How Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents

I typically write posts focused on marriage, but this post is going to veer more into the area of parenting. Specifically, parenting teenagers, and more specifically, how teenagers bring out the worst in their parents.

As a former youth pastor, I have a special place in my heart for parents of teens. And, as the father of two grown children, I still have the twitches that can only come from teens or Turretts.

Not only can raising teenagers bring out the worst in you, it can also effect your marriage satisfaction. If you look at a graph charting marriage satisfaction, you will see marriage satisfaction plummeting at two different points along the timeline.

The first drop in marriage satisfaction is when a couple has their first child. The reasons are fairly obvious. Before your first child comes along, your focus is centered on the two of you. But when that first child moves in, it’s a new experience. A large portion of your time, attention, energies, and resources are siphoned off to the child. The increase in sleeplessness and responsibility, as well as the decrease in energy and sex drive, all take a toll on marriage satisfaction.

But, with a little work, you recover from that big drop…just in time for the next big drop in marriage satisfaction. This occurs when the first child becomes the first teenager. (Are we getting depressed yet?) In many ways, raising your first teen is a lot like raising your first toddler. They have a mind of their own, they want their independence, and they siphon off a lot of your attention and resources. They also produce a lot of worry and sleeplessness.

Some of the most difficult times my wife and I have had in marriage was centered around raising our teens. (Sometime I’ll tell you about the disagreement we had over how our teenage daughters kept their room. It was Epic!)

How is it that parenting teens can be so difficult and taxing to a marriage. How is it that parenting teens can bring out the worst in us? Probably because parenting a teenager surfaces some specific and personal issues like:

  • Control. Most of the angst produced by raising teenagers centers around issues of control: who has control, who wants control, and who is going to relinquish control. We don’t realize what control freaks we really are, until we start playing tug-o-war with our teens over their behaviors and decisions. We believe we’re really just trying to keep them safe and do what’s best for them, but many times it’s more about our difficulty in releasing control.
  • Self-esteem. It’s amazing how much of our self-esteem is tied up in our children. We want them to look good, make good choices, do what’s right, and be well thought of. What parent wouldn’t, right? But it’s also easy to view their appearance, attitudes, and actions as a reflection on us, and worry about what others will think of us if our kids do something uncharacteristic of us. (In my next post, I’ll tell you about a fashion choice of mine, as a teen, that had my parents worried about what the neighbors would think…especially the parents of my girlfriend.)
  • Memory loss. Yes, raising teenagers can make you feel like you have early onset Alzheimers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how easily we forget about our own teenage craziness. We act like we never did anything impulsive, reckless, or stupid at that age. We act like we never had to deal with the ups, downs, twists, and turns of emotions and hormones. Remembering some of the not-so-adult-like things we did as a teen will help us have a little more grace with our teenagers.
  • Fears. The older we get, the more we’re aware of how much is at stake with each decision we make. We know how greatly our teenager’s decisions can impact their future; especially in our current culture of social media, substance abuse, gun violence, and other such horrors. But we as parents can easily let our fears become oppressive to our teens. When this happens, our teens will become either overly anxious, or overly rebellious. They will either buckle under the weight of our anxiety, or rebel against the restriction of our fear. As with most things, we need to balance our fear with hope.
  • Aspirations. None of us want our kids to make the same mistakes we did, and we all want our kids to have a better life than we did. We have such high aspirations for our teens…and this is great! But we must be careful that we’re not trying to rewrite our history vicariously through our teen. When we unconsciously try to relive our lives through our teen, they will get a sense that their life is not their own, and they will push back against that…hard. They are like anyone else. They want to carve out their own life.

These internal conflicts are common and natural when raising teenagers. I can imagine Adam and Eve shaking their heads in total exasperation saying something like, “What is wrong with this generation! We never acted like that!”

But even though it’s normal, the question remains: What can we do about it as parents?

To find out, check out next week’s post. (It’s kind of like raising teens…you have to wait to see how it turns out!)

If you’re the parent of a teenager, how is your teen bringing out the worst in you? Does it have something to do with one of the above issues, or is it something else? Leave a comment and let us know. Other parents of teenagers need to know they’re not alone.

Copyright © 2018 Bret Legg

4 thoughts on “How Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents”

  1. I’ve definitely had challenges with my kids, but something that has worked well for me is to take the time when they make a mistake and use it as a learning opportunity.

    I went to a site called and they have a video that talks about how to teach kids life skills…

    In essence, I find out what mistake they’ve made; I often share a story about how I struggled with it; I relate why it’s important to something my kids find important; and then I let my kids talk about how they would do something different and we have a discussion.

    I’ve learned more about my two boys in the last 8 months than I thought possible!


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