Saving The Parent-Teen Relationship


Stacy Hladek

I have recently been talking to one of my close friends regarding parenting struggles he is having with his teenagers.  The topic of protecting the parent-teen relationship in the context of setting boundaries and consequences has come up several times.  I began to think about how to negotiate the boundaries and consequences all families must have to function effectively, within the parent-teen relationship.

In my friend’s case, he is concerned if he is too strict or pushes too hard he will damage the relationship.  However, he has also acknowledged there is a good chance his sons are aware of his fear and use this to their advantage.  On the other hand, my friend understands if he is passive he may give the boys the impression that their behaviors are acceptable or that he does not care about the behaviors or them.  What is a parent to do?

First, like my friend, acknowledge your own stuff.  If you have fears regarding the relationship, what are they?  If you are having other strong emotional reactions, why are these arising?  Is something reminding you of the way you were parented?  Once you take a look at how you are initiating or responding and you label those things, it becomes easier to notice them and begin to address them when they arise within the context of the relationship.  If you are really brave and want even more bang for your buck, share your discoveries with others.  Consider talking about these things with a friend, your spouse, or even with your teenager.  When others see us modeling good communication and self-disclosure, it becomes easier for them to do the same. 

Try to get on the same page with the other parent.  In a large majority of families the parents tend to be on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum.  One will tend towards being very strict and the other will be more passive or lenient.  To further complicate things, when the strict one is overly strict, the more passive parent feels bad for the kids and becomes even more lenient.   The strict parent sees the passive parent as being “too easy” on the kids, so they up the strict factor.  This can be a vicious cycle that is confusing for the kids.  The goal is for both parents to come more to the middle of the spectrum, with more consistent behavior between the two parenting styles.  This has several benefits; it helps the relationship between the two parents and decreases the possibility the kids can divide and conquer. 

Educate yourself on what is developmentally appropriate.  For pre-teens and teens it is normal for them to try to stretch their wings.  They are going to try new things, consider new ideas and challenge what the adults in their lives believe.  This is an important stage that teens go through as they are beginning to develop into their own person.  It says a great deal about the strength of the parent-teen relationship when the teen is willing to practice testing limits and comfort levels in the safety of their home and as part of their relationships with their parents.  Allow them some space to figure out who they are, what they believe, and who they want to become and then be there to provide a soft, safe place to fall, which undoubtedly will happen.    

Really consider the reason behind a rule/boundary.  By the time a typically developing child is in their teens the rules/boundaries for them should be few and far between- just those that ensure safety and adherence to the law.  It is our goal as the adults in their lives to help them to begin to self-monitor and self-enforce more and more with each year of life.  Love and Logic ® puts it well: we are to become more of a consultant to the child the older they become.  It is our job to help them begin to make good decisions on their own.  After all, we are not going to be there to direct them forever. 

There is a huge shift that occurs in most parent-teen relationships when the parents stop directing and come along side as a consultant. Love and Logic ® tells us that consultant-style parenting looks like the following:            

1.)     Remember consultants don’t force their ideas on the other person.  Ask permission to share   some ideas or to help your teen brainstorm some ideas.

2.)    If your teen declines then let them know they are welcome to come ask for some suggestions if they change their minds.

3.)    If they accept your offer, help them to generate a list of options (feel free to add some they may not think of). 

4.)    Prompt the teen to think about how each option would work by saying something like, “How do you think that will work?” or “How will that likely turn out?”

5.)    Allow the teen to try one or more option.  Follow-up by asking them how it worked out for them.  If it did not work, encourage them to pick another option from the list the two of you generated. 

6.)    If needed, offer additional suggestions, but remember to honor the fact the teen may decline your assistance. 


Allow your teen to feel the consequences for their choices.  All too often, we as adults rush to rescue our children from their own choices.  It is important that we allow them to learn from their choices.  When at all possible, allow natural consequences do the teaching.  If there is not a safe natural consequence, use a logical consequence.  Be there to support and love them during and after the consequences, but don’t bail them out.  Avoid saying or implying that you “told them so.”


One final suggestion: be willing to “lose.”  Teens are very good at trying out their newly acquired debating skills.  They also are bent on proving they are correct and the adults are wrong.  This is a typical stage that most teens go through.  My friend recently began taking a class to address parent-child relationships.  He said the whole class basically boils down to this: “Sometimes you have to lose to the child to save the relationship.”  Please don’t take this as being passive or giving in to the child.  Sometimes we have to be willing to admit we are wrong or that there might be a different way to consider/do things.  Take advantage of the fact that your teen is younger, is not yet set in their ways and sees the world in a different way than you do.   


Most importantly, have fun with those teens.  Before you know it they will be adults and no longer under your roof.  Challenging as it may be, enjoy this time with them!  It is one of the toughest, most important and rewarding jobs you will ever do. 

