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Living with a teen can be a trial. Your teen might not seem to listen to you, is disrespectful, and argues with you constantly – at least when she’s not giving you the silent treatment. You feel sometimes like you’re walking on eggshells around your teen and it makes you crazy. What’s going on?

Here are some clues to what might be getting between you and your teenager, and how you can get along better than you are now.

Clue #1. Teens are deciding what to believe and that can make them rude and unpleasant. Whether it’s religion, politics, or just what was the best movie of 2014, teens are testing out different points of view and trying to figure out what’s what. They have in mind your views that they grew up with, of course,  but they are actively seeking input from their friends, the media, what they learn in school, and from their own heads. Some of what they think now they will abandon later as silly or impractical. But the process of figuring out who they are and what they stand for is important, even if it’s loud and argumentative.

Clue #2. Your teen’s friends are important to him. These are the people he’ll be living with all his life and he wants their appreciation and respect. So when you dismiss your teen’s friends and say unkind things about them, that makes him sad and angry. Of course, he feels forced to defend them and to defend himself as well.

Clue #3. Teens know they might make mistakes and they understand a lot about the dangers they can get into. So they don’t need you to harp at them all the time. But they do need your support and friendly advice if it doesn’t come with a lot of criticism. Your teen recognizes that you might have good ideas to share but she doesn’t want to feel that you’re treating her like a child.

Clue #4. Your teen needs to know you’ve got his back. It used to be that trouble was just trouble at school or with the kids in the neighborhood. Nothing serious. Now the kinds of trouble your kid can get into are things that put people in jail or in the hospital. It’s a scary world and even though your teen seems tough, he still needs a helping hand. He really does still need a parent, and he knows it.

These things are true. But so is the feeling that the gulf between your teenager and you is so wide and deep it will never close. Here are some tips to keep the connection intact until your child grows past this point.

  1. Keep conversations with your teen civil and polite, even if you’re the only one being civil and polite. Don’t argue and don’t try to be too controlling. Recognize that your teen needs to assert her independence and support that with at least courteous interactions.
  2. Get to know your teen’s friends. Find their good qualities. Be interested in them and what they’re thinking. Don’t criticize them to your teen. Remember that their parents might be wondering the same things about your child!
  3. Realize that things will go wrong. Mistakes will happen, and there will be things that will need to be fixed or accepted. Your child is no longer four years old and under your complete control (if she ever was). Avoid being too disappointed.
  4. Be there when your teen needs you. There’s a difference between enabling bad behavior by making excuses for your kid and throwing your child to the wolves because you think he should have known better. When the going gets tough, stand with your teen. Your support in hard times is the foundation of the future you and your teen will share.
  5. Be unconditional. Don’t extort your teen’s compliance by saying, “If you loved me, you would do as I ask,” or “If you want me to love you, you have to do as I say.” Extortion is a crime, not the basis for a solid relationship. You and your teen will have differences of opinion. These differences might persist forever. So be it. You can still enjoy each other’s company and be nice to each other.

If you are the best parent you can be to your teen, and if you support her in her journey to adulthood instead of trying to hold her back, she will come around. Things will get better. The loving child you remember from elementary school is still there, as long as the loving parent still exists too.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

Sometimes grounding seems like the best punishment for the teen or preteen child. Since getting together with friends is the most important thing for older kids, the threat of keeping them from social interactions can be a powerful weapon in keeping kids’ behavior in check.

But, like all discipline techniques, there are ways to ground a teen that are more and less effective.  For grounding to result in a long-lasting behavior adjustment, so that the two of you are not always in conflict and you’re not always meting out punishment, you’ve got to do grounding right. Here are some guidelines.

  1. Reserve grounding for older children and teens. Kids younger than 10 have a hard time understanding time and cause-and-effect situations. They are less able to keep in mind the goal of going out with friends in the future and adjust their behavior now to achieve that goal.
  2. Communicate your conditions early. It’s just unfair to spring on a child the fact that, since her room is a mess, she can’t go to a party. If getting the room clean is a condition of going, she has to be told that far enough in advance to be able to clean up the room and far enough in advance that she doesn’t have to completely rearrange her plans to meet it. The morning of a day when she has already committed to babysit while a neighbor goes shopping is not the time to tell her that, in addition, she has to clean her room before she goes out at night.
  3. Make your conditions specific. It’s unfair to tell a child he can go to the theme park with friends on Saturday if he’s had a “good week” at school. What’s a “good week”? Spell out what you mean in terms that are easy to measure.
  4. Make your conditions reasonable and achievable. If it’s your intention to make the condition for going out so impossible to achieve that your kid is already grounded, then don’t go through the charade of saying, “If you do this, you can go.” Better to just say, “No,” if you really don’t want your child to go.
  5. Make the timespan of your conditions short. The longer the timespan, the more outside factors will get in the way and the less control your child has over events and her own behavior. Telling a child she can go someplace special over spring break if she gets all her homework in on time this semester is just asking for disappointment and dispute. There are too many possibilities for failure – one missed assignment calls off the entire deal – and no options for a reset. A shorter timespan or more child-friendly conditions that account for occasional lapses, will work better and seem fairer.

Remember that your objective in disciplining a child always is not to make the child feel badly or to make yourself feel powerful. Your objective always is to teach behavior that makes life better in the short-term and will develop in your child skills to help him in his adult life. Threatening to ground your kid just to be mean is not good parenting. Setting up conditions for going out that you know are impossible to attain is not good parenting.

When you create an if-then scenario with your child (“if you do this, then you can do that”), you are teaching goal-setting, time management skills, and skills in negotiation and conflict resolution. These are important.  If done right, if-then scenarios will strengthen your bond with your teen, not destroy it.

Grounding. It can work if you do it right.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at