How to Father Teens? It’s All About Balance and Self-Control


The teenage years are a challenging time … for the kids and their dads, right? Our children are old enough and smart enough to think they have it all together and they know what’s what, but in reality there’s still a lot they don’t really understand or appreciate. It sets up the classic conflicts between teens and their parents.

One of our bloggers, Clark Smith, wrote about this earlier in the week. As he put it, “Something happens when kids approach their early teens that turns them inside out, upside down, and makes them uneasy with life in general.”

And here’s another key insight from Clark: “Your kids are, for the first time in their lives, wrestling with ideas… and they’re not going to get everything right the first time.”

I have four children, and I saw these dynamics at work at various times with each of them. It struck me that I so often heard the word “I” from my kids, and I couldn’t help thinking they were just plain selfish.

How to Father Teens Balance and Self-ControlDon’t get me wrong—they were good kids, but they didn’t get everything right the first time. And I know they cared about other people, but often it was like, “Dad, I’m not concerned about you right now.” It sounds negative, but what I think they meant was, Dad, you have a job, a family, a house. You have your life pretty much figured out. But I have a lot I’m still trying to figure out.

My kids—like all teens—were learning to navigate life, and we all need to remember how challenging that is during adolescence. They’re going through a complicated time, and sometimes they’re so overwhelmed that it’s all they can do to think only of themselves and their own issues.

Does that mean we excuse behavior that is unacceptable? Not at all. But it does mean we seek to understand what they’re going through, and balance high expectations with cutting them some slack and giving grace. It really takes wisdom and self-control on our part.

Recently we heard from a dad named Alan whose 14-year-old son said, “You’re the worst dad ever; you don’t do anything for me.” It was an impulsive comment in the heat of the moment, but it’s also the kind of thing a dad doesn’t soon forget, as I’m sure you can imagine.

So, filled with that feeling of being unappreciated, Alan went to his computer and made up an invoice for his son, detailing all the money he has spent on him so far. He itemized clothing, school supplies, toys, trips and vacations, computers, food, equipment and team costs for four different sports, and on and on. (He also listed “dad hours,” but as he said, there’s no price on those.)

The total was just under $850,000. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’m guessing it’s pretty close. I also don’t know if it had the desired effect on his son.

Alan is running up against what happens with most teenagers, as I mentioned earlier: their limited perspective on life makes them seem selfish and ungrateful. But as fathers, we need to be self-controlled.

It’s natural to want to defend ourselves, and it’s appropriate to teach our kids important life lessons. Sometimes it makes sense to take away a privilege until he changes his attitude. After all, that’s how the real world works; if he smarts off to his boss some day, there will be consequences. He needs to learn that, and the sooner the better.

But as fathers of teens, we also have to remember that there’s a balance here. We have a bigger perspective; we know that most kids get five, seven or ten years down the road, gain some wisdom of their own, and they see that we weren’t so crazy after all. They might even realize how dedicated their parents were and are.

So sometimes it makes sense to just smile, maintain your self-control and continue to do what’s best for him, since you know that he’ll grow out of this immature point of view. “They come back,” as Clark put it.

Each of us has to find that balance between “teaching him a lesson” and “maintaining our poise.” And it isn’t easy! But both of those are needed with teenagers. Sometimes we do need to bring about tough consequences and teach important lessons. Other times, it makes more sense to take a deep breath and trust that all the love and life lessons we have invested in them to this point will eventually bear fruit.

Yes, they often come off as selfish, which isn’t fun when we’re trying to teach them to be responsible and think about other people. But remember that they’re good kids for the most part, and be patient with them while they figure things out.

That’s self-control. When our children reach this age, we can’t “run” them; they run themselves. Yes, we can make tough decisions that impact them, but we can’t force them to change. What we can do is change ourselves and how we respond to them. That’s how we can earn the right to walk alongside them in their journey to adulthood.

Make sure you read Clark Smith’s blog for more about this.

Dad, where are you exercising self-control right now in your fathering? What truths do you rely on to get you through these (often) turbulent teen years? If this week’s topic hits home with you, I hope you’ll join the discussion either below or on our Facebook page.

Action Points for Dads on the Journey

  • Do something with your teenager that he or she enjoys (even if it’s a stretch for you): seeing a movie, bicycling, working on the car, golf or disc golf, etc. If your relationship is often tense, you need to have fun and laugh together.
  • Teach your children a skill or truth that will help them after they leave home. For example, they most likely won’t start out on their own living at the standard their parents provided. Find 1,000 more truths to teach in this book.
  • Although it might not seem like it, you’re still a powerful figure in your teenager’s life. Maybe the most important thing you can do is demonstrate the character you hope he or she develops.
  • Ask your teenager where she sees herself in ten years. What will she do for a living? Will she be married? How will she spend her spare time?
  • Keep trying to coach your child about responsibility and mistakes to avoid—but do it calmly and patiently. Over time, he’ll see that a lot of what you’re saying makes sense.


Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.

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