Parenting Teenagers, Part 1: Constant Conversations

I’m frequently asked questions that revolve around parenting 12–18 year olds, so I’ll throw out a series of what I think could be called Best Practices for Parenting Teenagers. I’m not sure how many there will be, but so far there’s one.

One thing Andy and I discovered while parenting teenagers was the “Constant Conversation” approach. As our kids transitioned into their teenage years, we transitioned our parenting style as well. We replaced several hard and fast rules with constant conversations.

Rather than set bedtimes, there needed to be room for flexibility. Instead of a strict curfew, we discovered the need to vary it based on specific people and places. A predetermined number of “screen-time” hours needed ebb and flow based numerous variables. For girls particularly, clothing choices and appropriate outfits needed to be a constant conversation.

Conversations enrich relationships with our kids. Not only do they allow the parent to communicate direction, they allow the son or daughter to feel heard.

One of the quickest ways to shut down teenagers is to bark out commands without giving them the opportunity to respectfully express an opinion. Funny thing, sometimes in the process of the conversation, we get a few more facts and discover that we were wrong. Funnier thing, sometimes in the process of the conversation, they actually arrive at the decision that we know will ultimately be THE outcome. And they thought it was their idea!

So why is it so hard? Well, simply stated, it just takes more time and energy than establishing mandates and requiring adherence to a list of rules. At least it does initially. Anyone who has parented teenagers knows there WILL be conversations. Sometimes they’re loud ones. Why not plan for conversations and, by inviting them, diffuse the potential angst ahead of time?

Of course, there are times when the parent just has to say no. Or, has to lay down the law and be the bad guy. That’s just the nature of parenting. But, if we can open two-way conversations, even if we end up at the same “lay down the law” destination, we allow our kids to feel heard. We invest in the relationship at a deeper level. And, we pave the way to future friendship.




  1. Tifani Thompson says

    The teenage years haven’t come for us yet, but they will too soon:( I loved your insightful reading today. We continue to be constant sponges to all your advice. We also loved your ‘keeping the poker face’ sharing from Future Family. So funny and so true! My husband takes walks with our oldest at night, and its just beyond precious how awesomely deep relationships become with the ‘constant conversation’. Our children are so into what we think,,,,and so into what we share with them. It’s so neat!

    Quick side-note,,,,,we were watching Pastor Andy’s leadership video on ‘creating a healthy culture’ the other night, and me and my husband were laughing so hard when Pastor Andy shared about your old round dinner table you used to have. He was saying how until you got a new table, you didn’t really realize how rugged and very used your table became. Anyways,,,,,so funny because we have your total old very used round table!! Our guests probably always think,,,”oh wow!,,,,this family is so so due for a new table!” Ha! I’m sure we will probably replace our table about the time you guys did. Right now….we continue to have so many special treasured moments around our very used not so pretty round dinner table:):):)

  2. Sharon Watson says

    Thanks so much for affirming what we have believe has been a strong point of our parenting. A co-worker with young kids recently asked me how we’ve done it. My answer was much the same as yours. We’ve worked hard at communicating with our kids. The dinner table has been a great place of conversation and communication throughout the teen years. This was a great reminder to keep it up even when the 17 y.o. continues to question everything.

  3. Kenya & David Anders says

    I love it! And part of that conversation with our five kids is often to ask them, “What do you think…?” i.e., what time to be home, who should be driving, etc. Oftentimes their answers were even more confining than ours might have been, but it afforded them the opportunity to demonstrate they were developing good judgement. We as parents were then left with the opportunity to endorse their opinion by letting their decision stand, or demonstrate trust in them and reward their maturity by suggesting a more lenient plan. In either case, they felt validated as decision makers, not victimized by decrees.

    We’ve still got a good way to go (they are currently 22,20,18,16, and 14 years old), so please keep the advice flowing. We so appreciate what the Stanley family has done to strengthen our family.

  4. Gregg Foxworthy says

    Hey Sandra,

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight. You have hit the nail on the head with the very Best advice I can think of giving. People have asked Jeff and me for our advice with parenting over the years. The very first thing we say is “start having conversations when they young and never stop”. You are so right about the style of the conversation changing as they get older. We had to learn to listen to our girls and sometimes try to decipher what they were really saying ( or asking). But teenagers need to be heard and need to feel respected as emerging young adults. Our girls are 20 and 22. They are our favorite people on the planet and they both feel like home is their favorite place to be. We tried to make it a safe environment for them to dump their junk. Tried not to over react when they shared information. And tried to remember to not immediately comment but to ask what they thought. I used to ask how they felt, but feelings are ever changing. We wanted logical thought processes (so hard sometimes) to develop. We didn’t have to ground them ever, but they did occasionally have consequences they would have gladly traded for grounding ( like having to apologize in person and clean up ALL the toilet paper, haha!). Teenagers are great and they need their parents to listen, guide, set the example, and love them unconditionally. I hope you write a book! I’ll buy it!!

  5. says

    Thank you so much for sharing! My husband and I haven’t had kids (yet) but we just finished our foster care license and we are interested in taking in teenagers so we want all the advice we can get. Also, last week we led a group for foster/adopted teens and their parents. The topic was conflict and we led a discussion on having conversations and it went much better than we expected. This post helped us a lot! Thanks 🙂

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