Top 10 Tips for Parenting Teens

By: Laurie L. Dove

The teenage years can be among the most difficult for both children and parents, but open communication and relating to your teen can ease the tension. See more parenting pictures.
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It's enough to make any parent pause. Teenagers -- often painted as rebellious and irresponsible -- are at the difficult end stage you must pass through when raising your child into adulthood. Even confident parents are warned about the teenage years as if they create an unavoidable battleground between parent and child [source: Evans]. Fortunately, as many parents will attest, this doesn't always have to be the case. With the right perspective, parenting teenagers -- with all their energy and ideas -- can be a joy as well as a challenge.

Understanding the impetus behind teenage behavior can make all the difference. There are a number of developmental changes at work as your teenager prepares to enter adulthood. Even though it might have been a while since you were a teenager and experienced those changes yourself, being able to relate to your teen and knowing what motivates them is key.


If you're willing to consider -- and possibly change -- the way you think and react, you may be able to experience life with your teenager in a positive way. Can it really be that simple? We spell it all out for you, next.

10: Develop Mutual Trust

If your teenager suddenly becomes forgetful when asked details about friends or school, don't fret. Despite the mumbled, monosyllabic answers, your teen wants -- and needs -- to connect with you.

Sometimes your teen needs you to temporarily step away from your management role and begin to act more as a consultant. Embracing your new position will pave the way for mutual trust. Sure, you'll still set limits for your teen, but you'll also do a lot of listening [source: Wolf]. Even if the truth is not easy to hear, your job is to stay calm. Why? If you freak out, your teen will clam up and you won't gain valuable information for future decisions. For example, if three months earlier your teen admitted her friend missed curfew by four hours, you'll know that you should monitor any sleepovers at this friend's house.


The subtleties behind your parenting strategy should be paired with clearly communicated ground rules. Clear boundaries build trust and make transitions easier -- whether it's from middle to high school or from high school to college. When a teenager is the product of a consistent, calm and disciplined environment, it breeds security, self-esteem and good decision-making. The byproduct of these qualities is trust.

Rest assured, your teen will probably violate your trust at some point. But keep it in perspective. A lie or two doesn't necessarily indicate a crisis and shouldn't be extrapolated into a pattern for adulthood. Teens live (and make their mistakes) in the moment [source: Riera].

9. Teach Dollars and Sense

Equip your teenager with financial skills and you'll be ahead of the curve. A 2008 survey among high school students revealed decade-low scores for financial literacy [source: PACFL].

Many teenagers have lofty financial expectations, such as thinking they'll earn six-figure incomes the moment they graduate. However, the survey showed that only 26 percent even understand how credit card fees work. Even fewer teens know whether using a high-fee check-cashing service is a good idea [source: PACFL].


This lack of financial know-how, when paired with unrealistic earning expectations, is a recipe for debt. But you can head off trouble with some smart tactics. For example, pay household bills with your teen -- he may be shocked to discover the impact of property taxes. You could also give him $50, a sizable grocery list and instructions not to overspend. He'll discover cost-saving store brands and other ways to best use the money.

If your teen has a part-time job, budgeting should be a natural progression. If you've decided your teen should forgo a job to concentrate on school, you may want to offer a base allowance with the option to earn additional income for extra projects [source: Kristof].

When a teen handles money, it teaches two valuable skills: budgeting for the future and identifying "needs" -- a concept that gets murky when it comes to concert tickets and designer jeans. Remember, it's OK if your teen's priorities are different than yours, but he should develop a spending plan. It will help him understand he can get expensive things -- if he's willing to save over time.

Is a cell phone a "want" or a "need"? Find out on the next page.

8: Embrace Technology

A cell phone can help you stay in touch with your teen, but you should still monitor how and when it's being used.
A cell phone can help you stay in touch with your teen, but you should still monitor how and when it's being used.
Tanya Constantine/Getty Images

There are many good reasons to provide your teenager with a mobile telephone. For starters, it can help you stay connected. It's easier to text your child at 10 a.m. than it is to track down her whereabouts by calling all her friends' parents. If your teenager is now able to drive, she can call when she reaches her destination. In these and other ways, mobile telephones offer a sense of security.

