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A Dozen Moves that Parents of Teens Need to Make

by Mark Gregston

Have you ever watched the movie “Failure to Launch” with Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker?  The movie centers around a 35-year-old man who has no desire to leave the comfortable nest of dependence that his parents have created for him.  But unlike McConaughey’s main character, most teenagers want to grow up and move out.  They want to take responsibility for their actions, make decisions, and they desire to be mature and in control. 

As parents, it can be tough for us to let go, but kids and teens will typically side with those who are helping them move towards independence and progress.  It’s your job to help them grow up, so you’ll want to make sure that it’s you they are turning to for help and not someone else.  We’re here to help “launch” them into the world they are going to live in, not the world in which we hope they live.  And to better help them flourish, so they don’t fail, and you don’t flop, we’ve prepared a list of twelves things you can do right now to help them survive in the “jungle”.

Twelve Ways to Transition 

  • Encourage maturity.  From ages 1-12, you were the teacher, but after age thirteen, it’s important that you become the trainer, helping them grow in maturity. 
  • Encourage your teen to develop independence.  Don’t create a sense of dependence on you.  The goal is independence, so parents who want their child to rely on them for everything are not doing anyone any favors. 
  • Encourage them to make their own decisions.  Mistakes will be made, but so will learning opportunities. Look for the balance.  Neither failure nor success is the point.  Learning how to be a healthy member of society is the point. 
  • Let them do for themselves.  Instead of doing things for them, let them complete tasks on their own.  I’ve seen far too many parents who think it’s their job to entertain their children and keep them occupied.  Teens need to learn how to entertain and fend for themselves. 
  • Let them have some control.  Quit talking for them.  Let them have a voice.  You have to let go and let them be in control over aspects of their lives.  It’s the only way that they will mature into healthy people. 
  • Let them ask questions.  Move away from giving them the answer all the time, and allow them to ask questions.  Even if they are wrong, they need to think.  Learning to reason and think about things logically and rationally should be a goal that every parent desires for their son or daughter. 
  • Help them understand the value of discipline.  When the need for discipline arises, remind them that you’re on their side and move away from punishing them for misunderstanding to helping them be a part of the process.  They’ll learn the value of it and it gives them ownership.  Every book out there will tell you that you need to have rules, good boundaries, and good consequences, but what they often fail to pick up on is that you also need to a relationship. 
  • Encourage responsibility.  Instead of being responsible for their every need, let them take some control over areas as they grow.  Give them more and more responsibility for their actions.  It’s okay to remind them that there are good and bad consequences for their actions, but let them be the ones to decide which path they’re going to follow. 
  • Discuss things with them.  Gone are the days of lecturing.  No one learns from being lectured to—especially teenagers. Use the Socratic method of thinking.  Ask questions, let them answer the questions, and apply real life principles to their world.  They grew up in your world, now it’s time to let them grow older in theirs. 
  • Share your world with them.  Get real with your kids.  Dive beneath the surface, they’re yearning to be heard, so let them share their lives with you. 
  • Listen!  Mom and dad, do more listening, and less talking.  The Bible tells us that even a fool appears wise when he keeps his mouth shut. 
  • Remind them that it’s “who they are,” not “what they do” that matters. 

Kennady’s Story 

After years of miscommunicating with her parents, and feeling they didn’t understand what she was going through, Kennady, one of our Heartlight students, tried to end her life.  According to Kennady, she and family appeared to have it all together, but underneath their well-cultured façade, they were struggling relationally.  Her parents didn’t understand that she was depressed, and the more they miscommunicated, the further she pushed them away. 

Thankfully for Kennady, the police intervened, and after a brief stay at the hospital, she came to Heartlight where she and her family are now on the road to recovery. 

Kennady shared with me that she wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else, and, if you think there’s a problem in your family, it’s important to seek help.  She added, Heartlight isn’t just this magical place in Texas, it’s a place where hard work happens, and for my family, I wish Heartlight would have happened sooner. 


Mom, Dad … changing your parenting style to accommodate the needs of your teens will determine whether you are a success or a total failure in training up your teen to face the world as they know it.  God has placed you in the life of your child for a reason—to teach them the values and principles that you hold dear in your heart, and to train them how to hold the same near and dear to theirs.  Shifting your style from a teaching to training emphasis helps you change your approach as your teen matures and changes into a godly man or woman.  The key to that transformation is to engage in such a way that brings hope and health to a generation that longs for wisdom and craves direction to apply those values that you have built into their lives. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.