Your Teenager Is Not a Problem to Be Solved!

Last week I wrote about how important it is to not treat our kids as problems to be solved — it only leads to Control Battles.

By engaging them in solutions to problems large and small, they can accomplish a ton.



  • they’re smart,
  • know what they feel,
  • what they want and need,
  • and are creative and energetic.

We showed how by tapping into their talent, and treating them with respect, that they can be the key to turning around a school’s culture.

It’s exactly the same in your family.

Remember, our children are now teenagers and the last thing we want to do is make all of their challenging behaviors our own problems to solve. We want to help them identify and solve the critical problems they face.

Even the issues we have with their behavior that we need them to change, will be solved best if they’re engaged in the solution.

Parenting issues are solved best when kids are engaged in the solution.Click To Tweet

Let’s see how this worked in one family.

Breaking the Cycle of Yelling & Threats

April came in to talk with me about her frustration with her two teenagers.

Her husband had died in a tragic auto accident three and a half years earlier, which left her and their two kids first in shock and then in grief.

April explained that they had all done grief counseling at the time of her husband’s death, but things had gotten stale in their family communication. Her complaint was that when she got home from work around 6:30 PM, the house was a mess and the kids were on their devices.

She then has to mobilize them to clean up their kitchen messes, pick up around the house, get going on their homework, and so forth… all while she started dinner.

April reported that she had fallen into a pattern of yelling and getting upset when she came home, threatening and sometimes taking the kids’ devices away, but that it wasn’t making any enduring changes.

She explained that Melissa (16) and Molly (13) are essentially great kids with the usual set of annoying behaviors.

Melissa, perhaps sensing that Mom had her hands full with work, her younger sister Molly, and her own depression, had become quite independent. She did well in school and was active in theater arts where she had a strong support group.

Molly — a bright middle school student — was getting by on B’s, C’s and occasional D’s and Mom knew that she was fully capable of A’s.

She was conflicted about how to deal with the kids since she knew that they were most likely still suffering from the loss of their father and that she was often in a bad mood, which was stressful for the kids, too.

She didn’t want to come down on them too hard but how could she get out of the cycle of yelling, threatening and then feeling guilty about it every evening?

Working Together Towards a Solution

I explained to April that she didn’t need to figure all this out alone — she could partner with the kids in finding solutions. We made and prepared for an appointment with her and both kids so I could show her how well this can work.

When they arrived, April introduced me and I learned about both girls…

  • their interests,
  • activities,
  • likes,
  • and plans.

I then encouraged April to state her problem and ask the girls for their ideas about what was going wrong. Why were they in this continuing loop of messes, lack of cooperation, and not being on top of their responsibilities?

Why do our teens fall into a continuing loop of negative behaviors?Click To Tweet

April explained to the girls that she needed their input about what was going wrong, so they could plan together to make things better.

Here is what April learned:

  • The girls felt that being in the family wasn’t much fun,
  • that Mom was always in a bad mood,
  • that they got more support from their friends and activities and therefore paid a lot more attention to those things,
  • that while they both still thought of and missed Dad, it seemed Mom hadn’t recovered and was always unhappy,
  • and they avoided being together or even engaging with home responsibilities because when they did, it always felt stressful and sad.

That, of course, was a lot for April to take in and digest and I could see that she was feeling overwhelmed.

I encouraged April to lead the girls in a discussion of solutions and here are the ones they all agreed to start with:

  1. Both girls would call Mom when they first got home from school and they would talk over their plans. Relaxing and being on their devices could be part of the plan.
  2. Mom would call a half hour before getting home and that was the cue for the girls to get things picked up and organized.
  3. After getting home, settled and changed, April and the girls would meet in the kitchen together, devices put away, and they would all participate in pulling dinner together.
  4. They would take turns choosing music they would play while pulling dinner together.
  5. They would all share at least two interesting or positive things that happened that day.
  6. April and the girls would do at least one fun activity together every weekend.
  7. April would get back in grief counseling so that there was a place for her to express and work through her painful feelings and she could bring her more positive feelings to the family.

Now loss and grief is pretty emotionally challenging stuff, and in this case it led to a Parent-Teen Control Battle.

BONUS: Is there a Control Battle happening your family? Download my free self-assessment checklist just below this blog.

Whether the issues are big or small…

  • Whether we’re talking about a simple frustrating behavior, such as a teenager not keeping their room clean, or
  • More significant issues, such as substance abuse or poor school performance…

…if we think of our kids — or our kids’ behaviors — as problems for us to solve, we’ll invite that “Beast” — the Control Battle into our lives.

On the other hand, if we invite teenagers into understanding and addressing problems, we’ll…

  • learn a lot,
  • engage their intelligence, creativity, and motivation,
  • and we’ll prepare them for young adulthood.

And we can avoid or end a Control Battle, and have a much better outcome with the problem at hand to boot.

Posted in Parenting.