Raising Teenagers: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do

Strengthen your relationship with your teen by NOT doing these things...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Raising Teenagers: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do

Nearly every parenting book about raising teenagers focuses on what you should do when you’re raising teens. Few talk about what you shouldn’t do. 

As a mom of three, I’ve learned a thing or two about what not to do when raising my kids.

Things that, at the time, caused chaos in my family. Things that put a divide between me and my children. Things that compromised our relationship.

I soon realized that by backing off a bit and avoiding a few parenting pitfalls, I held the power to draw my kids far closer to me and strengthen our relationship – something every parent of teens strives for. 

 Here are 10 things you shouldn’t do when raising teenagers.

Raising Teenagers: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do

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#1 Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (or Ignore the BIG Stuff)

Not everything matters. Most teenagers are going to leave their wet towels on the floor. They’re going to suddenly (and without warning) turn into a bit of a slob and have a disastrous bedroom. They’re going to leave a pile of crumbs in the kitchen after making themselves a snack. Expect it!

I know it’s hard, but let some of it go. Instead, focus on the big stuff. Help them navigate the social scene with all its twists and turns and drama. Help them manage the unrelenting pressure to perform well in school, sports and life. Help them avoid getting caught up in peer pressure, give them the confidence and courage to be their own person, to follow their dreams, and map out their future. Don’t get caught up in things that won’t matter in the long run.

#2 Don’t Hold the Reins Too Tight

Despite how difficult it is to loosen the reins, we’re doing our kids a huge disservice if we don’t. They need to try and fail… again and again and again. They need to make decisions on their own, handle tough situations by themselves and learn how to slowly navigate the ups and downs of life without us paving the path for them every step of the way.

That’s not to say we can’t guide them, offer advice, or redirect them when needed. They still need that. But what they need more is to develop the confidence, capability and life skills to “adult” on their own. 

#3 Don’t Be Too Soft OR Too Hard on Them

It’s the most delicate balance of all – one that keeps many parents up at night. What makes it difficult is that there isn’t a cut-and-dry answer. Each child is different. Each situation is different. And, as parents, we all parent differently often drawing from our own personal experiences to guide us through our decision-making. But there are guidelines you can follow to avoid being too soft or too strict on your teen.

For starters, don’t let your teen off the hook when it comes to chores, expectations and responsibility. Don’t overwhelm them, by any means, but put some age-appropriate weight on their shoulders. You’re not overburdening them. You’re empowering them to become responsible, functioning citizens later in life. (Heads up…no nagging. It doesn’t work.)

To avoid being too “iron-fisted,” watch for cues that your teen is ready to take on responsibility, then loosen the reins and see how they do. If it’s too much, pull back. If they handle it well, loosen your grip a bit more. Above all, don’t suffocate your teen with rules and boundaries. Don’t invite rebellion by not allowing your teen to have the much-needed freedom they need and crave.

#4 Don’t Ride Their Emotional Roller Coaster Alongside Them

It’s okay for our teens to feel moody or sad, angry or downright miserable. Not only should their wide range of (sometimes extreme) emotions be expected, they should be accepted. They should be allowed to “feel.” What’s not okay is when they make everyone else in the house miserable when they’re not in a good place. 

In my kids’ early tween years, when their hormones kicked in, I found myself just as emotional as they were. When they were up, I was up. When they were down, I was down. When they were salty, snarky or sassy I found myself reacting and riding their emotional rollercoaster right alongside them.

But I learned…we can’t sit in misery with our kids. Instead, we need to use those times as opportunities to help them.

Tweens and teens need coaching on how to manage their negative moods. They need ideas on how to cope in a healthy way. They need a listening ear so they can vent their emotions, moods, feelings and worries. They need reminders when they start to pull the world around them down with them and patience along the way. Mostly they need gentle encouragement to put those emotions back into a healthy place.

#5 Don’t Live Vicariously Through Your Teen

Even if we don’t outwardly admit it, we all secretly hope and pray our kids are successful, that they perform well in school or that they’re talented in a particular area like sports. Maybe you were a cheerleader and you secretly hope your daughter follows in your footsteps. Maybe your husband was the star basketball player in high school and the first thing you purchase your son or daughter when they’re old enough is a basketball. 

But don’t allow your expectations to get in the way of your teen becoming who they’re meant to be. And, don’t live vicariously through them reliving your ‘best days” in high school or college through them. This is their time. 

#6 Don’t Brush Off Disrespect as Normal Teen Behavior

Unconditional love doesn’t mean we should allow our teens to treat us with disrespect. Of course, we should be patient and understanding of the fact that their hormones sometimes get the best of them and even offer a few “free passes” every now and then. But continued disrespect should never be tolerated. 

If and when they are disrespectful, don’t pass it off too quickly as sheer contempt. Take a deeper look and try to identify the emotional need underlying the behavior. Quite often, teenagers “act out” their emotions rather than conveying them verbally. Talk to your teen. Explain why you can’t and won’t allow them to treat you with disrespect. Help them do a better job of communicating their needs or thoughts and, if needed, put consequences in place. 

#7 Don’t Expect Too Much Too Quickly

Teenagers have a way of jumping back and forth between childhood and adulthood almost on a daily basis. One day they’re ready to conquer the world and don’t need our help, opinion or advice, and the next they’re asking us to drive them somewhere, to make them a grilled cheese sandwich, and asking for help with their math homework.

