Dads Parenting Teenagers

Why is it difficult for fathers to parent their teenage kids? In so many ways, dads face uphill battles to effectively parent their teenagers through this complex developmental period. There are several key reasons why it is particularly difficult for fathers:

  • Changing dynamics: The parent-child relationship goes through major shifts as teens seek more independence and autonomy. Some fathers struggle to adjust their role and authority. Their teen will want to do more on their own (or with friends) without their parents, and will get defiant when dad tells them no. This in turn may make the father feel disrespected and increase the likelihood of a conflict, with the dad trying to regain “control” of their teenage child.
  • Lack of experience: Fathers may feel ill-prepared to guide their child through the emotional ups and downs of adolescence. I believe all dads are unprepared to navigate through the raging hormones, and the desire of their teenager to explore their world without them. It could certainly be a shock to the system, but it can also foster a different level of communication, a more collaborative one.
  • Distance in the relationship: Teens naturally pull away from their parents, which can be felt more significantly by dads who were previously close with their younger child. Again, this is an adjustment period that no parent, specifically dads, are not prepared for. It is everything they can do to not take it personally when their teenager would rather spend time with friends than with their parents.
  • Communication challenges: Open dialogue is harder as teens don’t share as freely. Fathers must make more of an effort to connect on a deeper level through more listening than “preaching”. Dads cannot get away with the “because I told you so” argument. They have to try and explain their rationale behind the things they say to their teenager, rather than just yell demands (especially when it is not what their child wants to hear).
  • Clash of masculinity: Teenage sons may resist paternal guidance as they establish their own identity. This can most certainly put a restrain on the father-son bond. Again, this can lead to fathers feeling not only disrespected but also inadequate as a parent. This could lead fathers expressing their anger more aggressively, in an attempt to reestablish themselves as the dominant figure in the household.
  • Relating to teenage experiences: It is difficult for fathers, who are much older, to remember and relate to the daily social pressures and challenges of modern teenage life. This happens all the time, from generation to generation. The older generation seems to always think they know exactly what the current generation is going through. I can tell you from my experience, not only as a therapist but as a parent that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This generation of kids are experiencing their environment in ways we never could have imagined at their age. The unlimited instant access to information and rapidly changing technology expose these teenagers to life situations they are not emotionally, intellectually, or cognitively prepared to adequately manage. So imagine the fathers trying to help protect their children from all of that. They would have to get an education on all of what is out there just to try and keep up. Not an easy task.
  • Work commitments: Demands of providing financially can prevent fathers from spending important one-on-one time with their teens. Unstable economy and work environments contribute to an ever present level of stress that oftentimes spills over into the home environment. Financial stressors can reek havoc on home life with the teenagers sometimes getting negative attention from their parents.
  • Co-parenting difficulties: When present, tensions with the teen’s mother can undermine consistent discipline and open communication. Differences in parenting styles could foster a more adversarial relationship with one or the other parent to the teenager.
  • Unresolved issues from father’s own adolescence: Oftentimes fathers harbor resentment from their own teenage experiences and project negative emotions and thoughts onto their own teenager. This happens quite often with fathers trying to prevent whatever happened to them with their children, leading to conflict because the fathers come off as more controlling and not communicating where their concerns are stemming from.

How can fathers be better parents for their teenagers?

  • Set clear boundaries and consequences. Teenage boys often test limits, so fathers need to be firm but fair with rules around curfew, chores, schoolwork, etc. They must follow through consistently!
  • Encourage open communication. Teenagers may be reluctant to talk, so fathers should make an effort to regularly check in, listen actively, and share how they are feeling as well.
  • Encourage positive activities. Help them find hobbies, sports, volunteering, or a part-time job to keep busy and learn life skills. Structure reduces boredom and the risk of delinquent behavior.
  • Monitor peer influences closely. Know who their friends are and how they might be impacting behavior. Be willing to set limits on certain friends if needed. Be mindful not to overstep unless you can provide clear reasoning why a friend who they associate with may not be the best influence for them.
  • Address emotions constructively. Validate feelings but do not tolerate outbursts. Encourage other coping strategies like journaling, exercise, or talking it out when calmer.
  • Model respectful behavior. Teenage boys learn from their father’s examples. Fathers treat their sons, partners, and others with kindness and respect.
  • Use sensible consequences proportionate to maladaptive behaviors. Natural consequences tend to work better than straight punishment. Removing privileges may work better than yelling.
  • Spend quality time one-on-one. Do activities they enjoy to keep the relationship strong during this development phase.
  • Maintain reasonable expectations for development. Pick battles wisely and consider their maturity level and impulsiveness at this stage.
  • Seek help early if issues escalate. Working with a therapist can help navigate major challenges for both the teenager and the father. Counseling can also assist with the unresolved issues the father may have that is contributing to the conflict with their teenager.

Fatherhood can be a very rewarding life experience, but it can also be a frightening one. Learning how to navigate through the teenage years can result in a more enriched adult/child relationship with their children as they get older. So, buckle up it is going to be a wild ride, and dads, don’t be afraid to pull over and ask for directions!

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