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Parenting teenagers – Navigating the turbulent waters, on the journey to independence

By Karin Grobler

There is the age-old joke stating that Abraham was probably willing to sacrifice Isaac because he was a teenager.

Parenting a teenager presents the parent with a new set of challenges, different from those of the childhood years. This is because in the teenage years adolescents often begin to push against boundaries. Developmentally, this is normal and appropriate because they are becoming more concerned about their peers’ response, or opinion of them, than that of their parents.

This is something to celebrate, because it means that your child has the courage to start becoming independent. Surely you do not want them to remain dependant on you for the rest of your lives? You will also not be there to protect them for the rest of their lives. Your role is to teach them the skills necessary to become responsible adults.

But, navigating the rough waters towards the island of independence with them takes skill. These skills are all important and are not mentioned in order of importance.

1. The skill of positive intent

Choose to believe the best about the reason why your child behaves in a certain way. Try to understand the needs they are trying to satisfy, instead of focusing on their behaviour. Try to think of a positive reason why they could be behaving like they are. For example, when they stay out later than you agreed upon on a Saturday night, could it be that they were having a lot of fun and forgot to check the time? What difference will it make to your reaction if you stay calm and choose to see it in this light instead of seeing it as disobedient or disrespectful?

2. The skill of self-management (regulation)

Understand your own emotions and needs and the things that trigger you. Stay calm, or take a break until you are calm, before you react to your teenager’s behaviour.

3. The skill of empathy and compassion

To have empathy we must consider that our teenager might look at things from a different angle (perspective) than we do. All of us look at a situation with our own life experiences, our values, and needs in mind. If we aim for a good relationship with our teen, we will be willing to listen¹ to how they experience life, what their fears are, what the pressures (peer pressure) are that they are experiencing, what they value and what their needs are. If we listen to hear and to understand we can have empathy and compassion. Be willing to change your perspective if the situation is not a core value disagreement.

4. The skill to communicate² our own needs in an assertive but non-aggressive way.

This requires self-awareness and a willingness to “do the work” to reflect on my own needs. Example – “I need rest, I will appreciate it if you can take the laundry off the line.”

5. The skill of Choice

Giving positive choices. Example - “You can go to the party on Saturday night, or sleep over with your friend on Friday, because we need some connection time as a family and therefore, you can choose one social event for the weekend." – then make sure that you have connection time in a way that fulfils both of your needs.

6. The skill of setting boundaries and communicating pre-negotiated consequences.

To set an effective boundary³, one must know what the preferred outcome is. It is pre-negotiated. You must also communicate the consequences when setting the boundary, so that it is clear. Example – “If you come home late again (if this is an expected behaviour), you will not be able to go out next weekend.” The key to setting boundaries and consequences is that you think it through carefully, and that it is reasonable for the offence. Natural consequences are always better if possible. Refrain from rescuing if a natural consequence occurs.

7. The skill of noticing and connecting

Make sure you take time to notice when your teen behaves in a way that is helpful and co-operative and takes your needs into consideration. Mention it to them. Example – “When you were on time, it satisfied my need for consideration. It means a lot to me.” Notice what they like and connect in that way. Let them play you some of the music they like or watch a movie that they prefer to watch.

8. Lastly – DO NOT TAKES THINGS PERSONALLY and trust that all the years of parenting and relationship you have invested when they were younger will “pay off” later, when they are no longer so busy finding their own identity.


1 Integer network South Africa offers an excellent Compassionate communication skills workshop where parents can practice these skills.

2 Integer Network South Africa offers an excellent Compassionate communication skills workshop where parents can practice these skills.

3 Enquire about the author’s workshop on boundaries email

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