As I walk into the teenage years with my kids, I am reflecting on how to avoid being a controlling parent. Knowing that parenting should look different as kids age, I want to adapt well so I can best meet the changing needs of my child.
Hopefully these tips on how to avoid controlling your teenager will help as you enter into these pivotal years.
I’ve always looked forward to the teenage years. That’s opposite of so many moms. I know! I’m weird!
Raising little kids hasn’t quite been what I anticipated. I absolutely love my kids, and I would do anything for them, but man this job is tough. It has been refining. Read more about my struggle here.
Each year, I enjoy parenting more.
Back when I was teaching kindergarten, I wanted to pull my hair out. However, whenever I taught or mentored high school kids, it just worked. I still lead high school youth at my church and love it.
Older kids have always been a sweet spot for me. Recognizing it will be different as my own kids go through the tween and teen years, I still am optimistic about the years ahead. Part of this journey, for me, will definitely be releasing control.
How to Avoid Controlling Your Teenager
One of the hardest things for parents as their kids get older is learning to let go.
Much of this boils down to us wanting the best for our kids. We know their brains aren’t fully developed until 25 years of age. Our own life experience brings wisdom that teenagers just don’t have yet. We want them to avoid the pain that we know comes from making poor choices. The tendency, therefore, is to control.
Some of you might struggle to watch your kids grow older. I know parents who cry at milestones because it means their kids are growing up and are one step closer to leaving the home. Many crave those younger years where the days felt long, but life seemed more simple.
Whatever the reason to want to control, your relationship with your teenager will suffer if you are too overbearing.
I want to help you learn how to avoid controlling your teenager. Authoritarian parents (see chart below) can produce kids who struggle with anxiety, rebellion, fear of failure, lack of problem solving skills and/or creativity and other mental health issue.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Being too domineering, I believe, is one way we exasperate our kids.
As our kids age, we should be releasing them more and more. This graph shows it well:
Here are my tips for how to avoid controlling your teenager:
Set them up for Success Before the Teenage Years
It takes intentional and intense teaching and investment before you reach the teenage years. If you have worked hard throughout their childhood, hopefully it feels more natural to be less controlling as a parent during they age and mature.
Ideally there are some building blocks you have established so the high school years are more successful.
You Have Introduced Them to the Gospel As a Christian, I believe success comes from a relationship with Jesus. As kids fall in love with our Maker, the other things line up in their lives. He is the foundation of truth, light, integrity and love. While living out the gospel message in your family, they experience the freedom and grace found in forgiveness. As they find their identity in Christ, get closer to Him and understand the free salvation He provides, their actions follow that belief. Out of faith, they want to stay in obedience because they understand that God sets the standards for our lives to make life better, not worse.
You Have Modeled Life Well My hope would be that you are living the kind of life your child would want to emulate. Are you loving people well? Do you model the value of hard work? Are you living with honesty, respect and faith? Do you have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. No, we are not perfect. Living authentically in that while striving for these character traits of God is the key.
You Have Taught Character Not only have you modeled character, but have been intentional about teaching character? I hope you discovered my character building series to help.
You Have Helped them Create Good Study Habits If school is a concern, have you helped them learn study skills? Have you considered underlying reasons for their struggles in school? Every child is created differently. Have you embraced your own child’s gifts, recognizing that there might be a different route for your child to experience success – like a trade school, culinary school, military or a pursuit of the arts?
Maybe you have done all of that, and you still are concerned about the path of your child. Hear me. You can do the best job you possibly know how to do, and a child can still struggle. The saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”
When learning how to avoid controlling your teenager, this can be the hardest part. You might be thinking, “I have worked so hard to help them succeed, and I’m still concerned by what I see.”
Ultimately, our kids have the freedom to choose their path in life. Controlling them, especially in these teenage years, most often won’t get your child back on track. To maintain the relationship, we need to learn to release them to their own decisions.
Let them Fail
This is probably the hardest one for me. I want to do everything in my power to help my kids become functioning, kind, contributing members of this world. Letting them fail is tough.
It can be easier when they are little, and this is really where it should start. Avoid substitution parenting. When they are little, natural consequences are good to let them experience. You forgot your coat? You experience being cold. If you did’t remember your lunch, you go hungry.
As they age, letting them fail can feel more severe because the consequences are more severe. If you don’t do your homework, you get an F….which leads to failing class…which leads to summer school…which leads to no college.
As we want our kids to learn to be hard working individuals, it can be painful to see them not take responsibility over the work.
