6 Surprising Things I’ve Learned Parenting Tweens and Teens


When my kids entered adolescence there were many things I didn’t expect. Most of all, the realization that I had parenting all backward. I thought I was the one who would be helping them grow up, not the other way around!

What I REALLY didn’t expect to encounter, was how much parenting an adolescent would stretch me and how much I would learn about myself (oftentimes rather painfully).

Here are 6 unexpected things that I’ve learned parenting an adolescent:

When your tween or teen is acting out, look at yourself.

I can’t tell you how often parents come to me wanting to fix their kids. I totally get it. I’ve done the same thing.

Supporting my kids is one thing, but when I’m focusing more on fixing them, I need to take a step back and look at myself.

Asking myself these questions has proven more effective to bring about positive change than anything else I’ve done to help my kids –

“What am I feeling? What’s going on with me?”

“Am I open to seeing myself accurately and how I play a part?”

“What am I meant to learn about myself from this?”

“How might I need to grow and what may I need to learn so I can respond and communicate in more effective ways?”

We need to remind ourselves to keep bringing it back to ourselves when we’re overly focused on our kids.


You talk way too much.

I’ve learned there is healing power when I shut up and listen.
David Augsburger summed it up, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Listening speaks a thousand words to our children, more than any advice ever could.
I’ve been a slow learner but it’s never too late to take a back seat and open your ears to really hear your tween or teen’s heart.


Travel light.

Recently we were traveling as a family when I noticed my husband carrying everyone’s suitcases. I reminded him, “Honey, you don’t have to carry all that anymore. Let our kids carry their own “stuff.”

At times I still try to take over and claim responsibility for the things that don’t belong to me anymore. As our kids become more independent we need to allow them to carry and handle more of their own “stuff”.

With two kids now in their twenties, I remind myself, “It’s their life, not mine.”


Whatever you do, make sure to laugh your butt off.

When one of my daughters was about 8, I asked her what meant the most to her, “When you laugh at my jokes.”

Priceless feedback.

I would argue that laughter helps us to bond more with our adolescents than possibly anything else.

Many times these opportunities present themselves in the mess-ups – the dog throwing up the birthday cake, tripping on the sidewalk, or spilling on yourself.

Laughter takes into account that our time is too precious to waste time stressing out over the little things. When we relax and enjoy the moment, laughter comes more easily.

Perhaps the things we worry about would work themselves out if we would simply enjoy one another and laugh a lot more.

don't be afraid to trust your teen or tween

Challenge fear.
If I could go back, and change one thing about how I parented my first child, I would trust her process and fear less.

I wouldn’t fear about her future when she didn’t do her homework, panic and try to control when I wasn’t keen about her friends, or freak out when she drank alcohol for the first time. I’d give them more freedom with boundaries and listen more closely to what she needed.

Then again, no regrets, I was growing up and learning too.


Celebrate the child you have, not the one you thought you were supposed to have.

We are wise when we recognize and rip up our fantasy photos of who we thought our child was supposed to be and embrace and accept the child we have.

Each child is brilliant in their own way we just may have to look more closely for the diamond in the rough.
When we hold on to the image of who we thought our adolescent was supposed to be according to us, we create suffering for ourselves and them.

Our kids want to know, “I accept and love you just the way you are.”

I understand if you’re not feeling it because it’s tough right now. We all struggle to accept what’s different than what we envisioned.

My ongoing practice is to mentally rip up my fantasy photos and trade them in for acceptance, eyes to see my children’s unique magnificence and an openness to what they can teach me.

How about you? What is one unexpected thing that you’ve learned from parenting your tween or teen? What might you be learning about yourself?


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  1. Thank you Sheryl!!! Great article and I’m with you on challenge fear. I’m working on listening more for what my son wants and needs.

    1. Sheryl Gould says:

      Thanks Norma. Listening is like speaking a different language – harder to learn then it seems!

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