Raising a Strong-Willed Teen: How to Survive and Help Them Thrive (Without Breaking Their Spirit)

Got a teen who fights to do things their way? That's actually a GOOD thing! (Ahem, even if it doesn't feel like it now.)

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Raising a Strong-Willed Teen: How to Survive and Help Them Thrive  (Without Breaking Their Spirit)

Parenting a strong-willed teenager can be challenging. I know my daughter certainly gave me a run for my money. She was stubborn as all get out, bossy, and very opinionated. She wanted to make her own rules, and she was pretty darn sassy and argumentative, at times, – especially when she didn’t get her way.

At first, I dug my parenting heels into the ground and tried to tame her fiery spirit. (After all, there’s only room for one sheriff in this town!) But after a few exhausting battles of the wills, I realized my attempts to “reel her in” weren’t serving me well, our relationship well, and, most importantly, her well. 

What I needed to do was accept and embrace who she was, allow her to express her own individuality, and guide and teach her (the best I could) to use those wonderful inherent traits in a more productive (and respectful) way so she could actually do amazing things in this world one day. 

Raising a Strong-Willed Teen: How to Survive and Help Them Thrive (Without Breaking Their Spirit)


In years past, if you heard the term “strong-willed,” it immediately brought to mind kids who were spoiled, defiant, uncooperative, belligerent, and a host of other negative words used to describe their personality and temperament. 

Thankfully, through years of research, we’ve figured out that the typical characteristics of a strong-willed child are, in fact, positive and beneficial. Why? Because a child’s strong-willed traits are their blueprint for future success, provided parents can actually survive their child’s defiance, don’t take their strong personality personally, don’t crack down on them too hard, OR stifle the spunk out of them.

Strong-willed kids often grow up to be strong-willed adults who change the world…

I promise, your “My way or the highway” teen doesn’t need fixing. What they really need is a massive dose of understanding and a carved-out path to help them harness those traits so they can put them to good use later in life.

Do you know what many world leaders, CEOs, top athletes, and successful entrepreneurs all have in common? It turns out, many of them were described as being “strong-willed” kids.

Determined, steadfast, non-conforming, confident, persistent, bossy, independent, and bold – you know those parents didn’t have it easy. But those “pull your hair out” personality traits that pushed their parents to the brink of insanity were exactly what helped them to become successful later in life. 

You’ll be happy to know, too, that your “I want to do things my OWN way” teenager just might be well… financially well off one day.

Interestingly, a Time Magazine article brought to light a 40-year study that tracked students from their elementary school years into adulthood, and found that “kids who frequently broke the rules or otherwise defied their parents often went on to become educational over-achievers and high-earning adults.” 

In the same article, another expert was quoted as saying, “Strong-willed kids are more willing to do what’s right, rather than what their friends are doing.” Meaning, that strong-willed teen of yours just might stand strong in the face of peer pressure and be perfectly okay with not following the crowd. In other words, having a stubborn, strong-willed teen is a GOOD thing!

8 Ways to Love, Nurture (and Survive) Your Strong-Willed Teen (Without Breaking Their Spirit)

If you’re stumped on how to raise your stubborn teen (without trying to change them), here are a few tips for raising a strong-willed teen that I learned in the trenches. 

1. Give Them Plenty of Power

Strong-willed teens crave autonomy and power over their own lives. They want to call the shots. They want to make their own decisions. So, (within reason, of course) let your teen make decisions that impact his/her life.

Let them decide whether they want to take that advanced class, play that sport or join that club. Let them weigh in on where you go on vacation or what you do when you’re there. Give them plenty of freedom to choose how they dress, whether they color their hair purple or paint their room orange – even if you disagree with their choices. The more (age-appropriate/reasonable) freedom you give them, the fewer battles you’ll have. Just make sure they know that they’re always responsible for their actions.

2. Side-Step Power Struggles by Setting Specific Boundaries

Your teen needs to know unequivocally what’s okay and what isn’t – especially when it comes to their safety and well-being. And, they need to know that while it’s okay to stand firm, it’s not okay to be disrespectful to you. The more clearly you define your expectation and consequences, the more they’ll understand and abide by your “line in the sand.”

3. Encourage Their Individuality

Raising a strong-willed child means coming to terms with the fact that they are not an extension of you. They are their own person. They have their own way of doing things, their own ideas, views, perspectives, goals, and dreams. Even though standing back and letting them exercise their own individuality might mean biting your tongue (a lot), this is exactly what your strong-willed teen needs to thrive. Support them. Give them as much freedom as possible. Let them be THEM.

4. Learn the Art of Compromise

Caving in occasionally, giving your teen a voice and an opportunity to “present their case” and working with them to find a solution that you can both agree on doesn’t mean you’re a total pushover or that you’re failing as a parent. It means you’ve learned the art of compromise and being flexible – a critical component of raising happy, independent, empathetic kids. It also sends the message that you respect your teen enough to listen to what they have to say and make changes if/when it makes sense.

“I’m getting older, Mom,” my daughter said. “In a couple of years, I’ll be in college and you won’t be there to keep tabs on me. Let me have a later curfew. I promise I’ll text you and let you know where I am and that I’m safe.” She was right… she made a sound argument so I compromised.

5. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Just because your “back off, I totally got this” teen seems capable doesn’t mean they’re confident on the inside. They still need your support, guidance, and love. Don’t take their stubborn will as your cue to throw your hands up in the air and say, “Well, I guess they don’t need me anymore.” THEY DO! Listen to them. Validate their feelings. Look at things from their point of view. Offer respect (it goes both ways!), empathize and show compassion. Strong-willed kids often have strong-willed emotions that can be hard for them to manage.

6. Pay Attention to Your Teen’s Triggers

My daughter was hellbent on managing her own time and schedule. So, when I threw her a curveball and didn’t tell her about a family event she had to attend or I told her to clean her room now, she flipped.

I learned (the hard way) that she needed plenty of lead time and control. Of course, there were times things came up that were out of my control, and times I need her to do a chore immediately and she just had to deal with it. But for the most part, I did my best to take into account one of her biggest “triggers.”

7. Pay Attention to Your OWN Triggers

In the beginning, when my daughter started pushing back, I viewed it as a ploy to undermine my authority. I soon realized that she wasn’t challenging me or my authority, she was challenging my rule or request. Once I separated the two, I was able to take it far less personally (trust me… any parent with a strong-willed child needs to develop a thick skin!) and view the situation with a calmer, clearer perspective. 

Above all, when you do feel your patience waning, steer clear of drag-out fights or power struggles at all costs – no one ever wins. (You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to!) Step out of the ring, walk away, and revisit the situation when you’re both calm. 

8. Love Them Through It All

I get it. Raising a teen who fights you at every turn can wear you the heck out. But remember, those traits that drive you crazy now are the same traits that will serve them well in the future.

So, before you yell, fight back, stand your ground, and enter into a full-blown battle of the wills, focus on nurturing those amazing qualities. Work with your teen, not against them. Praise them for their “can do, I’m independent, let me do things my way,” attitude. It really IS a good thing! 

Mostly, just remember that your strong-willed teenager has a good chance of growing up to be a strong-willed adult who will change the world… so, hang on for the bumpy ride. It won’t be this hard forever.

If you enjoyed reading, “Raising a Strong-Willed Teen: How to Survive and Help Them Thrive (Without Breaking Their Spirit),” you might want to check out these other posts!

Sass, Sighs and Slamming Doors: Proven Ways to Defuse Your Teen’s Moody Outbursts

Arguing with Your Teen? That’s When You Need to Love Them a Little Harder

Never Say Never: Why Your Teen Needs You to Compromise

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