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Parenting Teenagers: Sure It’s Tough Today, But It’s Not Impossible

Are you finding it challenging to live with your teenager? You’re not alone! It’s normal to experience conflicts and disagreements during this crucial period of your child’s development. But don’t worry, there are ways to navigate this stage without losing your sanity. Let’s share some tips and tricks on how to maintain a healthy and positive relationship with your teen. Together, we can make this journey a little bit easier.

The blogs that will follow this first one will share seven principles, they are much more like proverbs than promises, they are not guarantees. Children don’t come with guarantees (I think it’s because if they did too many would get sent back) but there are these principles in parenting that if you apply them will help you avoid mistakes and succeed as parents.

SETTING THE SCENE: To quote a teenager “But why?”

Adolescence is now and always has been a tough time. In fact, it’s about the most difficult stage of change in life. Unfortunately, at the same time children begin to progress through their adolescence, their parents move through their new stage in life in which they begin to experience new and bizarre things. Things like partial memory loss! And the thing they most commonly forget is their own adolescence.

As a parent you reflect on being a teenager and remember the thrill of new discovery, the wonder of it all, the excitement, the anticipation, the hopes, the energy, the adventure. You forget the pimples, the awkwardness, the gawkiness, the lack of motivation, the self-doubts, and the fears.

I want to remind you of that a bit here. I want to remind you that it is now, and it always has been difficult to be an adolescent. I’d also like to remind you that it is now, and always has been, difficult to live with an adolescent.

Well over 100 years ago Mark Twain said “When a boy turns 13 you should put him in a barrel, nail it shut, and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16 you should plug up the knot hole. They’ve been a problem for a long time!

This blog, and the book that it will grow into, provides information, ideas and encouragement to help you navigate the smoothest possible pathways and achieve the best possible outcomes for your teenager – and you.

This begins with answering the question: What is your most important role as a parent? Is it to provide unconditional love, freely expressing and receiving affection? Is it to provide for the physical needs of adequate food, clothing, and shelter? Is it to do everything in your power to maintain your child’s health? Is it to provide the fundamentals of your child’s education: the power to read, write and count? Is it to ensure your child has a sound moral and spiritual view?

All the above are incredibly important, but they all lead to the same desired outcome: to prepare your child to be a capable, confident, and successful adult. The underlying method to achieving this (and this may not be a popular way of expressing it) is control. As the parent, you set the rules and timetables – what to wear, when to eat, how to play, where to go or not go. These controls change as a child gets older, but they are crucial elements in the preparation for adulthood because you are both setting the best path and keeping your child on it. Of course, exercising control leads to conflict: from the toddler tantrum in Kmart to the teenager’s violent slamming of a door loudly narrated, “I hate you! I hate my life! I hate living in this family”. This conflict is the most significant contributor to the difficulty of raising a teenager; minimising it (without sacrificing your values and wisdom) will make your life better and your teen’s growth and development easier.

By the word control I do not mean that absolute authoritarianism associated with families in the Elizabethan era or strict religious communities, but rather a daily interaction between you and your child that leads to the development of patterns of thinking, choices, and behaviour that give your girl or boy the very best chance to become the best person he or she can be.

Perhaps a more palatable word for this process than control is levers. Using levers is not about coercing your child to act and think for your good, but processes by which you can gently adjust the progress of your child’s life.

This began the day that child arrived in your life. Think of all that you did to get that baby to feed and sleep, have that toddler wear warm clothes and avoid dangerous situations, encourage that primary schooler to eat politely, do homework, and shower. Oh, please shower! The levers you used for your pre-teen are losing their effect on your teen, principally because even before the physical signs of adolescence appear the shift in attitudes arrives.

A drive to independence and questioning marks adolescence; the teen will regularly challenge the logic of the parent’s instructions and rules and increasingly choose to act on his or her impulses.  The clever parent, you, then adjusts the levers accordingly. This job is tough and has been since time immemorial, but today it is harder because of the way our society has changed.

In the space of just 3 generations Western society has moved from one with largely homogenous values, beliefs, and cultural mores, all derived from a strong sense of tradition coupled with a general belief in a Divine power.

Parents were not alone in directing their teens successfully and safely through adolescence because a whole range of authorities existed that compelled children to behave in certain ways. Teens didn’t always follow the authorities, but the authorities were everywhere, reinforcing the values and behaviours of their parents.

The homogeneity of society, the most powerful authority, meant that while all teens had different values and priorities from their parents (which is still true today), current Western teens live in a world where adults present a smorgasbord of attitudes, lifestyles, and morals. Where once the rebelling teen reluctantly knew that Mr & Mrs Walters, Aunty Thelma, the Zanettis, and everyone at church, agreed with mum and dad, today’s teens are reinforced in their rebellion because they know that the Hyde-Smiths next door, Uncle Ryan who they see at holidays, and @45andlovingit on Instagram would agree.

