Parenting through Adolescence

Toward that end, we want to make available to you the following “20 Rules for Surviving Your Kids’ Adolescence,” adapted from the book “Running the Rapids” by Dr. Kevin Leman.

Adolescence, the extremely formative period between childhood and adulthood in the life of a kid, is a period that has grown longer in our time, Dr. Leman shows. Owing to the fact that kids today are experiencing puberty earlier and staying connected to their parents later in life than any previous generation, the overly drawn-out period of adolescence can be just as great an adjustment for parents as for their kids.

As a help, we’ve posted Dr. Leman’s “20 Rules” for parents along with brief comments on each with the hope that they provide a way through the dizzying maze of parenting advice and methods circulating today.

“20 Rules for Surviving Your Kids’ Adolescence”1

1. Follow Through.

Disciplining must be carried out with consistency. If you create an expectation and consequences for not meeting the expectation with your kids, follow through on it! If you fail to follow through on the standards you set for your children consistently, why should they live up to them? The failure to follow through on your word is the same as saying your word doesn’t matter.

2. Watch Your Expectations.

It is natural for all parents to want the best for their kids. However, in “wanting the best for their kids,” many parents are actually seeking to fulfill their own failed hopes or dreams through their children. Therefore, it is crucial that we help our kids set and then achieve their own goals for themselves, rather than to expect them to live up to our goals for them, a thing that will only frustrate them and us.

3. Meet and Accept Them Where They Are.

Adolescence is a very turbulent time for kids—a roller coaster of moods, emotions, and hormones all intertwined. If your daughter is brokenhearted over a “crush” that hasn’t worked out as hoped, don’t belittle her or tease her over “puppy love.” (Remember, “puppy love” is very real to “puppies.”) Do your best to affirm their feelings, ones that are very real to them.

4. Take the Time to Listen.

This is part of what Leman calls “The Power of Being There.” Just your presence with them is a gift that makes a difference. Kids interpret your presence and listening as a sign of caring and connectedness. Listening is the language of love. So listen to your kids, and in doing so you’ll be demonstrating honor, love, respect, empathy, and acceptance.

5. Respect Their Choices.

This can be an extremely tough one for parents. We hate to watch kids make choices we don’t want them to make. But it’s our goal to help move our kids from dependence upon us to independence, and this means respecting their choices. Obviously there are certain areas where we would want to (and must) intervene, like regarding choices to consume drugs and alcohol for example. But generally, and in an age-appropriate way, we should allow our kids to make choices and then live with the consequences. Remember, one of the best ways to learn is by experiencing failure.

6. Ask for Forgiveness.

When was the last time you asked for your child’s forgiveness? The parent who tries to come across as perfect is making a big mistake and alienating her or his kids. In fact, you’ll probably be amazed at the credibility and trust you gain with your children just from being honest with them about your shortcomings or a mistake you’ve made.

7. Respect Their Privacy.

If your son is in his bedroom with the door closed, and you should need to talk to him for whatever reason, respect his privacy by knocking before entering. Of course, as a parent, you have every right to just walk in, but a simple knock and asking if “now’s a good time” to have the conversation gives your son the opportunity to feel as though he is actually participating in the process, rather than having it thrust upon him.

8. Communicate Clearly.

Good communication takes work. Make sure you work at listening to what your kids are actually saying. You might have to ask for clarification as terms and meanings change. Understand that you’ve grown up in a different time also, so be sure that your kids understand you!

9. Do the Unexpected.

When it comes to discipline, be creative. No, you can’t beat kids over the head and force them to do everything, but you can’t let them off the hook either. Dr. Leman uses the example of a child who was expected to prepare dinner. The child didn’t get around to it, so mom and dad went out to dinner alone and then took the meal’s expense from the child’s allowance. Dr. Leman says, “Doing the unexpected creates a long-lasting shock value.”

10. Talk about Potential Problems.

This simply means talking issues over with your kids before they encounter them, like discussing with them when they’re eleven or twelve what to expect on a date and what problems they might encounter in high school, rather than waiting until their sixteenth birthday—then it’s too late.

11. Don’t Act Like a Teenager.

You’re not one and most of all your kids know it. They are counting on you to act like a grown-up. Don’t resort to petty, immature tactics or selfish responses when dealing with them.

12. Give Them Choices.

Adult life is stocked full of choices. Help your kids move towards independence by making sure they have opportunities to make choices and to learn from the consequences of their choices. While practice may not make perfect, giving kids choices will help them learn how to make good decisions and to recover from the bad ones.

13. Don’t Do Their Work for Them.

We must allow our kids to be responsible for their own homework and school activities. Too many parents get involved in helping their kids with these and, as a result, unintentionally limit the growth process their kids need to experience. While your kids need your encouragement, make sure you are simultaneously teaching them the importance of accountability and responsibility in their assignments and commitments.

14. Don’t Show Them Off or Embarrass Them.

Most parents tend toward one or the other of these extremes. Either we want to show off our kids for what a great job they’ve done on something (it makes us feel good about ourselves), or we embarrass our kids in front of others because they’ve messed up or disappointed us. There are times for praise and times for rebuke and correction, but make sure these are done in the right place and the right time. We should never exploit our children (with good or bad motives) for any reason.

15. Don’t Pick at Flaws.

Teens without a doubt are painfully aware of their shortcomings. Therefore they don’t need parents to be a constant reminder of their weaknesses, failures, and flaws. Nagging and criticizing are ultimately unhelpful and have the polar opposite effect on our kids than we intend.

16. Don’t Spit in Their Soup.

Dr. Leman says that this is “when you add a little tagalong that has no other purpose than to make your teen feel guilty.” For example: “Sure son, you can go to the game tonight. I’m glad someone in our family gets to go out and have fun. I’ll be mowing the lawn.”

17. Don’t Talk in Volumes.

Some parents are just waiting for an opportunity to unload all of their advice and instruction. Don’t make every moment in your child’s life a “teaching moment.” There are some lessons we can only learn on our own; don’t stop your kid from learning valuable lessons just out of a desire to “save” him or her from making a mistake. That’s how we learn!

18. Don’t Smother Them with Praise.

While appropriate praise is vital to developing self-worth, if you heap too much praise on your kids they can hear the unintended message that your love for them depends on their performing at a high level. Nothing can be so oppressive and exhausting as the expectation (real or imagined) that unless I perform at the best and highest level, my parents won’t love me. Find ways to praise and encourage without tying it to a specific performance and creating unrealistic hopes and expectations in your child.

19. Don’t Make Icebergs Out of Icicles.

This is just a reminder to season your parenting with grace. We all make mistakes. We all have fallen short. Learn to extend the same grace and forgiveness to your kids that you would like others to extend to you.

20. Handle Hassles Healthily.

That there will be conflict between parents and kids is a fact of life. These times of conflict can either lead to a breakdown of communication and unloving behavior, or can become a path to deeper communication, greater understanding, and loving behavior. Working through the conflict requires our emotional involvement and a willingness to face conflict, and is ultimately the most loving way to care for us as the parent, as well as our child.

1. The following is adapted from Kevin Leman, Running the Rapids (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2005). Available on-line at;

accessed February 10, 2007.