For more suggestions on ways to improve your relationship with your teens,  additional ways to support your family and for other great parenting tips call the Family Support Line at 1-877-695-7996 OR 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Check us out on Facebook at Families First Colorado.  The Family Support Line offers parenting tips, resources and information only and does not serve as legal or mental health advice. We believe you are the paramount person to decide what is best for your family. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First. 

Loving Doris


RoiAnn Phillips

Here is a love letter that will resonate with stepmothers everywhere.  RoiAnn is a parent “By adoption, step, and the skin of my teeth.” She is the author of Are You The Babysitter?  She hopes you will stop by the blog to tell her what you think and to let her know how the journey of parenting is going for you.

Stepparenting: Full with the delight of new discovery and fraught with invisible frustration. For me, anyway. Like a quiet dance with a trip wire. I love my stepdaughter, and I know she loves me. We lived together for years in a smallish house, folding into one another’s rituals and rhythms (or sometimes not), sharing powerful opinions (both verbally and not), and uncovering in the process a host of unspoken hopes which we are now (both) slowly learning to speak aloud.

She is away at college and I miss her fiercely — trip wires, vampire hours and all. I appreciate the small bursts of time we now cobble together for our family. It is rarely easy, but always rich.

I landed in the life of my own stepmom at the ripe age of 21, when I knew everything and nothing, needed no one and everyone, living half a continent away from my family of origin with my feet firmly planted on the west coast and my head in the Midwestern clouds. My stepmom folded me into her life, even from a distance, left me room to grow and demanded to be let into my life, too, over time. When she passed away last year after battling mesothelioma, I was left – am left – lonely for her. I cannot say I lost a parent, and yet I cannot say I did not. She is mine – was mine – as much as anyone else in this world of ours.

Her birthday is less than a week away. Later this month is Christmas, followed by the first anniversary of her death.

In an attempt to make visible this relationship which defies real definition, but which provided a shape for my own choices, my own growth, my own coming out and coming into myself, falling in love and trusting the fall, I scribbled some thoughts to share at her memorial last year.  Because I was unable to fly back the fifth time in a year to attend, my brother-in-law read these thoughts aloud during the service – for which I will forever be truly deeply grateful.  Here is what I said…

Twenty years ago, Doris married my father. Her son and I worried.  They had dated so briefly – were they rushing into this? Did they know what they were doing?  But they did; they were wiser than we thought.  They were soulmates. I know this now.  But at the time, I didn’t know soulmates were real, or possible.   They lived their lives with space between them, with fierce commitment and loyalty, with a respect for one another’s independence, intersecting in all the right spots, encouraging and supporting one another to follow their dreams – even when it meant they had to live in different places for a time.

There was an afternoon I came visiting, maybe three years into Dad and Doris’s marriage, and I’d been staying with them for a few days.  I hadn’t yet been to Santa Clara to see my mom.  Doris came downstairs to tell me it was time to call my mother – however much I was enjoying my time with them (and I was), she was still my mother and I needed to call her, to make a plan to visit.  I was furious.  Of all the people in the universe who could bawl me out for not calling my mother – it’s my stepmother who comes downstairs and actually delivers the message.  And she was not to be contradicted, let me tell you.  It took me hours to speak to her again, I was so angry.  But she was right.  I called my mother.  This is the only fight we ever had, Doris and I.  I finally understood what she meant about family.  Family is family. Nothing is more important than family. We don’t choose our family, but they’re ours – no matter what.

Later when she moved to Texas and built her office from scratch, after the carpet was down and her team was assembled, I remember she introduced me to everyone as her daughter.  They were confused, because they knew she had a son and a daughter and they’d met them already, or at least seen pictures.  Or maybe they were confused because they couldn’t quite see the family resemblance.  But she let them live with their confusion.  She had claimed me, and didn’t feel the need to explain further.  Our family is full of contradictions and potential for confusion, with its layers of “step” and multiple ethnicities.  Some of us chose one another, some of us came along for the ride, and some of us were born into it.  But we all belong to one another now.  Because Doris and Dad made it so.

I know that she has been a mentor to so many people – that her wisdom, and her commitment to justice, and the way she stands tall and takes space on this planet are the things she’ll be remembered for today – and I remember her for these, too, and hope to help impart some of this to my daughters – but for me, personally, it’s the sense of belonging I’ll remember her for – because of all the people in my life, she’s the first one who made that feel real, and possible – something we create for each other and for ourselves.

I love you, Doris, and I always will.  You have helped me become who I am.

Your courage and your grace: Helping so many young women and men find their place on this planet, and hold it, and fill it with all they have and all they are.

Thank you, and Happy Birthday.

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