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My Experience: Raising Teenagers

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” Nora Ephron

My fellow parents who are raising teenagers, it’s a damn good thing I own 4 dogs…a cat…a bunny…10 chickens…and a horse! Yes, really. Our family has that many pets. To be fair, we’re a farming family, so there’s that.

I have four children. When they were very young, I was a single parent, and, guys, I’d rather go back to that, than have teenagers now! That’s not to say that my amazing husband, their step-dad, isn’t helpful, or that I’m not thankful for him every day. However, it was easier, as far as the kids and their behavior goes, when they were younger, even though I was the only adult in the home. My husband works full time, I blog full time, but I’m the one home, taking care of the day-to-day. And let me just tell you, it’s hectic, and crazy, and full of eye rolling, and sassyness.

To be fair, two of my kids are adults. One of them lives on his own. He’s 21, works close to 55 hours a week, and is taking care of himself. My second born is almost 20, works about 50 hours a week, lives at home, but he pays rent, and takes care of his own necessities. But let me tell you, they totally ruined me for their sisters! Raising those boys, once they reached their teen years, I could literally feel my brain cells slowly dying, one by one. It was emotionally painful, and mentally exhausting.
We had even reached a point last year when my husband and I had to give our boys 30 days to move out. They were working, but that was it. One of them wasn’t doing anything to get his permit and license (at the age of 18). And neither one of them had goals that they were working towards. We couldn’t get them to help around the house, save for their futures, or make any effort to be more productive adults. While there are many more details, the result was us giving them the 30-day notice to either make some changes or move out…and they both decided to leave the very next day.

While this was heart wrenching for me, I knew it had to be done. They needed that push to make more effort to be adults, save money, get licenses, and things of that nature. Now, a year later, they’re doing much better, making better decisions, and taking care of themselves.

What I Know Now

This takes me to today. I am still raising teenagers. A 16-year-old daughter, and a 13-year-old daughter. My 13-year-old, at the moment, seems to be the most logical, and thoughtful of all four of my kids. My 16-year-old has become…hmm…entitled, despite us not being the type of people to spoil, and seems to think that her crap doesn’t stink. 16 seems to be this magical age when all of the sweetness of childhood vanishes, and their need to be independent takes over, despite their brains still being close to a decade away from being completely done maturing. Remember, 25 is the beautiful age in which our brains are fully mature. So you’re going to see some dumb shit between 15 and 24!

You’re welcome.

How do we Deal?

So, what’s a parent to do? I mean, we’d like to think that by the age of 16, we don’t necessarily need to do much disciplining, or dishing out of consequences. Guess what ladies and gents – You still need to! You need to be involved. You need to know what’s going on in your teenager’s day-to-day life. You need to ensure that he or she is being safe on social media, that they’re not getting involved in any type of trouble, and that they’re staying on the right track. While they do need to take a certain amount of responsibility of their own, we are still their parents and they are still minor’s. They require guidance, despite the resistance they’re going to give you.

So, how do we deal with the changes that they’re going through? How do we provide guidance and discipline at the same time? How to we remain firm, but loving when they throw some smart-mouthed retort back at you, or treat a younger sibling rudely (happens in my house all the time)?

1. Make your rules known

Write them down, be specific, hang them up on the wall. Explain to your teen that in no way, shape or form are they to break these rules. There will be zero tolerance for rudeness, backtalk, or disrespectful behavior. Explain that there can always be a calm, mature discussion, as long as their behavior remains calm, and mature. The moment they decide, (and yes, it is a decision) to be rude, that discussion will be over, and you, as the parent, will then move on to an appropriate consequence.

2. Set the Consequences Ahead of Time

Be sure that consequences are also specific, related to the rule broken, and will teach a valuable lesson. When a consequence isn’t related to the rule that was broken, it’s less likely that your teen will learn from the mistake. For example, when we speed, we get a ticket for an amount relative to how fast we’re going. We have to pay for breaking the law. It’s all related.

Little tip – By establishing consequences ahead of time and making sure your teenager knows what to expect, you’ll reduce (a little bit) the amount of arguing when you do have to enforce said consequence. You’ll get eye rolling, heavy breathing, and some resistance, but they knew ahead of time what would happen. This also reduces how much work you actually need to do. You’ve established the rules and the consequences…just be consistent when enforcing them, and don’t allow your teenager to talk you out of it.

