Navigating the Teenage Years: A Guide to Parenting Adolescents

Jul 07, 2024

If your child is approaching the teenage years (or is already there), you probably already realize that raising teens is rife with opposites. Your teen may strive for independence while simultaneously clinging to you as a safety net. Your teenager may experience periods of huge emotions while also experiencing periods of apathetic “meh”-ness. And from the parenting side, you may find similar opposites as your own emotions vacillate between thrill and excitement over everything your teen is doing, and fear and dread over…everything your teen is doing.


 As children transition into adolescents, they undergo significant physical, emotional, and social changes, which can sometimes be tumultuous for both teens and their parents. However, with patience, understanding, and effective communication, navigating the teenage years can strengthen the parent-child bond and support the healthy development of adolescents.


Understanding the Teenage Brain

During adolescence, the brain undergoes significant changes that impact behavior, decision-making, and emotional regulation. Neuroscientific research indicates the following major changes in the teenage brain.


Hormonal changes: During adolescence, hormonal changes profoundly influence teenagers, shaping their bodies and minds. Triggered by the hypothalamus in the brain, these fluctuations lead to the production of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Physically, these hormonal changes lead to growth spurts, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, and the maturation of reproductive organs. Emotionally and behaviorally, hormonal shifts can cause mood swings and heightened emotional sensitivity and can spur changes in behavior, such as increased risk-taking.


Ongoing development of the prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for reasoning, planning, and impulse control, continues to develop into the mid-20s. This means that it is not fully developed during the teenage years.  This is slightly problematic since the onslaught of your teen’s hormones is in full swing. This means that although your teen is feeling allllll the things, they don’t yet have an efficient way to inhibit and stop all the urges they feel. This ongoing development explains why the teenage population is more likely to engage in risky behaviors when compared to other age spans. In many ways, the incongruence of development in the teenage brain is similar to the toddler brain (Dr Erin talks about this in more detail in our mini workshop on tantrums; check it out here). In the toddler years, kids suddenly have a greater breadth of feelings, frustrations, and a sense of independence, yet don’t yet have the skills to express this to their caregivers accurately. That often leads to tantrums. Does that sound like your teen at all?!


Increased sensitivity to rewards and peer influence: The teenage brain is highly responsive to rewards, such as social approval and novelty, which can influence decision-making. Peer relationships become increasingly important as teenagers seek social acceptance and validation. Recent research over the last 10-15 years has shown that teens who primarily interact with peers on their devices, instead of in-person, tend to experience higher levels of depression and anxiety. This leads us to believe that teens need in-person interactions with peers to get much needed dopamine boosts.




Supporting Emotional Well-being

Due to the above brain changes, your child’s emotions may seem volatile (and sometimes, frankly, a little crazy). That is okay. It is also temporary! You may need to repeat to yourself, “It won’t be like this forever,” a few times. To help your child navigate through these changing emotions, try the following:


Be empathetic: Validate your teenager’s emotions and provide reassurance during times of stress or uncertainty. Offer support without dismissing their feelings, even if you don’t fully understand their perspective.


Encourage self-care: Teach healthy coping strategies such as exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies that promote relaxation and self-expression. Model these same self-care practices to emphasize their importance.


Seek professional help if needed: Monitor changes in your teens’ behavior or persistent signs of distress. If you notice that your teen is significantly withdrawing from you or friends, engaging in extreme mood swings, declining academically, or mentioning self-harming thoughts, they may benefit from additional support. Consult with a healthcare professional or counselor for guidance and support.



Teenagers’ Need for Independence

The teenage years are characterized by a quest for independence and identity formation. Adolescents may exhibit mood swings, rebellion, and a desire to assert their autonomy. It’s crucial for parents to recognize that these behaviors are a natural part of adolescence as teens strive to establish their own beliefs, values, and interests. Although your teen's moodiness and desire for control can be frustrating, allowing them more independence helps prepare them for the ever-encroaching adult world. Try the following to encourage your child’s independence:


Gradual transition: Allow teenagers to take on responsibilities and experience natural consequences, promoting self-reliance and accountability. Balancing autonomy with parental guidance fosters healthy independence. Here are some examples of how to make this transition:

  • Laundry: Have them start taking over their own laundry, if they have not already. If they forget to complete this chore, there is a built-in natural consequence – no clean clothes.
  • Meals: Encourage them to prepare one meal a week. Ask them to write out the grocery list in advance so that you can purchase the items. Let them cook the meal, asking questions as needed.
  • Vehicle care: Help them set up reminders for when they need to complete routine car care tasks, like getting the oil changed. Have them go to the car care center independently (even if you must remind them).
  • Budgeting: Help your teen open a bank account and teach them how to manage it. Openly talk about salaries of professions they may be interested in and what their monthly budget may look like based on that income.
  • Making appointments: Walk them through how to call and set up an appointment with the doctor or dentist. Have them start making their own appointments (with reminders or help from you when needed).
  • Check out our blog post on life skills to see if your teen or pre-teen is already mastering the life skills we recommend for these ages! Read it here.



