Parenting a Teen Will Change You

By Maureen McKane, LCSW


How to deal with your changes and theirs when parenting a teen.

Parenting a teen will change you. Why not decide that you will change for the better? Worse is also an option.

The human life cycle is somewhat predictable. Adolescence means a set of psychological challenges that must be met by the time adulthood dawns. Meanwhile, you the parent, are at a point we call midlife. You have your own challenges. Friction is the space where these two collide.

First, here are the natural tasks that confront your teen on the way to adulthood:

  • Establishing a personal identity. They may try on many ideas about who they want to be, before they settle in.
  • Learning the ways of friendships. Expect ups, downs and drama along the way.
  • Finding their lasting role in the family. A teen will often disdain or reject the family ways and later come back to many of them. This is normal.
  • Finding a sexual self as body changes open up this new world.
  • Establishing a partnership with a beloved other. Often this is a series of short romances. It’s on-the-job training for an eventual mature match.
  • Finding a life’s work. Expect multiple areas of interest along the way.
  • Forming a moral compass. As a teen’s thinking becomes more abstract, s(he) develops a more mature sense of right and wrong, along with the messiness of grey areas.

For the parent, the burgeoning-child come near-adult looks like the person you recently thought you were: someone on the up-climb of life, with lots of new horizons ahead. Suddenly your music is the old stuff. Your fashion is something to tease about. Yesterday you were the future. Today you’re on the other side of the generation gap. What’s next?

Quite naturally this is a time for taking stock. For years you have been investing in the time ahead: someday I’ll achieve the level I want; someday I’ll make enough money or accomplish my dreams; eventually, I’ll get recognition. As your children move through high school it begins to dawn that they have one foot out the door. What will life be like when there are no children here? What if I’ve hit the ceiling of my life? Life is in flux for both teens and parents.

Change is going to happen. For worse or better. Here are some options.

Some parents derail for a time:

  • Evelyn Ever-teen: Oooooh Coldplay! They’re GR8! YOLO!
  • Mama Ghandi: Ohmmm, I’m fine. My kids are weird, but I’m at peace. Happy family!
  • Papa Roars-A-Lot: I’m still the top of the heap and you better not forget it!
  • Devin Doomsday: I’m old. I’ve become my father. It’s all downhill now.

If you’d rather not display your discomfort so blatantly, why not get used to the changes this way:

  • Share stories with other parents. You’re not alone.
  • When you hang out with your teens, let them know you want to understand what’s going on with them. (Because you aren’t a kid anymore.) Don’t expect to do as they do.
  • Find common ground. Start with pizza. Let them choose your joint activities, and let them know sometimes you will choose.
  • Get back into interests you gave up when life got too busy. The teens don’t need your time the way they used to. It’s time to restart your own life.
  • Take care of old, unfinished business, whatever that is.
  • If you have a spouse, start courting again. For years kids were in the middle. Meanwhile you’ve both changed. Find your improved versions.

While your teens are opening their minds to new ideas about life, you can take a page from their book. Open your mind as well. Life means change at every stage. If you do it in good form, You just might change for the better.