But before you begin to rest easy, make sure you enact some safety measures [source: Direnfeld]. Teenagers have a firm grasp of technology: They can set passwords on their phones so you can't access their texts or e-mails. And because teens usually keep their phones within arm's reach, you may never realize your child is getting texts or phone calls in the middle of the night.


Remember, it's OK to insist that you know your teen's passwords. Plus, many cell phone providers offer parental controls that can set limits, so you could decide that your teen's phone can't send or receive texts or calls past 9 p.m. on a school night.

With technology comes responsibility, and teens don't always understand the ramifications of impulsive actions. Take the time to discuss online safety, such as why it's not a good idea to send an explicit message or photo, or to befriend people your teen doesn't know in real life.

Now that your teen has a cell phone, is it time for some parental espionage? Find out, next.

7: Track, but Don't Spy

The idea of activating a Global Positioning System tracker in your teen's cell phone may have you giddy with excitement. No more worries about where exactly your teen is spending his time when he's not under your roof.

Unfortunately, this "electronic umbilical cord" is all too easy to sever. Teenagers are quite adept at manipulating technology, especially when it allows them to assert more independence [source: Direnfeld]. Although it's certainly not a foolproof plan, your teen could simply leave his phone at a friend's house while enjoying a night out on the town.


The truth is that technology cannot compensate for good judgment. This is all the more reason to build a foundation of mutual trust with your teenager, while at the same time encouraging transparency. As a parent, you should know your child's passwords, for his phone and for any associated e-mail accounts or social media sites such as Facebook. Assure your teen that you're not going to play Sherlock Holmes; these are simply non-negotiable safety measures.

In addition, remind your teen not to share his passwords, even with a best friend [source: Silver-Stock]. Talk about the bad situations that can arise from sharing passwords. Because teenagers live in the moment, it can be useful to point out the potential ramifications of seemingly innocent events. It also helps your teenager build self-confidence, a feat we explore in detail on the next page.

6: Cultivate Interests, Ease Peer Pressure

Let your teenager try out different activities -- such as sports, music or art -- so she can explore her interests and discover her strengths.
Let your teenager try out different activities -- such as sports, music or art -- so she can explore her interests and discover her strengths.
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

The best way to combat peer pressure? Help your teen cultivate his interests. A teen with a strong sense of self is more likely to make the right decision in difficult, pressured moments [source: Domitrz]. Conversely, if a teen has low self-esteem, he is more likely to change his behavior to please others -- even if it means lowering his standards in a dangerous or unhealthy way.

Even if your teen isn't the outgoing type who eagerly pursues his interests, you can put him on the right path. Teens who have a history of getting into trouble should be encouraged to get involved in structured recreational and creative activities such as common-interest clubs [source: Direnfield].


A good rule of thumb is that your teen should be involved in at least one group, sport or club each semester of high school. Why is this so important in warding off peer pressure? Time spent doing these activities is time not spent getting into trouble with peers. Plus, these activities help teens discover their passions and, in large part, pressure-proof their identities.

If you'd really like to give your teen some perspective, consider an extended vacation -- even if it's during the school year. With a bit of planning, assignments can be coordinated with destinations. For example, a history lecture may soon be forgotten, but a walk through the Colosseum in Rome likely will not. In addition to bonding as a family, your teen will get a break -- and some perspective -- on teen pressures [source: MacNeille].

5: Say 'No' to the Fashion Police

It's a fine line: You don't want to control your teen's every fashion move, but then again, sometimes you do.

Teens are especially willing to explore changes to their clothing or appearance, often in response to -- or against -- peer pressure [source: Alexander]. Your role is to guide your teen's choices, without becoming the fashion police.


