Early Teen (age 13-15 years)
Parenting an early teen is a lot like parenting a toddler in some ways. The developmental stage is all about moving toward independence, not always gracefully or responsibly.
We can't change our child's basic personality, and the outside environment has a profound effect, from peers to school to media. But how we parent makes the critical difference in how our teen acts, from how rebellious he is to whether she throws emotional tantrums, from whether he gets enough sleep to how studious she is.
If we can manage our own emotions, extend respect, offer appropriate freedom, and maintain intimacy and communication -- a tall order for most parents -- we can be pleasantly surprised by how rewarding the teen years can be. The rewards are huge, as we watch our child transform and blossom in front of our eyes.
In This Section
Your game plan for navigating adolescence with minimum drama and maximum connection.
It's appropriate for teens to want to spend more time with their peers than their parents as they get older, but kids who are well grounded in their families will respond well to parents' efforts to stay connected. And parents who have bonded adequately with their children at each earlier stage will feel invested enough in their teens to stay connected, even if a lot of effort is required. It’s critical, during the teen years, for parents to remain their children’s emotional and moral compass.
The teen years are notoriously challenging for parents. Much like the toddler years, kids sometimes seem intent on doing exactly the opposite of what we ask, for some of the same reasons: Their job now is to find their sea legs as a person, to shape an identity, to sort out what's important to them. Their integrity would be compromised by simply doing what we ask because we ask it. They need to believe it's the right thing for THEM.
My Aha! Parenting moment this week came when my almost 14 year old daughter had some friends over for a sleepover. Now, this was the second night in a row of sleepovers, which is not something we normally do. I agreed reluctantly, after extracting several promises from my daughter...
More on Early Teens
Much of the same advice applies that was true when he was a toddler: Reconnect every day, and don't wait when you see there's repair work to be done.
Parents of teenagers frequently tell me that they no longer know how to connect with their children. I asked Elyse Suter, who had recently graduated from college and was working as my assistant, to write an article for the Aha! website with teen-tested ideas for parents.
The more frequently teens eat dinner with their families the better they do in school, the happier they say they are, and the less likely they are to get involved with drugs, alcohol, sex, or vandalism. Don't expect your teen to open up a lot at the dinner table, but use it as a foundation for your relationship, so he or she WILL open up to you during those car rides, or late-night talks that teens seem to love.
Even if you could hover over your child and help him navigate every obstacle, it wouldn't be good for him. He has to use his own judgment and draw on his own internal resources now.
Most tweens and teens regretfully report that there are things about which they can’t talk with their parents, because their parents on’t listen, won’t understand, or will over-react. But believe it or not, there are parents whose kids who talk to them, and even ask their advice, even as teenagers. This web site is dedicated to the possibility that you could be one of those parents.
Bullying is preventable, and you can bully-proof your child -- and keep him from becoming a bully.
It's a big world out there. When your child was a baby or toddler, you were always there, or you left your child in the care of a trusted, nurturing adult. But as your child gets older, you'll be holding his or her hand less and less. You're bound to worry a bit about safety. And when kids begin to navigate the sidewalks or even public transit themselves, it can be positively nerve-wracking.
Parents are the most important influence on whether kids drink alcohol, and the earlier you start these conversations, the better. Kids whose parents teach them the risks of using drugs and alcohol are half as likely to use them. Don't wait until your kids are teens before you have these conversations. This is a topic you'll want to revisit over the years as your child reaches new levels of understanding -- and temptation.
I often get questions from parents unconvinced of the effectiveness of my parenting techniques. They ask questions like: “Does this stuff really work?” and “How do kids learn about consequences if they aren't punished?” Here is a piece by a real teen about her infractions, how her parents responded, and the effect on her moral and emotional development.
The only leverage we ever really have with our children is their love for us. It's never too late to build a great relationship with your child.
Some psychologists think values are impossible to teach, and it is certainly true that telling kids to be more honest, or diligent, or considerate, doesn’t work any better than telling adults to be. But if values are impossible to teach, they are too important to leave to chance.
A worldwide WHO study in 2016 found that teen girls are generally less happy than teen boys, with 15 year old girls being the least happy of all. They were the most likely to report a decline in their well-being, and on average, one in five reported poor or fair health. They also displayed an increased dissatisfaction with their bodies, "despite actual levels of overweight and obesity remaining stable.”
Plus Don't Miss the Book Recommendations at the Parenting Teens Books Link!
The X Plan
Every teenager needs a safety net like the X plan. It's simple. Any time your child texts an X to you, you immediately text or call them to say "Something's come up and I have to come and get you right now. I'll tell you about it when I get there. Please get ready to go. I will be there in ten minutes."
They can also use this when they ask for permission to do something, like in the text exchange at left. That's your signal to say "Oops, Sweetie, I completely forgot. You can't go tonight. I'm sorry. No, absolutely not. I'll explain when I see you."
Later, no punishment, no blame, no shame.
If kids ask the next day what the big emergency was (which mostly they won't), your teen can simply say "You know my mom....everything's an emergency." If pushed, he can say "I can't really talk about it...family stuff. But thanks for caring about me." And change the subject.
(See this post by Bert Fulks for more on the X Plan.)