The next great authority was a commonly accepted set of values and principles by which all people lived. Not everyone followed them to the letter, but the vast majority believed they were absolute. That common set of values has now gone. There are no absolutes for kids anymore, everything is open to question and relative; they live in a world where an opinion is valid because it is held, not because it is true. Consequently, when there is a clash of views, the parent must work much harder to argue her or his case. And we’re not just talking about Climate Change, conservative versus progressive politics, or the morality of war. In fact, it is not usually those things; more commonly, it is clothes, music, make-up, social media and games!

The third great change in authority is that it wasn’t that long ago that if all else failed and you still couldn’t convince the kid by logic, you could convince the kid by the fact that you were to be heard simply because you were the adult, there was an inherent authority you held because you were the grownup. That basically, as you all know has gone, you no longer have authority just because you’re a parent.

When I was a boy, my father would say to me “Graham, do it.”  And I’d say, “why”. To which he would reply, “Because I said so” and I would do it, begrudgingly with muttered curses, but it would be done (usually slowly).

I tried it with my daughter. I’d say, “Do it”. She’d say, “Why” I’d say, “Because I said “so”, and she would reply, “Who said you can say so”. There is no inherent authority.

Ask someone who was a teacher a generation ago. That teacher would walk through a playground and ask a kid, “Could you pick up that paper?” The kid would grumble but pick it up. Today that kid will say, “Why, I didn’t put it there”. Say to a class, “Can you straighten those chairs?”  and they’d straighten the chairs, today they’ll say, “Why, the next class will mess them up anyway”. Everything is challenged, especially when it’s the big stuff of life.

As a result, when you come to debate those issues with your adolescent that are critical and create conflict:

  • you have no derived authority from a homogeneous society.
  • you have no authority from a standard set of morals and values.
  • and you have no authority because in the teen’s mind there is no such thing as an absolute authority.

Don’t be depressed! For every bad news story there is a good news one, and there certainly is here. When all of the traditional props to parenting are removed, we are left to rely on the one foundation that is most likely to work and always has: rules without relationships lead to rebellion.

The better the relationship you can develop with your teen, the greater the likelihood you have of positively influencing your teen and of being the rock on which that teen rests when he or she is being battered by the many negatives kids experience as they progress through adolescence.

The seven principles (or levers) we will explore in this series of blogs all work to build and maintain excellent relationships while functioning as the guide, educator, comforter, and motivator every good parent is.

They are:

  1. The key to good relationships is dialogue.
  2. Pick your battles wisely, or you’ll be battling all the time.
  3. Break the no-talk rule before it breaks your family.
  4. Don’t handicap teenagers by making life too easy for them.
  5. Catch your teenager in the act of doing something good.
  6. Remember – the Lone Ranger never had kids.
  7. Something is better than nothing.

Enjoying these posts? Then get the “prequel” –Understanding Your Teenager,  an eBook that reveals what changes are happening in your child – physical, social, emotional, intellectual – and equips you with knowledge and ideas to deal with them. Only $7! Click for more information

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The key to good relationships – dialogue

Mum, Dad, teen son, teen daughter, laughing on couch

Every family needs to have rules. Kids need to have rules, even if it’s only so they know which ones they are breaking, but it is relationships that are the glue that hold the family together. And the key to good relationships? It is not solving all your kids’ problems, giving them money, or being the coolest parent on the block. The key to good relationships is dialogue.

This is good news and bad news. It is good news because dialogue is cheap and easy. It is bad news because dialogue is the one thing that has suffered most in modern homes and families.

Stephen Glenn, an American family educator, wrote:

 “We have moved from living rooms filled with dialogue to family rooms filled with television sets. Interaction within families has been reduced to only a few minutes a day. And of these few minutes, over half are issued in one way negatively toned communication. Parents are issuing warnings or reproaching children for things done wrong.” And note this book was first published 30 years ago – before the invention of smartphones, tablets, social media, and streaming video, which all make it so easy for every member of a family to live an individualised experience in the group space.

Additionally, our lives have become so busy and insular that there’s no time left to have dialogue. We parents are so busy doing our work thing, our social thing, our parenting thing while our kids are equally busy doing their school, sport, and friend things; and the computer, smartphone, tablet or TV is doing its thing to isolate all of us. The result is that some Australian families are so busy that people only get to spend time with each other outside the microwave. One is waiting to take a dinner out; the other is waiting to put one in.

The consequence of all this busyness and distraction is the loss of incidental time – people happening to be in the same space at the same time with nothing much else to do. That is the context in which dialogue will most naturally arise, and because that context is being eroded, we need to re-create it strategically.

For all of my 2 children’s teen years, my work required that I travel a great deal, in 2 to 14-day trips, usually totalling between 4 and 6 months each year. Consequently, when I was home, I had to think very seriously about the time I spent with my wife and kids because if I didn’t choose to spend time with them, that relationship-building time wouldn’t happen. It also meant that when I was on the road, I got to do what I like to do, which is to watch television, and being the man I am, what I watched was news and current affairs.

When I was home, I watched hardly any news, not because I am some instinctively brilliant father, but because my wife gently suggested to me (as only wives can “gently suggest”) that perhaps it was inappropriate for me to be sitting watching TV at the only time of the day family was together at the same time. From that conversation, I learned it was far more wonderful to find out what had happened on my daughter’s day than on the Australian Prime Minister’s or American President’s day. That it was much more fun to go to the nets and practice cricket with my son than it was to find out how the Australian Team was performing.

