Strategies for Parenting Teens

Strategies for Parenting Teens: A Brief Parenting Workshop [This is a handout from an old parenting workshop from way back in my Families First days.]

I. Introduction

II. Opening Stories: Dealing with Yourself First
1. How will you stay calm? The answer to this question is surprisingly simple. Managing emotions doesn’t require years of psychotherapy. It requires the following components.
2. A plan for dealing with your anger/emotions.
3. Rehearsing and practicing of the plan repeatedly, before, during, and after you face situations that trigger your anger.

III. Amazing Parenting Strategies

A. Adopt a New Best Attitude: There is one attitude that, if you’re able to adopt it, will help you respond in a more constructive way to all children. I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but, here it is:


1. If you look forward to teen’s outbursts, you’ll be able to deal with them in a more positive and graceful way.
2. If you look forward to teen’s outbursts, you can use them as an opportunity for emotional education.
3. If you look forward to teen’s outbursts, you can use them as an opportunity for greater intimacy. Think about the nightmare analogy.

B. Approach Teens Gently, Empathically, and With The Desire to Comfort Them: Being a teenager sucks. If you recall, your body is in turmoil, everybody is staring at you, and your friends are inconsistent and judgmental. Therefore, we should try to be the sort of parent who is a pillar of strength and support and not a big source of criticism and punishment.

C. Use Boring Punishment: Often we get this backwards and end up yelling at our kids, rather than making the punishment boring. Behavior modification principles suggest that we should be exciting when delivering praise or rewards.

D. Get Curious, Not Furious. Just like in the children’s story about the lion and the mouse, there will almost always be some form of distress under teen’s anger or agitation. As you approach gently, with your new positive attitude, think about what might be underneath your teen’s anger. Is she hurt? Is he upset about not getting what he wants? Is she trying to manipulate you into getting what she wants? Is he just blowing off steam?

E. It IS possible to have both empathy for your teen’s feelings AND to set limits on his/her behavior. For example, you can say, “I can see you’re very upset because you can’t go out tonight.” This statement contains both empathy AND a statement of the limit that you’re setting. Many teens throw tantrums to obtain power and control. Therefore, you should always abide by the following rule:


F. Use Encouragement: Praise is a great tool for shaping your teen’s behavior, but try to avoid relying exclusively on praise . . . instead, try using encouragement. For example, after your child handles a difficult situation gracefully, instead of saying, “That was great” try saying, “I noticed you kept your cool.” The magic of encouragement occurs because, by not giving specific praise, you give your child the opportunity to conclude himself or herself that the behavior you noticed was good. And often it’s more important for your child to evaluate his/her own behavior than to always have to look to you for approval or praise. Character feedback is another form of encouragement.

G. Use Grandma’s Rule: This strategy involves using the language, “When You, Then You.” For example, you might say, after having empathy for your child’s upset feelings, “When you calm down, then we can get ready to go to the park.” The key to this strategy is to keep your language perfectly clear.

H. Use Mutual Problem-Solving: Too often parents feel like it’s totally their responsibility to solve their child’s problems. This involves unilateral problem-solving and it doesn’t really teach your teen anything but that she/he should rely on you. Instead, try engaging your child in mutual problem-solving.

IV. Looking to the Future: Four Key Questions

To make sure you’re staying focused and effective, it helps to ask yourself the following four questions (from Choice Theory – William Glasser and Robert Wubbolding).

A. What do you want?
B. What are you doing?
C. Is it working?
D. Should you make a new plan?

For more detailed information on these and other parenting strategies, go to:



2 thoughts on “Strategies for Parenting Teens”

  1. John,

    I can’t believe the timing for receiving this email/blog.

    We are currently going through this with one of our twin boys.

    Turning 13 in May.

    Many thanks for your clarity on this subject that is so “in our face”. J

    Nancy Timmins Bishop

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