else”. Teens often think about their future and about being grown up so this idea is easier to navigate than to raise them to be unselfish.
    I’ve often found parents of teens who want to be popular. I am often not popular, but it is better for parents to be consistent, fair and open, than try be ‘cool’ with the guys.

  6. Kika

    No matter what, be involved in your kids lives – don’t get too busy with your own stuff and just assume, for instance, that ‘if they’re honor roll students then everything must be ok with them’. I started doing drugs in gd. 7 and tried to kill myself three times – as an honor roll student. I grew up in a wonderful home and knew I was loved but was struggling and didn’t go to my parents. If a child ever jokes aloud about being dead by a certain age or killing themseves and then acts like it was a joke, take it seriously. Do what it takes to get into their heart and head and give them a sounding board for all they are feeling.

  7. Melisa

    This is such a refreshing article! I have 4 boys of my own (12, 10, 8 and 2) and 2 teenage step-children. I am often the “strict mom” for limiting computer, ps3 and tv time, enforcing bed times and chores, etc. One thing I have told people and tell my boys is that I’m not raising boys—I’m raising men and I will do everything in my power to raise them to be respectful, responsible, thoughtful and self-sufficient. They don’t always agree with me or even like me, but I didn’t become a parent to win a popularity contest, that’s for sure!

  8. priest's wife

    Oh yes- it takes a village to raise a child- but I (mommy) am going to choose the people in the village!

  9. Sheridan

    My son is almost 13, these posts have been great in helping me mentally prepare for the next few years. I enjoy him more and more as he grows and I can see how I respond to his growing will really effect our relationship!

  10. tuxgirl

    I’m not parenting teens yet (my daughter’s almost 1, though), but I just wanted to comment on your first point in this article (number 7). This is one thing my mom was amazing at, but it didn’t just start when I was a teen. For as long as I can remember, the time after school was always open for me to talk to my mom about how things went. I went to a private commuter school, so starting in 1st grade, we had at least 20 minutes of commute time (going up to around an hour in middle and high school) to talk about what was happening in school. Because of the way my mom handled these discussions when I was in elementary school, when I reached high school and the topics became more serious (who was dating who, what they were doing, what people said about the party at someone’s house, etc), the discussion was completely natural. I didn’t even think twice about telling my mom about what was happening with friends at school. I also trusted that she would not try to get my friends in trouble or tell their parents. Honestly, my mom knew more about what kids in my circle of friends were doing than their own parents did. I hope to have the same type of relationship with my daughter as she grows.

    I also agree with your point that while children are at home is the time for them to learn from mistakes. I’ve known children whose parents tried to keep them from encountering any temptations while they were growing up. I can sympathize with that, as I watch the innocence that my daughter has now, but at the same time, I can look at my life and see where that innocence could have hurt me. I went to a series of extremely liberal non-Christian schools. Most of the students were not religious, and the school did not encourage Christian values for the most part. That meant that I saw things in high school that challenged my beliefs. I’m grateful for that, though. I am grateful that I saw those things while I was living at home and had the opportunity to discuss them with my parents. Had I been exposed to those things for the first time while in college or after joining the workforce, I don’t know that I would’ve had the same foundation to lean against when I felt hesitation.

    That said, I believe a lot of parenting is going to be different for different families and different children. I just pray every day that I will be able to raise my daughter as well as my parents raised me.

  11. Trevor @ Tootlee

    Wow, I really like your best compliment regarding your son’s best friend. That says a lot about how you parent; in a positive way.

    #10 – I’ve found even my 2.5 year old does better with explanations. My 10 year old daughter has done better with explanations even sense see was a toddler as well. It seem like most people do better with explanations.

    My wife and I have always tried to operate from the perspective that we are raising adults not kids. What is the end goal anyway? So I appreciate your thoughts on raising them for someone else.

    Thanks for the great thoughts and wisdom from your experience.

  12. Lynn

    You make such great points. I so agree with what you say in this post. Having two teenage daughters, the last few years we have become the house the teens want hang out at, in spite of being the house with the most rules. The kids still flock to our house. They do strive to have parental enforced rules. Our latest challenge is teenage driving laws. Did you know its National Teen Driver awareness week? I read today that 49 states have some type of graduated drivers license. This has been our biggest challenge, enforcing actual laws when other parents are not!! Teen driving awareness would be a an informational post for parents.

  13. GutsyWriter

    Great tips that I so agree with. Especially the one about not making kids feel bad about their grades. I wrote a post, “Your Grades are for You, not for Me.” I shall keep following you.

  14. Rachel

    This really has been so helpful, though nugget in size. I’ve already caught myself before being what was habitual and am trying to incorporate the bits of wisdom learned here. When you get a chance, will you enlighten me on what to do (or not to) with idle time in teen years? I’d also love if you would recommend books you gleaned from. We only get one shot at parenting, and I so desperately want to get it right – if at least, most of the time. Then I can easily trust God for the rest.
    Thanks again for all that you are to us moms! (and dads) 🙂 I love this site!!