The other thing I noticed was about sports and exercise. While on the road, it was just too inconvenient (a very convenient excuse!) When I was home, if I were to have a 4-hour round of golf or an hour in the gym, that would be time not spent with my wife and kids, so for all of my children’s teenage years, my sport became going to their sports events. The spectator dad bounced from swimming to cricket to netball and back to swimming again, midday to 5 on Fridays, all day Saturday and much of many Sundays. At the end of those events, other parents would arrive for the child collection and give me looks that seemed to say, “He’s here again; doesn’t he have a job? Doesn’t he have anything better to do?” And the reality was that the answer to their question was that I didn’t have anything better to do because as much as I enjoyed watching my children’s sport, what I was actually there for was to build a regular context of the ordinary in which exceptional dialogue could take place – more on that later.

Some simple things can be done daily to build this context, but they have one thing in common: to put yourself into your child’s world rather than forcing the child into your own. In the early evening, when all you want to do is sit and unwind in front of a screen, choose a screen or show the teen wants to watch it with him or her. Choose YouTube Fails over the news! Do this for three days, and they’ll notice that you’re there. Do it for a week; it won’t be hard because you will be addicted. After a couple of weeks, you’ll find your kids start to talk to you, during the ads, but they’ll talk to you.

As the mother, and this is stereotypically still true, you are the only person in the home still working after six at night. You find yourself stuck in the kitchen saying to yourself, “How come I’m the one packing dishes, making lunches, getting ready for tomorrow?” When you feel like that, put down everything, take up your cup of tea, a glass of wine, or a sensitive, new-age mug of healing hot water, go to your daughter’s bedroom where she’s pretending to study, and lie down on her bed. When she looks at you and says, “Mum, what are you doing here?” you reply, “Nothing, sweetheart, I just wanted to be close to you.”

The first time you do this, it will be like the Antarctic has moved into your house. The second time, the thaw will have begun, and by the third time, you’ll find you start to relax, to fall asleep. The moment you get that relaxed, your daughter (or son) will say, “Mum, what do you think about …”, “Mum did you know”, and suddenly, from this child from whom you’ve recently only had grunts, you’ll now receive sentences.

Another way of looking at this is that dialogue, especially with teens, is something that only ever happens by accident when people are comfortable with each other. You can’t program dialogue, you can’t sit down with a teenager and say, “I’ve got time; let’s talk”. It won’t happen.

If you want to have significant conversations with your teens, you need to spend lots of time on the insignificant. If you’re too busy to talk about the ordinary, you’ll never hear about the extraordinary. If you want to deal with the serious, you must first spend time with the trivial.

This becomes particularly important when we understand that most kids are reticent to speak about serious issues. Almost invariably, teens who have something important they want to discuss with their parents will first test to see if their parents are listening, and the way kids test their parents’ listening skills is to try them out on the trivial. If a teen’s experience is that their parents are too busy with the trivial, that teen won’t even trying to raise the important.

You need to spend time on these ordinary conversations, to put yourself in a position where dialogue is easy for your kids. All those hours you spend listening to your child’s latest obsession (friends, sports, electronic games, clothes, pop stars, TikTokers, and the like – the list is as endless as it is mindless) work to convince your child that your ears are open to them.

Conversely, suppose your child’s lived experience is having to fight your other priorities in order to be heard. In that case, your child will gradually slip into the belief that her or his thoughts and issues are not important and will stop raising them.

Your children are more important than the drink with the girls or boys after work, the correspondence course you are doing, the social media you scroll through on the couch, the news and current affair shows on TV, the sport, and chatting on the phone to friends. If this seems to suggest that parents must make sacrifices you are reading me correctly, for two reasons.

Firstly, if you already have teenagers, you haven’t got them much longer; this is the last hurrah. At best, you have five years left to set this stuff up.

Secondly, in this story, you are the grownups; if you don’t make the sacrifices, no one will.

This doesn’t mean you have to make your life totally available to your children; that can be equally damaging. It simply means that where parents make a serious effort to lay the groundwork for open and good communication, the usual outcome is a dialogue that promotes the most desirable relationships.  

Enjoying these posts? Then get the “prequel” –Understanding Your Teenager,  an eBook that reveals what changes are happening in your child – physical, social, emotional, intellectual – and equips you with knowledge and ideas to deal with them. Only $7! Click for more information

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How to Increase Dialogue by Focusing on Everyday Conversations


While it is easy to see that building good relationships relies on dialogue, making that a reality can be difficult when children move into adolescence because their communication style is part of the suite of changes that occur.

Most commonly, they either become secretive and monosyllabic and any attempt at conversation is stifled by grunts, harrumphs, or if words are used, they are a weaponised question: “What’s this, what do you want now?”

Alternately, the teen is incessantly chatty where there may be many words used, often of a seemingly foreign language, but not much sense is made.

