Tag Archives: teenagers

Parenting Teenagers 101

I’ve worked as a substance abuse counselor for over eight years now. Most all of that time has been with adolescents, and one of the things I hear frequently from parents and guardians of teenagers is they struggle to engage their teen in meaningful conversation. How do you parent when they won’t talk to you?

Parenting Means Listening

I talk and talk and talk to them but they just won’t listen. While the words vary, I’ve heard many parents and guardians say things like this. The problem with this style of parenting is it relies on the spirit of “do as I say and not as I do” mentality. Teenagers are good at spotting those seemingly hypocritical behaviors and using them as a reason not to “do as I say”. While it can be so difficult to do, turning that pattern around tends to improve the relationships and overall parenting process. Let the teen do more of the talking and listen. Listen not just to what they say, but what they don’t say. Look at what their body language and facial expressions are saying. Teens often struggle to put their thoughts and feelings into words, so these non-verbal cues are a good tool to help them learn how to do that.

Parenting Means Admitting When You’re Wrong

Admitting you’re wrong. That is something so many people struggle to do. We’ve come to equate this admission to somehow being less than or not as good as others. Yet every single person on this planet has been wrong. And more than once. Yes, sometimes teenagers try to hold it against adults when adults are wrong. However, rather than letting the focus turn to who’s wrong and who’s right, deflate their argument by admitting it. Two things will start to happen when we admit we are wrong to teenagers. First, it will boost our teenagers’ self-esteem by hearing they are right at times. Second, it is an excellent way to work on building mutual respect. By acknowledging we are wrong, it tells teenagers we are listening to what they have to say.

Parenting Means Admitting We Don’t Have All the Answers

Another thing I’ve seen is when parents and guardians struggle to admit they don’t know something. It gets easy to pretend you have an answer to try to get them to do what we want them to do. However, when we pretend we have all of the answers, we also teach teenagers to pretend the same thing. This, in turn, sets up situations where teenagers get in over their heads pretty quickly. Instead, learn to admit when you don’t have the answer. Then work with your teenager to learn the answer together. It teaches your teenager the skills to find answers to things they don’t know and it helps them learn to admit they don’t know everything.

More Parenting Resources

Eowyn Gatlin-Nygaard, a therapist from Headway Emotional Health, wrote a great article with additional insight into decoding teens for Minnesota Parent. You can find it here.

Mayo Clinic also has some good insight here.

Stacy Overby, MS, LADC, CCTP is the program director. She has been a licensed drug and alcohol counselor since 2010 and a certified clinical trauma professional since 2017.