  15. hmcahyo-Indonesia

    great post, and drop here from problogger mailinglist… i want to comment on your recent post (sticky post) but can’t find where’s to comment…

    i should bookmarked this blog… 🙂

  16. April

    Robin, I really enjoyed reading your posts! My husband and I always say that our parenting philosophy can be best expressed by, “We’re trying to work ourselves out of a job,” so I love the image of holding them with an open hand.

    Nice to read a post directed at parents of older kids 🙂

  17. christy

    I absolutely loved this post…when i read the first six, i thought “hey I do pretty good”….then when i read this post i thought, “how did she know my weaknesses?”..haha…everything you said I totally related to…i have encountered all of them…succeeded on some, failed on others…thanks for the tips!! My son would probably love u!

  18. Shelly

    Great job, Robin! I wholeheartedly agree with #8. I see so many parents who don’t serve today, and I think they (we!) are raising an entire generation of people who won’t serve others. We cannot give in to the lie that the world revolves around them. We just can’t.

    Oh, and the one about preparing them for the future . . . so true, but wait until they go to college. Your heart will hurt. But in a good way.

  19. Babybloomr

    Beautifully expressed words of real wisdom! I have two teen girls and every syllable of this rings true. And I agree, the absolute highest compliment a mom can receive is that their kids’ friends consider them trustworthy– and though your teen may not admit it, they are very proud to have the kind of mother that their friends respond to in that way.
    Well done, Robin!

  20. Wanda

    Love all of these!

    I’ve known the one about raising them for someone else since they were babes. I tried really hard to set that as a goal….it has been a pleasure to “Mom” them!

    And I have the house everyone wants to hang out at…..not because it’s a fun party time place but because they enjoy doing FAMILY stuff and like our rules. We are open, we eat most of our meals together and we LIKE hanging out.

  21. Beth West

    Being surrounded by teens (19, 17, 15, and 12) your articles have made me laugh and AGREE with so much. I also have a 26 yo and looking back through the years the point that you make about not overreacting is the one that I would have to say I wish I had done better with and pray that I will do better with. Alas, I am not a fortress of calm! But as my grown dd has expressed thoughts to me about her relationship with me as she grew up, there were so many moments that I hurt her and caused her to emotionally shut down because I handled a situation poorly (read melodramatically).

    Thanks for sharing this encouragement!

  22. Alicia Bayer

    Great advice. Now I have to go back and read the first set. 🙂

  23. Amy

    Great advice!! I have 2 teenagers in my house and I am loving life. “Don’t Over react” is great advice, because they will stop coming or even asking questions if you do. I started that in middle school. After they left I would let my mouth drop to the floor. 🙂

  24. linda

    “Say ‘yes’ more than you say ‘no’ ” – is where most parents are struggling because our children always ask for what requires a ‘no’ answer. If there was a way to sugarcoat our ‘no’, or to explain your reasons for which we never have time. I recently discovered that saying ‘maybe’ instead of ‘no’ makes my son content enough but I still feel being too evasive.

  25. Scatteredmom

    I have a teenager myself and yes, all of these words of wisdom work! I am finding that I have more fun with him as an older kid than I did when he was younger.

    I also work with teens. Giving them space and time, plus permission to speak their minds works not just when they are yours. 🙂

    Great article!

  26. jim

    ok…i am holding my breath as i write this. I am divorced, remarried and trying desperatly to raise my two kids, 12 and 10, to become resposible and healthy adults. The comments here have been helpful, and with out patting myself to hard on the back i think i am doing pretty good. My problem is the kids are with me half the time, and living in a totally opposite situation when living with mom.
    here the have a routine. Dinner as a family, homework, tv,video or board games , then bedtime. almost every night i read to them before bed. my home is your typical old fashioned home with the exception of the word step before mom. at moms there are multiple men sleeping over at various times… it seems to have narrowed down to two at the present. also a 25 year old half sister living with her boyfriend in the same house. Kids are home alone after school there for a few hours, unlimited access to internet and cell phone use. after “snooping” her phone texts i learned my daughter swears, and doesn’t want to die a virgin. in the past i have tried not to put down the kids mom, but i am running out of ways to try to show the kids whats right, ie: one boyfriend at a time, with out looking like i am putting mom down. if anyone can help me, i would appreciate an email or link to sites like this one. THANKS!

  27. Kiersten

    Oh thank you for this post! I am a homeschooling mother of teens. I blog and love to read mothering blogs. I don’t often find mothering blogs about teens, so I am thrilled to see some posts about teens up here! I really and hungry for it and write about them myself!! I can’t wait to read more!


  28. Rachel

    What are some tips for finding volunteer venues and what advice would you have in terms of age, safety etc.

    • Kiersten

      Hi Rachel!
      I would ask your teens what they love to do and what they would like to do! Then just have them call the business of organization and ask if they would like a volunteer. My 13 year old loves dogs and animals and wanted to learn how to groom and train, so she wrote up her resume and a cover letter and dropped it off. The owner called within an hour and was thrilled to have a helper! It was a wonderful experience for her!!!

  29. Marla

    I have a teen and two elementary aged children. Your tips are dead on. I am going to print them out and make a flip book to remind me of what a treasure I have…and how NOT to ruin it for my children’s future spouse, children and friends. Thank you!

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