Talk, Don’t Just Communicate

The result of either of these is that conversation, the bedrock of dialogue, dries up between parents and their teens. Instead of conversing frequently and easily about many things, parents fall into the pattern of only talking to their teens when they have something important to communicate to them. To tell them about what they need to do tomorrow, should have done yesterday, or shouldn’t have done today.

To overcome this, you need to practice talking to your teens the way they talk to “normal people”, to talk to them about things of everyday life and so forth, things of common interest and so forth. This lays a foundation for casual and frequent conversation. When you make the effort to talk to your children about things beyond what they did in school today, what they need to do at music practice, or how they really ought to clean their rooms, you achieve some very important outcomes.

Some of you have tried this without success. Day after day you have this conversation:

“How was your day”

“All right”

“What did you?”


“You were there for 6 hours, you must have done something?”

“Just stuff”

“What sort of stuff”


Long silence

You have experimented with dipping into their entertainment – music, movies, influencers, etc. – to find conversation starters, only to fail miserably, being derisively dismissed by getting it totally wrong (like when I called Smashing Pumpkins Broken Watermelons when trying to sound relevant to my 13-year-old daughter.)

You have tried to enforce family meals being taken at the table together, only to have the mood go cold faster than the food.

If this is where you find yourself, then there is little method that might help: Gossip. Gossip with your children. This is not to say you seek salacious information to share about their friends and peers, rather, you make third parties the focus. Instead of asking your daughter, “How was your day?” you ask, “How is your friend Wendy, I haven’t seen her in a while”.

If your daughter’s reply is something scandalous, it is time to change the subject! But far more commonly, it will be along the lines of, “She plays soccer now, so I don’t see her much”, or “She’s moved to another school”, or, “She’s turned mean, and I hate her”. Suddenly, from this child from whom you’ve recently had only had grunts, you’ll now get sentences.

Another element to consider in normalising conversation with teens has to do with the kinds of topics you choose for casual conversation. Many parents chat with their children in a different way than they do with their peers. Casual conversations between parents and teens tend only to happen when the parents have something nice to talk about: the good things that have happened today, the positive expectations for tomorrow. Casual conversations with adult peers, on the other hand, tend to be dominated by trivialities like sports and politics or by anxieties, fears, concerns, and worries.

The result of only sharing your perfection with your children and your frailty with your friends is that your children will not find it easy to be empathetic, or even understanding, when you are frail.

This scenario may be familiar to you: You have one of those horrible days at work, the boss has been bad and the clients worse. You fight the traffic home, clear the letterbox because no one else ever does, and all you have received are bills. You walk into the house and every light is on, the air-conditioning is at full blast, set to 22 degrees even though it is a balmy 23 outside. The kitchen shows no signs of meal preparation, just the detritus of teenage after-school snacking on the benches, sink and floor.

You don’t want to dump this on your teens because they are just kids, so you pretend everything is all right. Your kids will see right through this, but they won’t blame your horrible day, they will just mutter amongst themselves, saying, “Watch out, mum’s all hormonal again”.

Instead, try a little honesty and say to your kids “I’ve had a bad day, be gentle with me”. There is little guarantee that you will be overwhelmed with sympathy and offers of help, but if you are consistent with this, and are sure to equally share being genuinely joyous, over time you will set patterns of open, two-way conversation.

Conversation about the trivial and the ordinary, and even the baring of our frailty, lets your teenagers know that you value their listening and enjoy their company. When you spend time in casual conversation, where there are no emotional undertones or hidden agendas, you are creating the tools that make real dialogue work.

You are creating familiar patterns of conversation that are templates for when important things need not be shared.

You are establishing a common vocabulary so that you and your teens have a familiar set of words to access that have the same meaning to each of you.

You are learning to read each other’s body language and understand the qualification that intonation and posture bring to words

More than all of these, you learn to be comfortable with silence so there is not an urgency to fill the spaces in your teen’s conversation with your own words. These spaces are critically important to thought processing and proof of listening, especially with teens who will often struggle to find the right words, and the right direction for their argument, and will need silence to formulate them.

Listen, Don’t Lecture

It is self-evident: if you want to be able to talk WITH your teenagers you must resist the temptation to talk AT them. But beyond that, you must actively discipline yourself to listen to them. This is made very difficult by the fact that teenagers frequently don’t talk to their parents, and when they do talk, they talk dribble, and when they don’t talk dribble, they use a language you don’t understand. Is this a mission impossible?

There are some teenagers who happily chat to their parents about everything. If you have one of these, give thanks. The other 90% have busy social calendars, and personal secrets they want to protect. Talking to a parent is the lowest rung on the ladder of their social priorities.

With these kids, the most successful strategy is to find something the child cannot do without you and make it happen regularly. It may be monthly breakfast at McDonalds on a school day, or horse riding in the hills, or shopping in THE place, or surfing and skiing trips. The key here is to make the focus the event, not the conversation you hope will arise. This is not the time to talk to the teen about what he hasn’t done, or what she should do. It is the time to enjoy the meal or the experience in a silence that is interrupted by comments and questions about the décor, the weather, or the badly behaved children on the playground.