Begin by doing a little soul-searching. If you don't want your teenager to wear clothing you consider "odd," then figure out why you feel this way. If your teen is selecting her clothing for its "barely there" fabrics, then it's time to institute a family dress code. On the other hand, some experts recommend that if you don't like your teen's fashion sense simply because you think it reflects poorly on you or your family as a whole, you should consider making a few compromises.

Why should you consider this more hands-off approach? The clothing choices made by teenagers are closely bound to their self-concepts, so they use fashion as a means of self-expression. If you've ever noticed your teenager wearing certain styles to fit a theme (like donning a sweatshirt and distressed blue jeans to watch a basketball game), it's their way of feeling more confident and capable in varied situations [source: Piacentini]. Clothing is an essential social tool for teenagers. Wearing varied styles helps a teen "try on" different aspects of her personality. It's not much different from dating, as we explain on the next page.

4: Your Teen Should Date Mr./Ms. 'Right Now'

Many parents can attest that their children have had "girlfriends" or "boyfriends" since the second grade. But during the teenage years, dating takes on a whole new meaning [source: Whitaker].

Before your teen begins to date, discuss a few expectations. The guidelines you establish now could have a long-standing impact on behavior that stretches well into adulthood. For example, high school juniors and seniors who have a serious romantic relationship are 50 percent more likely to get married or live with their partner before age 25. Depending on their beliefs and their child's maturity, some parents prefer for their teens not to have such serious relationships at a young age. Many experts recommend encouraging your teenager to date Mr. or Ms. "Right Now" -- as opposed to a more serious relationship -- in hopes that she will continue to develop friendships and lighthearted dating relationships for a longer period of time before "settling down" [source: Harris].


In addition to talking openly about sexual pressures and limits, talk about the boy/girl roles that sometimes play out in teenage relationships. Physical, emotional and verbal abuse by dating partners is a very real concern. Help your teen understand the warning signs.

A power imbalance also can come into play as your teen makes plans for the future. Talk with your teen about college and what he may choose for a career. It doesn't matter if you don't come up with any solid answers, as long as your teen understands that his decision should be made independently.

3: Curfews Build Confidence

Curfews are important for obvious reasons. Not only do they allow parents to get a little sleep, but they also protect teenagers from the dangers that seem to occur more frequently after midnight.

Although teenagers typically dislike time limits and will sometimes ignore them, curfews are still a "must have" rule. Curfews set boundaries, build confidence and reinforce a culture of respect within your family [source: Wolf].


Rather than setting a relatively random time for your teen's curfew, get them involved. This is one household limit that will work better if it is realistic and based on your teen's input.

Even if you jointly decide on an 11 p.m. curfew, it's OK to compromise if your teen occasionally has a good reason to ask for an extension [source: Kuczmarski]. Ideally, this compromise should be made ahead of time. If your teen calls 30 minutes before her curfew's up and begs to spend the night at a friend's house, there may be trouble afloat.

If your teenager does come home past curfew without permission, give her the chance to explain. Sometimes it will make sense; other times it won't. Either way, help her figure out what she could do differently next time. Even if she has a plausible reason, there should be a consequence. Decide in advance if you will restrict driving privileges, turn off texting or ban the TV. If alcohol or drugs are involved, the severity of consequences should be more serious.

Communicating with your teen about limits is good practice for putting them behind the wheel. Find out why on the next page.

2: Encourage Drive Time

In the United States, vehicle crashes are the main single cause of teenage deaths [source: NHTSA].

Learning safe driving skills could save a teen's life. In many states, before being issued a learner's permit, teenagers are required to take a driver's education course that combines classroom and driving time. If there isn't a driver's education program nearby, you can order instructional DVDs, streaming videos and mock testing materials online [source: Teen Driving Course].


If you've decided to teach your teen how to drive, he should ride shotgun and narrate all your actions. Then, tell your teen to do the same from behind the wheel. Narrating actions as they happen -- like "checking rearview mirror" or "activating left turn signal 200 yards (182 meters) before intersection" -- ingrain the driving process. Your teen is creating a collection of automatic responses, much like an athlete creates "muscle memory" by practicing the same moves again and again [source: Kuczmarski].

