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Move To The Back Seat But Stay In The Car! (parenting a teen)

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

Any parent who has navigated the teen years will tell you that around the age of thirteen 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, parents know nothing!

The good news is that if parents have impressed upon their children (prior to age 13) the positive character values of unconditional love, authoritative leadership, and sound decision-making, they will also have earned their children’s respect. Evidence of parental respect reveals itself when children begin to apply what they’ve been taught to life situations. Even as their peers take on a new level of importance and parents seemingly take a back seat, when it comes to decision making, teens will often listen to the quiet whisperings of their parents’ voices. And often, when push comes to shove, those quiet whisperings will win out over potentially harmful peer pressure. 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 break.

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

  • 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 can’t do that specifically, but what we can do is _________

  • I/We’ll give some serious thought to what you said. It may be that we can….......

  • I/We understand why you want to do___________ but, as parents, we are looking out for your best interest and must consider other factors like ___________________.

  • How about we try _______________?

  • A fair compromise would be _______________

  • We’ve thought about what you said and have come up with two options; we’ll leave the final choice to you.

  • 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’re 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 have confidence that you will (a pat on the back or handshake never hurts).

  • Someday this will be behind us. I look forward to that day and I’m sure you do, too!

  • I was thinking it might be fun if you and I plan to __________. What do you say to that?

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. Rather than a focus of demanding obedience from your teen, make the decision to change how you respond to your teen. It’s never too late to change. Move to the back seat but stay in the car!

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, January 2021


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