I have a friend who was a youth worker, and what I have described here is a simple youth work technique. When Tim’s daughter hit high school he thought to himself, “If this works for me with other kids, it should work for mine”.

On Jenny’s first Wednesday at high school, Tim turned up at lunchtime, found her at her classroom and said, “Jenny, I’m taking you to lunch”.

She replied, sheepishly, “It’s OK Dad, Mum sent stuff.”

Tim said, “No, I’m taking you to lunch.”

They went to lunch and Jenny only spoke to say, “Dad, it’s time to go back”

One month later Tim turned up at the classroom and Jenny just looked at him and said “I guess it’s lunch”.

They went off to lunch and again all Jenny said was “Dad, it’s time to go back.”

One month later, first Wednesday of the month, Tim turned up at the school again. He didn’t get to the classroom because Jenny was waiting for him in the car park. She said, “Dad, you wouldn’t believe it. All my friends said that you’d be here today. How come your dad comes and takes you to lunch when my dad’s not home for dinner most of the time?”

Jenny finished high school many years ago, but in all the time she was there they only missed a few of those lunch dates. Sometimes they’d go to restaurants, sometimes to fast food outlets, most times he’d just bring sandwiches for them both. The food was not the big deal. The big deal was that once the food was eaten they’d just walk, sometimes with arms linked and bubbly conversations, sometimes not touching and with hardly a word said, but they’d walk and talk. As Tim told me, the lunches were not always great and the conversations were not always sparkling, but every significant thing Jenny ever shared with him through those years started on those walks through parks. Tim took a risk and made a breakthrough. What risk do you need to take to make a breakthrough of dialogue with your teenager?

The principle? Find something your child and wants to do so badly it will be willing to do it with you and make it happen.

Find what works for your child, fit in with that, and keep in mind that this developing relationship will be the foundation of what you enjoy together for the whole of your life.

Enjoying these posts? Then get the “prequel” –Understanding Your Teenager,  an eBook that reveals what changes are happening in your child – physical, social, emotional, intellectual – and equips you with knowledge and ideas to deal with them. Only $7! Click for more information

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My teenager has no respect

QUESTION: How do i get my 15 year old son to accept responsibility, and not blame everyone else but himself for the simplist of things, He seems to have not a lot of respect for his family but plenty of respect for his peers, He likes to put people down, and use his power in knowledge to advance himself, even though we see through him and let him know that, He continues to say We don’t know anything, and things are different from when when you were young, (i am 41) we are not that much older than you, things are not that different from when we were also at school, etc

Sounds like you have a fairly normal 15-16 year old boy! (Girls are the same – except that where boys get aggressive girls get hysterical). When boys of this age can’t deal with a situation or can’t win an argument with reason they will quickly seek alternate remedies. As you are seeing, they will either lay blame elsewhere, accuse those around of not understanding, or attempt to demolish a person’s argument by making them emotionally weak. The critical underlying factor here is that they are not thinking straight. As a friend of mine always says ‘you can never win an argument with a teenager because arguments require reason’.

The first thing to consider here is how much of a change this behaviour is compared to 3 or 4 years ago. If your son has historically been allowed a lot of freedom and a lot of time when he has been responsible for himself, it is not surprising that now when he feels like a man (and probably looks like a man) that he wants to take total control. In that case the way of dealing with the problem should be heavily oriented towards helping him discover mature ways of dealing with arguments and relationships.

Secondly, when these behaviours are handled carefully, without over-reaction, over time the boy matures and the attitudes mellow (and the appreciation for the important adults in his life grows). To quote Mark Twain (circa 1900) “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”

Some key steps you might like to try while he is growing up are:

1) Insulate yourself from the emotion. It is very hard to do this because kids can be so hurtful, but the moment you respond in kind you will lose your credibility and the argument. If you want your son to speak to you in a calm and respectful way, refuse to speak to him until he does. Every time you engage in the argument in his way you give him another reason to believe that you are not rational. It is quite amazing how quickly teens see irrationality in their parents and how slowly they see it in themselves.

2) Tie consequences to behaviours. In the end it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, it is a matter of who is the parent. Work the consequences out with him when he is calm and be certain to apply exactly the agreed consequence whenever he has behaved in an inappropriate way. Again this is hard to do but you do not have to justify your argument to your son. In fact his logic is so clouded by his emotion that he will never see your logic..

3) Be reasonable. A great way to begin to gain the respect of our kids is to listen to the whole of what they are saying and wherever possible to compromise. Sometimes we are so frustrated by the way they speak to us and others that we become unreasonable ourselves and the whole cycle escalates.

4) Praise the good. This seems like such an obvious and simplistic thing, but it is amazing how consistent, honest affirmation can quickly turn situations around. Not all that is negative about your son’s behaviour right now is about rebellion or insolence. It is almost certain that in some of it he is sub-consciously asking you to acknowledge that he is becoming a man. Every admission that you make is one that he doesn’t have to earn so he will gradually become less obstinate more accepting. Most importantly he will become confident enough in himself to not blame others for his failings. All of this is very desirable because as you are seeing his current method of earning maturity is not very mature!

