How to RULE Your Unruly Teenager

Category: Families & Generations, Weekly Columns


When they say, “What goes around, comes around” they must have had me in mind. That’s because I gave my parents a certain degree of difficulty during my teen years. Now, I have double that trouble, since I have two teens at home. The good news is that one of them will be heading off to college in six months. The bad news is that the one left behind is as or more difficult than his older college-bound brother.

My mom always said that familiar parenting saying, expressed differently by so many people, which went something like, “The aliens took you (when I became a teen) and returned you sometime in your mid-twenties.” But, on looking back, I tend to think my rebelliousness was a lot milder than that of my two boys and a lot milder than what I read about and hear from my friends regarding their own kids.

Part of the reason it may have been milder is that times were easier, roles were more clearly defined, boys were allowed to be boys, girls enjoyed being girls, and we could actually look to our schools for some leadership. Now, mom and dad go in to defend their children over their kid’s indiscretions, where in the past mom and dad would have spanked their child and totally supported the teachers and/or principals at school.

The why of this change is not the purpose of this column but I’ll leave you with my one glaring thought on the reason for this change: The Sixties. I often say that the ONLY thing good to come out of the sixties was the music. I still stand by that!

Whereas I had a stay at home mom, who took the job of being my mom quite seriously, too many children have too little parental supervision. We all know the demographic changes that have taken place in the past decades. We all know how many single parent households now exist. And, if we’re honest, we all know that these changes are largely not for the better. Naturally, exceptions abound in both directions, but kids are growing up faster with more access to things that take away their innocence and impact their childhood.

The irony of all this access is that so many kids seem less mature, less independent, and slower to mature. This may also be a result of the demographic changes in which so many households have dual-working parents. The compensation many parents do is materialistic. They get their kids things rather than give them time.

The result is we have teenagers that are more active sexually, see more film and television with questionable content and values, listen to music that would have been banned in my childhood, and can find anything about anything just on their cell-phones. Maybe there’s good to this, but I see a lot of not so good.

My older son went through a very scary and dangerous period. He came out of that period relatively unscathed and, thankfully, is heading off to his ONE college of choice this fall. But, he put us through the ringer. I had him write about that journey and he said I could publish his story later this spring…and I will. Let’s just say he was a pill.

You are waiting for my answers to control your ruly teen, aren’t you? Ever heard of the term “Bait and switch?” Well, I’m not exactly going to do that, but I will say that I have no hard and fast solutions, though I will share some suggestions.

Don’t Give Up: Those three words really apply to every struggle any one of us faces, but I declare that a difficult teenager will test a parent’s tenacity and patience like just about nothing else.

Seek Counsel: Don’t deal with whatever your particular struggles are alone. Talk to other parents, talk to the counselors at school, get your own family therapist, but reach out. You are NOT alone.

Set Limits: If you have to, ground your kid, take away their computer and other devices, monitor all that they are doing, don’t let them drive, etc. Most importantly, don’t feel sorry for them when they’ve earned such punishments and never relent and back-pedal!.

Do Not Care What Their Friends Say: How often do parents hear from their children what their friends are allowed to do that they are not allowed to do? Who cares? It’s your home, your family, and your rules! Stick to them!

Be Their Best Parent Rather than Their Best Friend: This is one of those things that have changed in my lifetime. Since when did parents think they had to be their kids’ friends? Since the sixties, of course. That is NOT your job.

Every kid is different. Every situation has its own challenges. I hope you’ll consider employing some or all of the above thoughts. I also hope you’ll come to #DadChat, where dads and moms gather every Thursday and share their hopes, dreams, and lessons learned!