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Fighting Over Control with Your Teen

When a child is born, parents assume a position of complete control as they raise this helpless little human being. But over the years, moms and dads must loosen the reins as their dependent child turns into an independent adult! In this article, I’ll walk you through four essential stages of giving up control and training your teen for life.  

During Stages of Parenting

Parents begin with ALL the control. Children are completely dependent on mom and dad for everything. The goal is to move that child from dependance to complete independence by the time they’re adults. Here’s the ideal path:

  • Stage One: Pleasing your child (birth through preschool years)
  • Stage Two: Protecting your child (toddler through elementary years)
  • Stage Three: Providing for your child (begins in junior high years)
  • Stage Four: Preparing your child (begins in early high school years)!

Getting Stuck in the Stages of Parenting

There are several reasons that some well-meaning parents get stuck in certain stages of parenting. Some parents, especially first-time parents, simply do not know what lies ahead for their teens. Others may not recognize the signs that their child is ready to move from one stage to the next, until tensions arise. Then, there are parents who resist change; they do not understand that the decisions and habits developed during one stage of development must shift and change when their child is moving to the next phase of life. Failing to move forward from one stage to the next means both parents and their teens will not function well.

Every stage has challenges. For example, parents who get stuck in the habit of always pleasing their young children, will get in trouble when their kids move to the seventh and eighth grades. Likewise, parents who fail to let go of the protective stage never let their kids experience the world outside their home, and will face trouble by the time their teen reaches high school and is naturally wanting more independence. During the high school years, Mom and Dad should be preparing teens for the real world ahead. But if they miss this important stage, disorder and confusion will surround these young adults in their college years.

What Happens When Parents Don’t Move Forward Appropriately?

Parents who refuse to or fail to move forward appropriately create a muddled, mixed-up, chaotic atmosphere at home. Their teens will act out because they feel insecure and unprepared to enter the world. These teens are often immature and irresponsible because they have not been given the opportunity to make decisions and take responsibility for their choices. Avoiding these sometimes uncomfortable but necessary changes doesn’t prevent problems; it simply puts off trouble for later. Ultimately, these teenagers will fight their parents for control over their own lives.

How to Transfer Control to Your Kids When the Time is Right

I’m not suggesting that you should dump all life’s decisions and responsibilities into your child’s lap all at once. It takes time and intentionality to train your child so that she is ready to take control when the time is right. Start by giving your teen control over smaller things. After all the Bible says, “he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much”. Remember that giving your child control is what your child needs, not necessarily what he deserves. It may feel uncomfortable and risky, but you must let your kids fail appropriately—and the sooner the better. Let them fail while they are in your home, where you can watch, train, and help them try again.

Encourage your teen to make decisions and accept responsibility for the rewards or consequences. Avoid the urge to step in and fix all their problems. Instead, let your teen flex his decision-making “muscles” as much as possible while they’re still home with you. Experience and practice are a critical part of the training process that they need to be prepared for life as an adult. In the long run, messing up during the teen years can be just the opportunity you and your teen need to prepare them for what’s next. That way, you can be there to help and guide, when necessary. 


Hey moms, dads, and grandparents … start saying this early in your teen’s life: “You need to be in control of your life.” Too often we want to control our teens. But for every instance that we’re in control, we’re missing the opportunity for our kids to learn control—of course, at appropriate age levels. Control is what parents have in the preteen years. Them being in control is what we’re hoping for in their teen years. Many times because of our desire to have one more momentary feeling of control, we lose a lifetime of influence. Teens want to be in control. Let them have it. And communicate––to those whom much is given, much is required. Your teens will love the freedom and begin to learn what it is to become an adult.

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.