5) Build the relationship. In the end problems like these are ultimately only solved by the quality of the relationship between the parent and the child. He will not become like you (your values, manners and beliefs) because you are right, he will become like you because he likes you. Look for ways to spend time with him away from all the issues that raise conflict. It might be going to a take away restaurant, or a drive to the city, or even watching TV with him. Initially these moments will have to be chosen carefully, and probably won’t last long, but over time they will build into the foundation of a great relationship.

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My 15 year old daughter wants more freedom

QUESTION: My daughter is always getting upset when I do not let her go to a party or just let her go out and hang with mates. She always says that other kids in her class get to go out and have a good time but the problem is she says she will go and hurt herself ans she says the reason for her to do this is because she does not get enough freedom. She is only 15 and is my first teenager so what do I do to let her feel that she is getting more freedom?? Please help

Thanks for your question.

Independence and freedom are the most prized ambitions of teenagers, and in many ways they are an important and normal part of growing up. Problems arise though because the desire to be independent comes a long time before the maturity to cope with independence, especially in this age when there are so many dangers so readily available to our kids.

The key to success here is to make some small concessions, and then to stand firm on the new boundaries you have set. For instance give your daughter permission to go to parties but limit the number (say only per month), and the the time she has to be home. If she wants to hang out with her mates make it conditional on all of her homework and household chores being done, and that there is a definite time she has to be home.

At 15 it is important for her to feel some sense of control over her own life while at the same time knowing that she is accountable for her behaviours to you. It is the balance between these two developmental elements that enable teens to grow into capable adults safely.

By the way, even with these concessions you will still have arguments. Kids will always push the boundaries and will always have a reason as to why “this time should be different”. One of the hardest parts of parenting a teen is remaining strong, and calm when kids turn belligerent. When a teen realises that logical argument will no longer be effective she quickly resorts to emotional blackmail or bullying. The good news is that, in spite of the hysterics, so long as parents are genuinely allowing opportunities for kids to test their emerging independence, and that other factors in family life are promoting positive relationships, kids will fairly quickly and (begrudgingly) accept the boundaries.

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My child goes out for too long on a school night!

QUESTION: How do I stop my child going out at night after school for so long on a school night?

Firstly, this is much easier when the ground rules are laid very early. For instance: if you have had an absolute rule with your child up to the age of 14 that school nights are only for family, extra curricular activities (sport, music, drama, etc), homework and relaxing at home then you will not have too much trouble continuing with those rules through senior high. On the other hand, if your child has had the freedom to enjoy other social activities on school nights in his or her pre-teens and early teens that will be a very difficult habit to break.

But if you are reading this question you are in the middle of dealing with this issue now$, so here are some ideas that might help regardless of your history.

The first step is to help your child see the point in coming home at a reasonable time. Most kids who lack personal discipline also lack a sense of purpose in their lives. Listen to what your teen wants to do with his or her life. Then when the issue of late nights arises use that ambition as the reason for the boundaries you are setting down.

Secondly, set clear, consistent rules. Perhaps allow certain days of the week for socialising (choose evenings before the school days that have the lightest academic load). Make the curfew one that allows some freedom but is not overly generous. 10:30 is the latest any teen should be out socialising on a night.

Thirdly, introduce consequences. These should be discussed with your teen beforehand and agreed with by him or her. The consequence should be real, but reasonable, and must be enforceable. Then enforce the consequence, never back down no matter how much abuse you receive. The consistent application of consequences is the best form of discipline (and control) available to parents today.

Fourthly, reward. Make it worth your teen’s while to be at home on school nights, studying. The reward might be extra time out on the weekends, or it might be the building of a bank account towards the purchase of something special. The actual type of reward is not important, the fact that it is guaranteed and centered on something worthwhile to your teen is.

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Brilliant drug & alcohol resource for parents of teens

The biggest challenge for parents is often just staying informed about what is really happening in the world of their teens. This is nowhere more true than in the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Fortunately we have ready and free access to some of the best research in the world, and some of the wisest thinking, right here! The Australian Drug Foundation provides an excellent set of free resources on its website. From this page you can access research, ideas and a great list of links to support and help agencies.

Their page provides access to information and statistics that are current, reputable and – best of all – Australian based.

Their subsite provides all parents and carers need to intiate a conversation with their teens and pre-teens about the use of alcohol and other drugs.

ADF also has resources for young people.

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My step-daughter is impossible to live with

QUESTION: I am step father to my partner’s 15 year old girl. over a number of years this child has been very naughty (probably no diff to many other children) however now that she is 15 and year 10 (Just – put in a very poor effort last year she has developed a network of friends with which she is in constant contact on her mobile phone up to 2 and 3 am in the morning – we also give her access to the internet which she uses only for MSN and my space and during the time she is on the net she is also constantly still on the phone