Here’s a real-world example for you. Let’s say your teen is out with friends, and you have sent a text message to touch base, and make plans for place and time to pick up your child, and he or she chooses not to respond to you. This is unacceptable in my household. I provide the cell phone, I pay for the service, and I will take the phone away if my child makes the bad decision to ignore my messages. When this happens with one of my kids, the phone gets taken away for a designated amount of time. If it’s the first time ever, my suggestion for a first-timer is two days.

And no crap about, “But my child plays sports and needs his phone.” No. He doesn’t. We didn’t need cell phones 20 years ago, and our children don’t need them now. It is purely a privilege! I bet you have the coach’s cell phone number. So explain that your son (or daughter) has lost their phone privileges for two days. I guarantee that the coach will understand and will get any message to your kid that you send. Don’t make any excuses for allowing a privilege that you have taken away. It won’t have nearly as much impact.

If the same situation occurs again, take the phone away for 4 days, or 6 days. Keep at it, be consistent, don’t give up. It’s still your job to teach your up and coming adult how to behave.
3. Pay close attention to your teenager’s behavior. You are their parent. You have raised them all these years, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice behavior changes if they’re going through something.

From my experience, most teens don’t want to open up to mom and dad because they may be afraid that they’ll get in trouble, or be lectured. You must be intuitive, and attentive to changes in their behavior. Some changes may be “normal”, such as, in all honesty, when your daughter is going through PMS. You may chuckle at that, but they don’t have the life experience, or emotional skills (don’t forget…25 is the actual age a brain is fully mature) just yet to deal with the emotions that occur during that time. Hell, I have a hard time with it most months. It’s just a fact of life.

4. Do Not Lecture

Mentioning lecturing our kids takes me to number four. Don’t lecture your teen. It makes them feel like you think they’re stupid…honestly. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking my kids if they want to hear what I have to say on a topic. Do they want to know what I know, after 41 years of experience? If they say “no”, then that’s that. I won’t offer my advice or expertise. But if they say yes, that’s a great thing, and you’ve given them the option! My 16-year-old daughter says yes to hearing my advice much more than she says no.

And in regards to enforcing a punishment, this is also a time not to lecture. It’s very basic. “You chose not to do [xyz], and you know the rules. Therefore, your consequence is [abc].” Simple. Matter-of-fact. No discussion needed, because you already had the discussion about rules and consequences when you established them.

5. They’re Not Babies

Don’t baby them. Don’t hover. For real. Just don’t. They need to experience as much reality as they can. The best time for that is while they’re still under your protective, yet firm, wing.

Let’s say they fail a test at school. They’re going to come home, pissed off, blaming the teacher and accusing the teacher of disliking them, or some other crazy excuse for failing. Please, please, please, do not attempt to rescue them. If they failed that test, it’s because they made the decision not to study, plain and simple. If they want to get better grades, and graduate high school, they need to do the work. They need to study. They need to ask the teacher about extra credit work to raise their grade. Just.

Do. Not. Rescue. Them.

It will never help them as adults. This is a situation in which you need to step back and let the pieces fall where they may.

When a situation doesn’t put their safety at risk, physically, mentally, or emotionally, you have to step back and stop yourself from rescuing them. Let them rescue themselves, otherwise, you’re going to wind up with adult children living on your sofa, and I promise you, you don’t want that.

We have babies, we raise those babies, and we must be OK with them growing up because, well, it’s inevitable. Get comfortable with that reality now, so when they do become adults and move out, you won’t be quite as devastated. And if you back off from rescuing them, you’ll have more of a reason to be proud of them when they take it upon themselves to solve their own problems. In fact, get in the habit of not rescuing them while they’re young. Let them solve their own problems to the best of their ability before you jump in. Ask your youngster if, after trying, they’d like some help. But let them try first…always!

6. Bonus Tip

Don’t nag. Ever. Period.

Seeing it all Come Together

Raising kids is, like, super hard, y’all! It’s love, frustration, adoration, lost tempers, learned patience, resistance to fixing all of their problems, and so much more. It’s a major balancing act, comparable to no other job you’ll ever have. Your emotions and your patience will be tested beyond limits you’ve ever known, and then…beyond those limits! Am I scaring you yet?
Despite the ups and downs of raising children, especially teenagers, it is totally worth it! Just when we’re not happy with their lack of progress, and think that they’ll never “get it”, they do! They show you that everything you’ve been trying to drill into their heads is finally kicking in. My 21-year-old is still a butt head, but not even close to how much of a butt head he was five years ago, or even one year ago! Being on his own has been extremely beneficial for him. He’s a fantastic saver, doesn’t waste his money, and has goals now! Tough love worked wonders for him, and I’m proud of him, and myself for sticking to it and not giving in to the internal need to help my son.