Encourage decision-making: Provide opportunities for your teen to make choices and learn from their outcomes. Offer guidance without taking over, allowing them to develop problem-solving skills and self-confidence. Resist the urge to jump into solve their problems, and instead ask guiding questions like:

  • “How are you thinking about responding?”
  • “What do you think she should have done differently?”
  • “Is there a way to talk to him about this issue?”
  • “I wonder what would happen if you ____”


Importance of Parent-Teen Relationships

Your job of “being the parent my teenager needs” starts when your child is born. It starts with your relationship. Building up a strong relationship is key to having a teenager who trusts you and is willing to listen to you. If you only demand that your teenager listens, obeys, and respects you, without the relationship piece, you may find teenage rebellion as a likely outcome. (We have lots of tips for building up your relationship with your child in our Parenting 101 course. Check it out here).


A supportive and nurturing relationship with parents gives teenagers a crucial foundation of security and trust. It allows them to openly communicate their thoughts, concerns, and aspirations, knowing they have a reliable source of guidance. For a strong relationship, try the following:


Open communication: Create a supportive environment where teens feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions. Listen actively without judgment and validate their feelings. This inherently fosters trust and mutual respect.


Quality time: Prioritize bonding activities and one-on-one time to strengthen the parent-teen bond. Engage in shared interests, conversations about their day, and activities that promote connection. This can happen organically, or, you may find the need to set aside dedicated time to spend with your teen. This can be during meals, walks, or designated "hangout" sessions.


Active listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention (put your phone down), maintaining eye contact, and validating your teens' thoughts and feelings.


Respect their opinions: While you may not always agree with your teenager’s viewpoints, it’s important to show respect for their opinions and encourage open dialogue.


Celebrate achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate your teenager’s accomplishments, whether big or small. Recognize their efforts in academics, extracurricular activities, or personal growth milestones.



The Importance of Consistent Boundaries

Setting clear boundaries with teenagers is crucial for their development and well-being. Boundaries provide structure, guidance, and a sense of security, helping teenagers understand expectations and consequences. In the previous section, we mentioned how strict boundaries and rules, without a relationship, can lead to rebellion. Similarly, a strong relationship, without boundaries, can lead to entitlement.  We've covered this before in social media with our "parenting math" posts:


Clear boundaries teach valuable lessons about responsibility, respect for oneself and others, and decision-making skills. They also establish a framework for healthy communication and conflict resolution within the family. By defining limits around issues like curfews and screentime, parents empower their teenagers to develop self-discipline and accountability. Upholding boundaries doesn't mean restricting independence; instead, it promotes a balance between freedom and responsibility, preparing teenagers to navigate challenges confidently as they transition into adulthood. Ultimately, consistent and well-defined boundaries create a supportive environment where teenagers can grow, learn, and thrive. To uphold clear boundaries, try the following:


Clear expectations: Establish and communicate clear rules regarding curfew, academic responsibilities, screen time, and household chores. Consistency in enforcing boundaries provides structure and predictability. If your teen breaks these clear expectations, the consequences should also be clear and make sense. Here are some examples of clear consequences of broken boundaries:

  • If your child breaks curfew on Friday, then they cannot go out with friends for the rest of the weekend
  • If your child sneaks screen time past the cut-off time in the evening, you can change the Wi-Fi password until they earn it back.
  • If your teen keeps losing your phone charging cord, they may lose the privilege to move it around.
  • If your teen purchases a vape, they may lose access to their ability to purchase items (e.g., take away their debit card or access to Venmo).


Flexibility and negotiation: While maintaining consistency, allow room for negotiation on non-critical issues. This demonstrates respect for their growing autonomy while reinforcing essential boundaries. For example, if your child effectively follows the rules and boundaries of a 10:00 p.m. curfew, you may explore the option to extend it.




Parenting teenagers requires empathy, patience, and a willingness to adapt to their evolving needs. By understanding the changes in the teenage brain, respecting their need for independence, nurturing a strong parent-teen relationship, and establishing consistent boundaries, parents can effectively support their teens through this critical stage of development.


Embrace the opportunity to guide and empower your teenager as they navigate challenges, discover their strengths, and prepare for adulthood. Together, you can foster a supportive environment that promotes growth, resilience, and lasting connections. Remember: The adolescents only lasts for approximately 5 years. That’s a tiny percentage of their life! The difficult moments in adolescence will pass, but, your relationship, and the skills that you teach them, will last the lifespan.


Happy Connecting!


-Dr. Erin and Dr. Jordana

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