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Being There for Your Teen

dadandteen240It’s not an easy task: being there for someone who might not even seem to want you around a lot of the time.  But I have some tips to make it at least a little easier.1)  Remember that it’s your teen’s job to push you away.

Developmentally speaking, that is.  Toddlers are supposed to fight us for their independence, and in a sense, adolescence is a second toddlerhood.  Teens are trying to establish themselves as distinct people with their own ideas.  That means battling against some of yours.

If you see their obstinacy as part of a normal developmental stage, then you don’t need to take it personally.  You also don’t need to judge them harshly.  And the kinder and more patient you can be, the better.

Try to see their behavior through this lens, as opposed to a flaw in their characters or in your relationship with them.

2)  Talk to them the way you want people to talk to you.

This might seem obvious, but it often gets forgotten. You don’t want someone talking down to you.  Neither do they.

You might not like some choices they’re making, but you need to respect that they have their reasons.  They have their own vantage point.  And if you want to influence those choices, you need to understand the rationale behind them.

Which leads me to my next point…

3)  Think in terms of influence, rather than control.

Sure, you can get into a big power struggle with your teen.  You can force them to do things.  You can spy on them, and ground them.  And you’ll succeed at least some of the time at limiting the dangerous things they do.

But you won’t succeed all the time, and you’ll damage your relationship in the process.

Far better to see them as burgeoning adults, who need to figure out HOW to make good choices.  It’s about the process and not just the outcome.

Focus less on each individual choice they’re making, and more on helping them to think through and weigh out various options.  Because they’re going to leave home at some point (if you–and they–are lucky) and then they’ll be doing all the evaluation on their own.

4)  Don’t be hysterical.

Would you want to talk to someone who was alarmist and freaking out and hypervigilant for any sign of danger?

Pay attention to how you’re presenting yourself.  Even if you don’t feel calm and collected inside, work on projecting that.  Work on being that.

This goes back to #1–These challenges are a normal part of adolescence.  You need to accept that, instead of fighting it.  Instead of fighting your kids.

5)  Collaboration is key.

Adolescence is exhilarating and confusing and frightening and joyous and a million other intense emotions.  Remember your own, and you’ll better empathize with theirs.

This time can be a partnership between you and your teenagers rather than a battle.  You want them to think of you as an ally, not an adversary.

You want to convey this verbally and non-verbally.  It needs to match up: If you’re saying one thing, back it up with action; make sure your facial expressions are congruent with your verbal messages.

You and your teen are in it together, so make the most of it.

Dad and teen photo available from Shutterstock

Being There for Your Teen

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2015). Being There for Your Teen. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Feb 2015
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