Teaching your teen basic mechanics may save you money. A teenager who understands an engine needs oil to operate is less likely to drive around with flashing warning indicators. Your teen should also know how to change a tire (not just in theory, but in practice).

Increase your teen's survival odds by enacting a strict "don't call/don't text" policy during drive time and by insisting stereo levels stay low enough to hear ambient traffic noise. You should limit the number of ride-alongs, too; the risk of fatal injury for teenage drivers increases with each passenger [source: Chen].

1: Save Your Breath

If your teenager breaks a house rule, gets a D in geometry or saunters in two hours after curfew, chances are you're going to feel like yelling -- or launching into a long-winded lecture at the very least.

Your child doesn't really learn much from these moments -- at least, not anything good. What they do discover is that if they push your buttons you'll lose control. And now they know exactly what will put you over the edge.

When you yell or lecture, your child also learns how to tune you out. This happens in one of two ways: Your teen stops paying attention (even if you're 5 inches from his face) or he starts screaming right back [source: Vedral]. The result? No one is listening and, more than likely, this behavior is bound to repeat.

Try a strategy that gets more meaningful results. Plant a positive look on your face, and keep it there. Even when you're not happy with something your teen has -- or hasn't -- done. It may sound simple, but it sets the tone for the entire exchange. Keep your voice low, and listen more than you talk.

When you exact discipline, try to focus on meaningful consequences that are relative to the size of the rule that was broken. In general, the penalty for not taking out the trash should be less severe than the penalty for borrowing your car without permission [source: Lehman].

If you do find yourself in a shouting match, stop immediately. Explain that you don't like what is happening and leave the room to cool off. In this moment, you're teaching a coping skill. And that's really the point of parenting a teenager. Your goal is to equip your teenager with strategies he will successfully use the rest of his life.

Learn more about parenting and dealing with teenagers by visiting the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Alexander, Rose. "10 Teen Fashion Tips for Concerned Parents." July 27, 2007.
  • Chen, L.H., et al. "Carrying Passengers as a Risk Factor for Crashes Fatal to 16- and 17-year-old Drivers." The Journal of the American Medical Association. 283, 12. 1578. March 22, 2000.
  • Cohen, Deborah, et al. "When and Where Do Youths Have Sex?" Pediatrics: The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 110, 6. 66. December 2002.
  • Direnfeld, Gary. "Challenging Teens." Feb. 3, 2010.
  • Direnfeld, Gary. "Challenging Teens." Feb. 3, 2010.
  • Domitrz, Mike. "May I Kiss You?" Awareness Publications. 2003.
  • Evans, Christine. "Parenteen: Parenting Defiant and Crazy Teens with Love and Logic." Self-help Publishers. 2009.
  • Harris, Kathleen Mullan. "The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), Waves I & II, 1994-1996; Wave III, 2001-2002; Wave IV, 2007-2009." Chapel Hill, NC: Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • "Technology Aids Parents in Keeping Teen Drivers Safe." Feb. 2, 2010.
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  • MacNeille, Suzanne. "Travel with Teenagers: Options for Taking the Sullen Set Along." The New York Times. May 21, 2006.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Youth Traffic Safety Statistics." Feb, 4, 2010.
  • Pediatrics. "When and Where Do Youths Have Sex? The Potential Role of Adult Supervision." 110, 6. 66. December 2002.
  • Piacentini, Maria, et al. "Symbolic Consumption in Teenagers' Clothing Choices." Journal of Consumer Behaviour. 3, 3. 251-262. March 2004.
  • President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. "2008 Annual Report to the President." 2008.
  • Riera, Michael. "Staying Connected to Your Teenager: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They're Really Saying." De Capo Press. 2003.
  • Silver-Stock, Carrie. "The Secrets Girls Keep." HCI Teens. 2009
  • "Driver Education." Feb. 4, 2010.
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