failed parenting

5 Ways to Fail at Parenting Your Teen

Parenting is hard. No one gives you a handbook. You just get a human with a variety of complex emotions and then that human grows through a variety of complex experiences into a teenager. Once puberty begins, all those emotions engage in a battle royale for that teenager’s attention. And everyone expects you to know what to do about it.

The only way to be a failure is to refuse to learn from moments of failed parenting.

Because of how complicated all this is, we are all bound to experience failures at parenting our teens. But experiencing moments of failed parenting doesn’t make you a failure. The only way to be a failure is to refuse to learn from moments of failed parenting. Here are 5 ways to fail at parenting your teen.

1. Make sure everything is life or death.

It’s easy for parents to get intense around the decisions our teens make. After all, we want the best for them and sometimes they can just be… dumb. That said, parents often fail when we take everything so seriously. Teenagers are already dramatic and take themselves and the world far too seriously. Sometimes the antidote to failed parenting is simply laughter. We certainly don’t want to laugh at them, but we can laugh with them or at situations because we recognize that very few mistakes are fatal. Of course, that doesn’t mean the consequences aren’t real. But they are manageable if we can keep them in their proper place.

2. Demand change quickly.

Because we love our children and we want what is best for them, we are often impatient with their rate of change. We often want to hit the fast forward button and skip over the teenage years entirely so we magically arrive at a moment when our kids are responsible, respectful, and wise. But this is unrealistic. And to demand that they move at a pace they aren’t yet ready for is a sure way to set ourselves up for failure. After all, we know that lasting change doesn’t happen quickly. Lasting change takes place gradually. Sometimes the antidote to failed parenting is learning patience.

3. Go it alone.

Years ago, the phrase “it takes a village” became popular when discussing raising kids. And overall, it’s true. Parenting is not a solo project. Not only do teens need their parents in their lives, but they also need other adults such as teachers, coaches, pastors, neighbors. The teenage years are far too complicated for just one person or even one pair of people. Sometimes the antidote for failed parenting is assembling a team of responsible, loving people who are investing in our teens.

4. Listen to the voice of fear.

There are many threats to our teens out there and we need to take them seriously. But fear-motivated parenting leads teens to feel anxious, disempowered, and fearful. We need to teach our kids wisdom while parenting with courage. We certainly don’t want to put our teens in harm’s way, but when we parent from the place of fear, we often do more to stunt our teens’ development than to encourage it. After all, we have very little control anyway. Sometimes the antidote to failed parenting is courage. We need the courage to let go of control and allow our teens to live.

5. Assume you have all the answers.

You know much more than your teenager—about most things. But sometimes, you don’t. Sometimes you are wrong and your teen knows it. And when you’re wrong, one of the worst things you can do is pretend you’re right. Because all this teaches your teen is that being wrong is bad. If you refuse to be wrong, then your teen will learn that mistakes are weaknesses that need to be covered up rather than dealt with. Sometimes the antidote to failed parenting is simply saying, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

Sound off: What other ways do parents fail at parenting their teens?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “In what way have I hurt your feelings recently without realizing and how can I make it right?”