If they choose to do drugs or get drunk, the consequences can even more intense. The same thing goes with sexual promiscuity or exposure to online nastiness. I understand your fears. I do.
Kids do want to succeed, however. They want you to be proud of them. Nagging and controlling often has the opposite effect, so we need to establish relationship that isn’t centered around control. We also need to allow them to experience failure.
What I am not suggesting by releasing control is total freedom. It is absolutely beneficial and essential to have boundaries in your home.
I have shared the chart above a number of times. If you avoid boundaries in the teenage years, you fall into the lower quadrants of this chart. That is not successful parenting.
It has been shown that authoritative parents are the most effective – those with a high level of warmth and relationship but those who also have clear boundaries an expectations.
It is super reasonable to say, if homework is not done, there is not screen time or friend time.
Knowing what I know about the impacts of social media and screens on a child, it is essential to have boundaries set.
Having a curfew, not allowing opposite sex alone time in private rooms, or saying no to certain events a child wants to attend are healthy limits.
In the teenage years, especially, I want to explain my why. I want to create buy-in from the child, so sharing your reasoning behind your decisions, helps establish understanding,.
Strong relationship, warmth and communication are key to making boundaries not feel like shackles.
Help them learn that earned trust and demonstrating responsibility lead to more freedom. Being able to say, “I trust that you’ll make a good decision here,” builds into the relationship and grants them the freedoms they crave.
Listen More Than Talk and Ask Good Questions
We have spent time talking at and instructing our kids their whole life. It changes as they grow. Focus on the Family talks about the four phases of parenting. Your goal is to go from commander to coach to counselor to advisor. In these teenage years, you are in the counselor phase.
Counselors ask a lot of questions. They do impart wisdom, but effective ones help the individual discover the healthy solution.
One of my parenting mentors advises to not freak out when your child comes to you with something concerning. To slow the conversation down and get more information, a good response to our children is, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” It’s a way to avoid jumping in with our own thoughts, feelings, concerns and solutions.
Stay calm as your child opens up about hard or troubling things in their life.
Asking good question is a great technique for all areas of life, including parenting. We want our kids to come to their own reasonable solutions, so it’s great to ask them thoughtful questions to help them reach their own well-reasoned answers. It’s a way to guide them through problem solving techniques so they have the skills to navigate life outside of your home.
Here are some good techniques for asking questions.
Have Other Influential Adults and Older Role Models in their Lives
Here are some stats from social work license map:
- 59 percent of mentored teenagers earn better grades.
- 27 percent of mentored youth are less likely to begin using alcohol.
- 52 percent of mentored youth are less likely to skip school.
- Youth with mentors have increased likelihood of going to college, better attitudes toward school, increased social and emotional development, and improved self-esteem.
Kids need other adults to influence them. Find mentors, youth leaders, or successful business people to invest in your child. Find people who can speak the truth in love.
Focus on the Majors
Focus on the important stuff. Faith, friends, character, integrity – these are the majors.
What are the things that can take a back seat? I personally think I need to let go of things like a clean room or dishes left in the sink. Not that I should avoid these things completely, but do I really want to harp on them ever day?
They’ll eventually go off to school or get a roommate somewhere and learn to keep their space picked up…or not…but if you have modeled a decently clean home, they’ll eventually probably adopt that too.
Let them have some freedoms to stick headphones on and do their own thing. Allow them to stay up later, eat junk food and binge watch TV. Yes, have some guidelines set in place around these things, but really center your focus around the character of your teen rather than all of the little things we can nag and complain about as parents.
Don’t be so serious. Goof around with your teen. Go on adventures. Invite their friends over. Laugh. Engage in what interests them. Find books or shows you can enjoy together. Dance and sing in the kitchen to their favorite music. Be goofy. Travel together.
The goal is to build the relationship in positive ways so that when you do need to set limits, the connection is strong in other ways.
Pray often for your children so you can relinquish control to an all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves your child even more than you do. If your natural tendency is to control, it will take super-natural power to help.
Know that God’s got this. When the storms came, the disciples in the boat reverted to fear. Jesus had the power to calm the storm. Sometimes the storms we see our kids going through make us want to take the helm. While we should continue to invest, ask good questions and be there to help, we also need to pass the reigns into the hands of our Lord.
Letting go of control can be scary. As the adult years approach, we need to have faith that we invested all we could so they can navigate this world successfully. Trust the values you instilled. Realize that sometimes kids need to learn the hard way. Trust God in the process.
Hoping these tips for how to avoid controlling your teenager help. Sometimes we just need these quick reminders to get us on track as we work to finish our job well.