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!


  • Monica L. Matthews

    This is awesome Bruce!  Funny, yet truthful and written with lots of meaning.  We’re struggling with our 2nd teen, who is SO different than his older brother.  What has really helped is talking to other parents who have already gone through raising teens and who now are grandparents.  “Hang in there and keep loving him,” they tell me.  “Stand your ground and then don’t let him see you crying in the bathroom” is another favorite.  🙂

    • Bruce Sallan

      Yes Monica! YES! I hope you’ll come to our #DadChat on Thursdays. We have a GREAT community of parents there!

  • Brian Vickery

    I think this was one of your best posts yet, Bruce. Chock full of great suggestions throughout. And I enjoy the cartoons interspersed throughout.

    We probably grayed the lines when it came to best parent/best friend, but we had the luxury of home-schooling our kids thru 7th-8th grade, and I telecommuted throughout. Been fairly smooth sailing other than a few hormonal times ;). And the daughters are *definitely* different from each other. We are just muddling our way through it all calling upon each other for support and counsel – that’s why we have that coffee time twice a day!!

    • Bruce Sallan

      I home-schooled my older son 6th-7th! Wow, that’s a nice overlap, BV. Coffee time together (with your wife) is a wonderful idea to regularly discuss and check your activities vis-a-vis your kids! See you at #DadChat Thursday, I hope!

  • Sixty Second Parent

    I  am not there yet thank goodness – only have a 10 year old….

    • Bruce Sallan

      Just YOU wait, as Eliza Doolittle says in “My Fair Lady!” – lol…

  • Azmomofmanyhats

    I agree with all five of your suggestions.  Our kids need to know that we will always cheer for their success earned with integrity and character, but in those moments that they stumble, we still love them. 

    We never give up on them or on our job as a parent.  We need to talk with other parents, our parents and often professionals as sounding boards and “sometime” advice sources. However, I would add, that we should never assume that someone else’s method will automatically work with our child – each child is different, even within our own families.  

    Our kids need limits.  If they don’t have limits, the are in the constant free-fall never knowing when they will hit bottom. Without knowing the limits and finding boundaries they will be trying to find a landing spot, but floating aimlessly because they have no sense of direction.  

    Just like each kid is different, each family is different. Even if their friend REALLY does get to do something that you have set a boundary on – your family is different and your reasons for setting the limit is different than the other family’s reason. 

    And lastly – parent always always wins the coin toss.  They will have many many friends throughout their lifetime.  They will only have you as mom or dad. 

    Great post as always. 


    • Bruce Sallan

      I so agree about not assuming or thinking on method will work for all (kids), Angie! And, we obviously agree on limits. I just wish my wife didn’t put me on limits, too! Great thoughts…thx so much!

  • Azmomofmanyhats

    One more thought….It’s a much harder transition to try to be their parent after always trying to be their friend, than it is to be their friend when they are older after you have done your best at being their parent. 

    • Bruce Sallan

      Which is why I ALWAYS say OUR job is to be their Best parent, NOT their best friend!

  • periwinkleyears

    Great suggestions Bruce! Just entered the teen years with my daughter and each day is a surprise. Up and down. Boundaries are key, as well as constant reminders to the teen of the impact of their words and actions on you as a parent. Never too young to be taught a little empathy, I say. And always remind them that you love them, even when they are being a challenge.


    • Bruce Sallan

      Thx Angie and best of luck. “They” say teen girls are harder these days. I tend to think it’s just different issues and problems! Pls come to #DadChat some Thursday…it’s a great community of dads AND moms!

  • jetts31

    The best rule. Be their parent. Not their friend. I see too many parents who want to be buddies with their kids instead of their parent. I have enough friends, I don’t need my kids to be my friend.  
    And my mom and dad worked and still had time to kick my butt whenever it needed it.  Having to work can be used as a crutch by parents.

    • Bruce Sallan

      You bet Jimmy…that is why one of my favorite sayings is “Be their BEST Parent, not their best friend!”

  • Clare Jordan2

    Wow virtually no real advice at all. And a shocking site for global generalisations of the worst kind. Thank goodness my bright gentle responsible son will largely be spared such drivel being raised by a high income earning, professional happily unmarried academic woman. The sixties indeed – grow a brain.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words, Clare. You might want to note the other comments as NONE have the vitriol of yours. What does that say (about you)?

      • Betsy Cross

        HAHA! Bruce! You make me laugh!

        • Bruce Sallan

          I had to rewrite my first – instinctual – response, Betsy! lol…

          • Betsy Cross

            Aw!! I love when people shoot from the hip! Someday you’ll have to share the original! I’m sure it’s a classic!

          • Bruce Sallan

            Lol…I think it will remain unshared, BC!

  • Betsy Cross

    I remember when our oldest turned 12 and a psychologist friend said to me,”Betsy, it’s obvious that you’ve never had a teenager before!” I was shocked and humbled.I tell them all the time, “You are free to choose my consequences every day.” My 13 yr-old asks me all the time what I’d do if (fill in the blank), and I answer that the greatest punishment will be my disappointment….and then I throw in all the other stuff. And I always follow through. We laugh a lot, and they like me. They’re even getting a lot bigger than me! But what I say goes. They listen and would do anything for me. I think that’s because they know I know where I stand. I praise them genuinely for their efforts in everything and keep the negative feedback light with an ego escape hatch for them. To me we’re all a bunch of kids, I’m just the one who wears the parent hat. I’m new at it with every one of mine that brings me new challenges. And I rarely get it right. Either I apologize when that happens or I never let them know!

    • Bruce Sallan

      My wife says I’m the biggest kid of all in our house, Betsy. LOVE your phrase, “ego escape hatch” – mind if I use it sometime?

      • Betsy Cross

        LOL! Go right ahead. Make sure you show me the link. I need a good laugh!

  • Pingback: Opposite Sex Friends on #dadchat, Teens | What's New | A Dad's Point Of View |

  • Miranda Thompson

    I can agree with the majority of this article. It’s tough to be both a teen and a parent. I can really appreciate the hardwork that parents put in for their children.

    My name is Miranda Thompson and I’m 16 years old. Being a peer mediator and talking with kids my age makes me realize a lot of the issues families are having. I’d like to do my best to help by offering honest and personalized answers to some of parents pressing questions about their teenagers. Having an unsteady relationship is stressful and I can offer advice on how to make it easier in either a video format or an email. If anyone is interested you can email me at [email protected] and I will respond as soon as possible(:

    • Bruce Sallan

      Only 16 Miranda and that articulate in writing? Impressive! Write me: [email protected]