Getting through the teen years

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This page contains information to help parents cope with their increasingly independent teen.

Key points

  • As your teenager moves through adolescence, they will become more independent and begin to assert themselves.
  • Talk to your child early about the physical and developmental changes ahead of them.
  • Choose your battles wisely, communicate with your child and respect their privacy.
  • Although a certain amount of change occurs during adolescence, any drastic or long-lasting changes in your teenager’s personality or behaviour may be a sign of trouble.

Your teenager is changing both developmentally and physically. Sometimes this can create tension between you and your teenager. As frustrating as it can be, remember that this is normal. Despite your conflicts, your teenager needs your help to grow into a responsible and independent individual.

Strategies to deal with typical teen issues

As your teenager moves through adolescence, they will become more independent. This can only occur if they become less dependent on you, their parent. As part of this process, they will start to think more abstractly and will begin to figure out their own personal morals and values. They may start to assert themselves, whereas before they may have gone along with whatever was asked of them to please others.

You may find this period of your teenager’s life difficult to deal with. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Educate yourself through books
  • Try to remember the struggles you faced during adolescence. However, it is also important to realize that the world has changed since you were a teenager. Teenagers today face struggles that teenagers from earlier generations may not have experienced. Getting information can help you cope better. This in turn may also help you to prepare your teenager better.

Talk to your child early

Talk to your child about the changes that are ahead of them, before they reach the teen years. Address any questions they may have about their body early on. The longer you wait to address any questions, the more likely they may become embarrassed or afraid of physical and emotional changes. If you and your teenager haven’t started talking about body changes, or how relationships can change, please consider raising these issues with them.

Choose your battles wisely

Arguing with your teenager over something such as dyeing their hair or wearing funky clothes may not be worth it. You may want to save it for serious issues that have an impact on your teenager’s health or well-being.

Maintain expectations

Having expectations of your teenager is important, although they may not be happy about it. Your teenager will understand that you care about and expect things from them. If you have clear expectations (such as maintaining good grades and responsible behaviour, and following house rules), your teenager is likely to try to meet them. You could develop some of these expectations together as a family. Discuss each of your views on acceptable and not-acceptable behaviours and expectations with your teenager. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to recognize your teenager’s accomplishments. If your teenager has met or exceeded expectations, let them know how proud you are.


Discuss issues such as sex, alcohol, drugs and smoking openly with your teenager before they are exposed to them. Speaking with your teenager early increases the chances that they will act responsibly if faced with such a situation. If you have not yet talked to your teenager about these issues, it is never too late to start.

Respect their privacy

To help your teenager become an adult, you need to grant them some privacy. This means, unless you feel there is something wrong, your teenager’s room, phone and social media should remain private. You might also find that your teenager won’t share their thoughts and activities with you all the time. No matter how old your teenager is you will still need to be aware of their whereabouts. However, as your teenager gets older, expect fewer details when it comes to other issues or events.


Be aware of what your teenager is watching and reading. Teenagers have access to a tremendous amount of information over the Internet. You may have to set limits for the amount of time your teenager is spending in front of the TV, on the computer or on their phone. Find out who your teenager is talking with online and what they are learning from the media. Emphasize the importance of being respectful in their interactions online. For more information about Internet safety, check out the Canadian Centre for Child Protection Inc.

Warning signs

Although a certain amount of change occurs during adolescence, any drastic or long-lasting changes in your teenager’s personality or behaviour may be a sign of trouble. They may require some professional help.

Here is a list of what to look out for:

  • extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • fast, drastic changes in personality
  • sudden changes in friends
  • falling grades
  • signs of tobacco, alcohol or drug use
  • coming home with ripped clothing, injuries, or missing money/personal possessions. These may be signs of bullying.

If you notice any of these signs, speak to your teenager first. Express concern and ask how your teenager feels about you speaking with a health-care professional. In asking their opinion, you will send your teenager a message that you are concerned about them and view them as active participants in resolving these issues. It is possible that they will not want you to speak with a health-care professional but it’s up to you to use your best judgment to determine if it’s necessary.

Last updated: January 31st 2017