They’re teetering between childhood and adulthood and that’s to be expected. They’re slowly gaining the confidence to wander a little further away from us and when life gets a little scary, they come running back for cover. Just be there with open arms, give them the encouragement they need and praise them when they show signs of independence.

#8 Don’t Forget… They’re Watching

They’re watching what you do, what you don’t do, how you handle stress, how forgiving or patient you are (or aren’t), whether you gossip, cut corners and even what you eat. You might be fully convinced that they couldn’t care less, but they’re tuned into far more than you know. 

If we can step back and realize that our kids are looking at us to be their role models and mentors, maybe it will help us make better choices knowing that our behavior, words and actions are quietly molding our children’s hearts and minds. 

#9 Don’t Freak Out When They Pull Away

I know it’s SO hard to see your once chatty, “let’s hang out,” carefree child turn away from you and perhaps cocoon behind a closed bedroom door. But experts agree, not only is our teen’s desire to pull away and separate from us normal, it’s necessary.

They need this time to figure out a few things on their own and be alone with their thoughts from time to time.

Don’t freak out, please. Just keep lovin’ on them, show them you care in a million different ways, keep asking them to hang out or talk or watch TV and be ready to drop everything when they come to you ready to talk.

With a lot of love, patience and grace, they’ll come around… just give them time. 

#10 Don’t Add to Their Chaos

Raising teenagers can be extremely challenging at times. One minute they’re happy-go-lucky and carefree, the next they’re in a serious funk taking it out on everyone and anyone who crosses their path.

Be the calm in their storm. Take a deep breath and give your teen exactly what they need… a gentle voice of reason. You won’t be doing your teen or yourself any good if you react to their every shift in mood. Your ability to stay calm is your superpower!

Final Thoughts: DON’T Give Up on Them

They need you… today, tomorrow and well into their adult years. Don’t give up because it’s too hard, too frustrating, too inconvenient or too exhausting. Keep trying to connect. Keep trying to talk to them, to listen, to spend time with them. Keep guiding them (even when they’re unaccepting). Keep being the parent they need and don’t give up on them… ever. One day, when you least expect it, they’ll thank you for sticking by them through it all. 

If you enjoyed reading, “Raising Teenagers: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do,” check out these other posts!

The Five R’s of Punishment: Why Harsh Discipline Might Backfire with Your Teen

Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! What are some things you DON’T do when raising teenagers? 

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Gordon Clay September 4, 2022 - 7:41 pm

Expanding on point 8. Kids learn from their parents that lying is okay and natural. From an early age, as soon as they can complete sentences, they have listened to you lie. How so. You’re on the phone and want to cut the conversation short and say something like, Gotta go and get the kids to soccer practice, or school, or what ever and then you don’t do it. Gotta go. We’re sitting down to eat. You call in work to say your sick and spend the morning at the yoga studio. Little lies add up and tell your child that lying is natural and it’s okay. Problem is they don’t know the difference, at that stage of development, that you’re telling little white lies and they learn, as they grow up, to call you to say their going to the mall with friends, or a movie, or what ever, and are really going to a party, or have sex with the person they are dating, or maybe just try a hookup. Just a thought
Second, DO NOT TAKE THEIR CELL PHONE AWAY AS PUNISHMENT. This is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. A cell phone is a life line, particularly for tweens and teens. Isolation from the pandemic and life has created a horrible increase in isolation, depression, anxiety and left many adults and teens with some form of PTSD. Even if that’s not the case, their friend or friends are really important to many of them and is their life line to their life and its situations. You many never know the trauma they are feeling, but it’s most likely in their text file on their phone. That’s how many parents get their first clue that their child is suffering to the point of killing themselves. Just ask a parent who lost a child and didn’t have a clue, to check their kids cell phone. Most likely, the whole story is right their on their cellphone with dates and times of day (or night). Note: The crisis text line serves mainly youth (75% are under 25. 46% of convos, as they call them (conversions through texting) are between the hours of 10p and 4am. They can’t sleep. But they can and do text.
If I’m right, I would love to see a book published on the subject of suicide that concerns youth who have died by suicide, their parents and friends reaction and then print a transcript of their cell phone which has dates and times, so some people could go back and trace what was going on in the family, how their child really reacted, and what other parents could learn about new risk factors and warning signs to catch youth in crisis before they spontaneously kill themselves.

Hope this is helpful. I enjoy your articles. I pass them on to my daughter who has two girls in college. I also have a web site you might be interested in viewing. ZeroAttempts.org

Nancy Reynolds September 5, 2022 - 9:35 am

Thank you so much for your insight and wisdom, Gordon. I recently wrote a post about “Things to Consider Before Taking Your Teen’s Cell Phone Away” and I brought up your EXACT point – that teen’s cell phones are quite literally their “lifeline” and that taking their phone away is completely counterproductive. I also mentioned that if parents choose to take their teen’s phone away it should be for short increments of time. Interestingly, I received a fair amount of flack for that post. Many parents simply believe that since they’re paying for their teen’s cell phone they have every right to take it away if and when they choose for however long they choose to do so. I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in with your suggestions. I’m hopeful it will help parents view things through a different lens. All the best to you. Nancy


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