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What I Learned Raising a Challenging Adolescent

Navigating the turbulent adolescent years.

When I was a teenager growing up in the sixties in New York, my parents certainly had their share of challenges. Even though I was a kindhearted girl, I was a bit on the rebellious side. I thought my European-born parents were old-fashioned, and I used every possible occasion to disagree with them. My father repeatedly told me, “Just wait until youare a parent; you’ll see how difficult it can be.”

When my eldest daughter, Rachel, became a teenager and got involved with the wrong crowd, my father’s voice echoed in my head. Her situation was a bit more challenging than mine was, though, and my husband and I felt as if we didn’t have the tools to help her manage her adolescent angst and rebellious streak. 

After much consultation, we decided to enroll Rachel in Sunhawk, an emotional-growth school in Utah run by the Mormons. There, she received private and group therapy in addition to taking courses to complete her high school degree. 

The decision to send her away was extremely difficult. Because Rachel had been born prematurely, my husband and I had a tendency to be a bit overprotective. Having to relinquish her daily care at the age of seventeen was not a task we easily accepted, but it was something we felt we had to do to save both herself and our family. We were advised that if we didn’t take action before her eighteenth birthday, we might never have the chance to help her turn her situation around.

While Rachel was in Utah, her therapist kept in close contact with us. Twice during her eight-month stay, we were required to attend parenting seminars. We had two younger children at home, but with Rachel, it was our first experience dealing with the issues of adolescence. We apparently had much to find about about our parenting skills, and more to know about ourselves. In our first workshop, the first thing we learned was the importance of providing unconditional love to our children.

During the seminars, we also discovered that there are many reasons why teenagers act out, become rebellious, or get in trouble. More often than not, it can be that they don’t feel unconditional love from one or more parents. However, in our case, we were committed and inspired to offer Rachel this type of love in the hopes that our efforts wouldn’t be in vain. 

During these seminars, we also learned things about our own personality traits that affected our parenting skills. The group facilitator gave us nicknames, and mine was “Rescue 911” because I always came to everyone’s rescue when they were in need. My husband was told that he was service oriented and always wanted to solve problems, but that he wasn’t a very good listener. Another parent was told that she yelled unnecessarily, and another was advised that she wasn’t firm enough and tried too hard to be a friend to her daughter, rather than a parent.

During our first session, we examined our own childhoods for characteristics that might have affected our parenting styles. We were all encouraged to use this knowledge to modify our behavior as a way to elicit good behavior in our children. I was told to allow disagreements between family members to be worked out between them, rather than feeling that I had to immediately come to their aid. 

After attending the first weekend seminar, I realized that troubled adolescents came from families that crossed all personality and economic barriers. There were parents who were housewives, cardiologists, businessmen, doctors, and accountants. There were also single moms, divorcées, and stepparents. 

Even though I was an only child, I think my own innate ability to love coupled with my years working as a registered nurse assisted me in becoming a loving, nurturing, and supportive mother, but knowing how to discipline had always been a challenge to me, and luckily my husband was much more adept in that department.

 Here are ten tips for parents who are embarking on the journey of parenting adolescents:

  1. Trust and respect your teens.
  2. Be parents, not buddies.
  3. Be consistent with your values.
  4. Remember that any type of punishment should fit the crime.
  5. Spend time alone together.
  6. Drop everything when they want to talk.
  7. Talk with teens about their interests and concerns.
  8. Listen without judging.
  9. Openly share your own feelings and concerns.
  10.  Always end conversations on a positive note.

Sometimes, despite all the good intentions, tips, and recommendations of others, kids just end up being challenging individuals. Many teens rebel because they believe parents exert an arbitrary use of power, where there is little explanation of rules and where the adolescents are not given the chance to have a say in decision-making. 

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind if you have teens who have a tendency to be rebellious:

  1. Don’t overreact.
  2. Never use physical punishment.
  3. Involve your teens in decisions involving them, except for issues relating to physical and emotional safety, where you probably know best.
  4. Balance control with independence.
  5. Provide freedom in stages or increments.
  6. Let teens learn from their mistakes rather than intervening immediately.
  7. Choose your battles.
  8. Let your teens express their individuality.
  9. Manage your own emotions.
  10. Tie privileges to responsibilities.

Always keep in mind that you cannot “spoil” children by giving them too much attention and affection. They need to know that you’re there for them and that you love them unconditionally!

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