Parenting Adolescents and the Power of Preparation


When parents choose to have a child, they have agreed to have an adolescent. Thus, I believe it really helps when they have some preparation for normal developmental changes that their child’s 10 to 12 year coming of age passage commonly brings.

This growing up journey begins around ages 9 – 13, and winds down around ages 18 – 23.  With appropriate expectations, parents can reduce the likelihood of surprise, overreaction, and alarm; and they can increase power of understanding, empathy, and effectiveness

This is why I blog about parenting adolescents for Psychology Today, and why I write books to help parents better support their daughter or son during these transformational years.

To begin, most important is that parents NOT buy into the stereotype of “The Terrible Teenager” who will become emotionally derailed and socially disruptive of family life. This is a FALSE expectation that alarms for no good cause. There is no need for dread. I believe most parents and adolescents do not experience some kind of agony in their relationship as growing up changes unfold. 

While they often miss the magical years of close companionship with their young child, parents now get to witness and play a part in an extraordinary transformation as their little girl grows into a young woman, and their little boy into a young man. Now what is more magical than that? 

This said, there will be adjustments to be made in their relationship as adolescent growth unfolds along two avenues of youthful separation from childhood and parents that is now underway. Now adolescence starts growing them apart, which it is meant to do.

 1) There is detachment from childhood and parents to assert more independence. More social time is spent in the company of peers.

2) There is differentiation from childhood and parents to express more individuality. More attention is given to personal expression. 

At journey’s end, the older adolescent, during the college-age years, can assert a functional independence and claim a fitting individuality: “I can take care of myself and I know who I am.”

Adolescence is a gathering of power; and freedom is it’s name.

The breath of adolescent life, as the young person pushes for more freedom of self-management authority, parents find themselves continually debating when to keep holding on, and when to do more letting go.

It’s a constant challenge: they don’t want to hold growth back, but neither do they want to unmindfully allow a dangerous exposure.

 So they impose three common criteria that must be met before more freedom is given:
  • evidence of growing responsibility, 
  • willingness to communicate about what is going on, 
  • and showing a readiness to anticipate risks of acting older.
Now parents help their child navigate the four freedoms of adolescence:
  • Freedom from rejection of childhood beginning around late elementary school;
  • Freedom for forming a second family of friends beginning around middle school;
  • Freedom to experiment with acting older beginning around the high school years;
  • Freedom of emancipation into independent authority around the college age years.

Their child’s adolescence is a rewarding and exciting time to parent.

This article was submitted by Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., a noted psychologist, speaker, and parenting expert, now retired from private counseling practice. He writes a popular parenting advice column for Psychology Today and has written some of the most practical and helpful books about important parenting issues, including: The Connected Father; Stop the Screaming, The Future of Your Only Child and Why Good Kids Act Cruel. Dr. Pickhardt's latest book is Holding on While Letting Go.


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