– we were concerned that her schooling was suffering as a result of this contact etc. and placed a curfew of 10pm Sun – Thurs to hand her mobile so that she at least gets a reasonable nights sleep – every night this turns into stressful situations as she hates to be without her phone and lose contact with her friends – we think that maybe she feels insecure with her friends and has the fear that during the time she has no contact that she may lose them as a friend ( as a younger child when she played with neighbours in the court she would hold off coming inside to go to the toilet in fear that the friend she was playing with would go and play with someone else) when she doesn’t get her own way she threatens to leave home and live with one of her network friends and has in fact ran off twice and lived elsewhere for a week or so each time – she has not respect for her mother or myself – she cupboard doors etc. and tells us she will do what she likes when she likes and how she likes – to myself because I have not got that maternal bond – I feel quite threatened by her behaviour – very frustrated and life is not very pleasant in our home – I have only touched on a minor area of her behaviour – there are other issues such as drinking, smoking, wagging school, leaving home at midnight and coming back around 6.30anm in the morning, lies, stealing, always trying to con money and material things from us both – my question- at what age can we expect this childs behaviour to change ?????

Thanks for your question, you and your wife are certainly having a tough time.

Your statement that “over a number of years she has been very naughty” makes a response a little difficult. Often the behaviours you mentioned have their origins in an unsettled childhood and they way they were dealt with then will have a large impact on the approach you need to take now. Your daughter quite possibly needs some professional counselling.

In general terms though: Your step daughter’s behaviour, as you describe it, is typical for a 15 year old girl but it is at the very extreme end. Kids in their mid teens are primarily driven by two factors – the acceptance of their peers and the belief that they are adult and should be free to make their own decisions.

Most teens have the edgy part of those attitudes moderated by strength of the relationship they have with their parents and the experience of the clear structure they have grown up with. Some (as you are finding) are driven by their life experience, or genetic makeup, to ignore that moderation.

The good news is that when kids experience constant love and clear structure through their teens, regardless of how they accept it, they almost always grow into capable responsible and grateful adults. In fact they usually become really nice people.

Some steps you might try in the meantime:

Develop your relationship with her

From what you have described this will be hard, but it is not impossible. Don’t expect her to suddenly accept you into her life as her father, or even her friend – that will take a long time. Rather look for some small ways you can interact positively that are totally outside the conflict issues you have and quarantine these from any discipline.

Is there something you both like to do that you can do together? Is there something she likes to do that she may tolerate you doing with her? Or is there something she wants to do so badly she can only do it if you make it possible by doing it with her? Start small and build slowly – these types of things become the foundation not only of your relationship but also of your ability to shape her behaviour.

Don’t expect respect

This sounds odd, but respect is not what you are looking for. Respect implies you are seeking control over her attitude, you are not and you can’t. You are seeking control over her behaviour (for her benefit). Kids today do not give respect easily and they certainly do not give it on the basis of seniority. They only give respect when it is earned and their standards are very high for everyone (except themselves).

When you base compliance with your boundaries on a teen’s respect for you that child is given a quick and certain counter argument. In the frustrated teen’s mind there are at least a hundred things about you that prove you are not worth of her or his respect. In the teen’s logic if you demand or even suggest behaviour on the basis of respect there is no need to follow that path because you don’t deserve respect.

Instead expect compliance with a set of behaviours because they are clearly sensible. In the early days you will have the same battles, and the same defiance, but if you base your expectations of her on the realities of consequences of her actions you will do one of two things; if you are lucky – both. Over time she will be more accepting of the boundaries because she will learn to see the sense in them, and later in life she will use the same system of weighing up consequences to make her own decisions.

Make the boundaries fair, clear and firm

Every restriction you place on your daughter will be met with resistance. As you have already seen, her response to your boundaries will escalate through three stages. First comes emotional manipulation where she makes you feel sorry for her. Then comes deceit where she pretends to do the right thing while actually doing her own thing. Finally, when the other two don’t work she turns to defiance. There is not much you can do about her reaction, your only course is in your response.

I suggest you and your wife establish your absolute boundaries in those areas that really matter and the consequences that will always be applied when those boundaries are crossed. If you can, involve your daughter in the process of setting these boundaries and consequences. It’s much more effective if she knows that at some time she agreed to these things.

Then when the boundaries are crossed apply the consequences, calmly and without a lecture. She will still go through the 3 stages mentioned above but the worst thing you will see is no different to the current situation. There is every chance though that over time you will begin to see positive results in terms of self control and wiser decision making on her part.

You might be interested in the website It is American but it has good information and offers interactive support.

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My teen is abusive with me

QUESTION: My teen can’t argue without being abusive, what can I do?


Teens are so driven by the immediate they will frequently use every means available to get their way. Sometimes their desires are so urgent they will bypass all standard forms of argument and go straight to emotional blackmail. The subconscious thinking is: “If I can hurt mum enough, she will get sick of it and just give in.”

There are reasons teens are so extreme when angry (and get angry quickly with parents)


While they might like to think otherwise, teens know that in the end their parents control both the money available to them and how they use their time and space. There is very little they can do about that because of their personal situation (they are living at home), the law (they usually can’t leave) and societal expectations (most of their peers are in the same boat). Their verbal lashing out is an attempt to exercise power.


Because you are his parent he has confidence that no matter how unpleasant he is you won’t desert him. Consequently his words and actions are not moderated by the factor that softens most social interactions: fear that you will find him so offensive that you leave.


Quite possibly, deep down, she knows that you are right, but that doesn’t make the decision you are making for her any more palatable. Rather, she is facing an inner conflict where her head is telling her something her heart doesn’t want to hear. Sometimes the abuse you receive is not directed at you at all, it is simply the venting of her inner frustration.


Acting on a whim and treating every experience as a once in a lifetime opportunity is as much a normal part of adolescence as pimples and growth spurts. The teen brain is not good at thinking things through. Your teen is loud, aggressive and hurtful – basically irrational – because the thoughts he or she is defending have come from raw emotion not carefully considered thought.

Short term responses
  • Don’t return fire – it will only escalate the problem. Chose to not speak to your child until he or she calms down and speaks civilly.
  • Don’t panic – if your child is arguing with you it means your child knows it needs your permission (or money) to proceed. You still have the upper hand.
  •  Seek a compromise. It is easy to get into the habit of saying no for no’s sake. A small compromise can often allow the child to experience something of the wish without breaking parental boundaries.
  • Let the moment pass. If you absolutely cannot bend then wait till your teen has calmed down; then talk about your reasons, not his or her behaviour. You may reactivate the argument but if you are reasonable over time your child will be more accepting.
Long term responses

The following strategies will help minimise the number of occasions you have this experience (the earlier you start this process the more successful it will be)

Anticipate – wherever possible lay the ground work for a situation a good two years before the situation arises, it is very difficult to wind freedoms back. Behaviours and freedoms that are cute at 10 can be very frightening at 14. The current trend is to rush kids into maturity, I believe a safer way is to preserve innocence as long as possible.

Consistency – a huge benefit found in thinking your responses and values through ahead of time is that you are able to establish a set or responses that are consistent from one day to the next and one issue to the next. The quickest way to undermine credibility is to create in your kid the sense that they’re never quite sure how you’re going to react.

Balance – Prove yourself to be reasonable by developing a habit of being ahead of your teen in some areas of freedom. A great way to make unpleasant decisions palatable for your teens is when they know that you are also inclined to surprise them by the slack you can sometimes cut them.

Example – As with everything in parenting, the most powerful influence is example. If children see their parents handling disagreements, conflicts and argument calmly and with mutual respect they are very likely to have a similar approach.

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My teen will not get up in the morning and is too tired for school

QUESTION: Hi, I am wondering why teenage boys tend to want to sleep all day & can’t get up for school? I have a 14 yr old & he hates getting up in the morning, it takes me 2 hrs to get him up & i must say i am over this daily routine. He can’t understand why i get so stressed by the end of it. He then saunters of to to school grudgingly. He has always been a big sleeper but this is rediculous. Any suggestions would be appreciated?


Sleepy teenage boys have been a problem for many parents, and in our society where rooms are so comfy and beds so snugly it is even more difficult. Like most parenting teen issues there are no easy or quick solutions to this – just time and persistence.

Let’s start by giving him the benefit of the doubt: the problem could simply be that he is a teenager. There is a lot of evidence to show that sleep patterns do change during adolescence (it has to do with the timing of the secretion of melatonin) which means that the feeling of sleepiness arrives much later at night. Research has also proven that teens also need around 9 1/2 hours of sleep a night. When you add to this the fact their days are so full of activity and their nights so full of excitement it is little wonder they are often hard to get up in the morning.

Assuming that your son wants to go to school (because if he does not that is a quite different story) here are some suggestions that might help:

1) Work to his needs. Acknowledge that as a teen he needs around 10 hours in bed a night and come to an arrangement with him about what time he goes to bed based on what time he needs to get up.

2) Avoid the stimulants. We can’t blame puberty for all of the problem, many kids sleep late because they play late. TV, music, phone calls & texting, internet games & chat keep their brains aroused and bodies out of bed till very late at night. Setting clear boundaries about the use of these can help. Be especially strong about phone and internet based activity because not only do they not have a defined end point, they have an external party prolonging the interest. Be careful of physical stimulants too. All caffeine products (Caffeinated drinks, Guarana products, etc) should be avoided after the early afternoon and smoking avoided always, but especially after the early evening. Exercise is great in the afternoon, but not late at night.

3) Do things at night. Have your son do as much of what he needs to be ready for school the night before. If at all possible make his only responsibility in the morning that of going to school.

4) Time shift. Use his preferred entertainment to get him up in the morning. For example, if he absolutely must watch (insert his favourite show here – I don’t know your son) make it a rule that he watches it before he is due to leave for school.

5) Reduce the margins. Following on from that, come to an agreement with him about how much time he does need from when he wakes up till when he leaves for school and don’t bother waking him till that time. Better still give him the responsibility to set an alarm for himself. Maybe if he wakes with a sense of urgency knowing there is only just enough time to get ready he might be a little more motivated.

6) Choose consequences that sting. Tie consequences to something other than school. Even if he likes school, missing some of it is not something he will perceive as a personal cost so find something that is (money, social hours on the weekend, TV and internet rights, etc) and make those the consequence of him not getting up on time.

As to grudgingly sauntering off to school – sorry, nothing can be done about that!