Therapist Reveals What Well-Meaning Parents Get Wrong When Raising Teens

Once you understand why it feels so hard, it all becomes easier.

Parent feeling emotional, teen daughter struggling dimaberlinphotos | Canva

Parenting teenagers has its fair share of challenges for most parents, and especially for anxious parents who worry about making mistakes and the repercussions — it all goes with the parenting territory

The consequences of our choices can haunt even the most confident parent, not just in the moment but in the long term.

There are no rule books for parenting. We parent to the point of exhaustion, often without any substantial breaks. This makes it all too common for struggling teenagers to trigger their parents' "hot buttons." One thing that makes it easier is to understand why it feels so hard.


The problem isn't always with the teens — or at least not solely within them, and that's what too many parents misunderstand. What makes parenting teens so hard is facing all of the triggering emotions their independence and emerging adulthood inspires within us, as parents. 

Four highly personal reasons raising teens is often so challenging 

1. Watching kids struggle is anxiety-provoking

As uncomfortable as it is to watch, struggle is a normal and necessary part of growing up. It helps teens learn about making decisions, who they are, who they want to become, and how they want to contribute to the world (just as our struggles have helped us).


Yet, watching our teens deal with difficulty is hard, and even more so for parents who run anxious. Not only is anxiety contagious, but in caring so much about our children’s welfare, we often want to jump in and resolve their struggles for them. However, doing so is usually not the best decision.

Knowing when to jump in and when to hold back can be confusing, especially when your teen's struggles ignite hot-button issues. This is when it can be particularly important to tune into what’s going on with you (a.k.a., your whispering anxiety) to optimize your judgment.

RELATED: The 3 Tiny Differences Between Healthy And Unhealthy Anxiety


2. Not knowing what to do can be confusing and scary

The voices of other parents, your friends, or family members can drown out your parenting instincts, making it hard to tune into what you’re feeling and what you care about.

Whispering anxiety is almost always a part of this messy situation. Translating whispering anxiety requires thoughtful consideration and quiet time to understand where our worries or instincts are trying to steer us. This can make knowing what to do or how to proceed all the more confusing and frustrating in the heat of an escalated situation.

One technique to deal with your confusion and frustration is by writing what you're worried about. Doing this can help you see what you are worried about more clearly, so you can work with it — especially if you do not have a listening and supportive ear in a partner.

@parenting.resilience FOR MY ANXIOUS PARENTS: HERE'S A QUICK TIP ON HOW TO REDUCE ANXIETY IN PARENTING How many of you feel this sense of urgency? For those parenting with trauma,is there a sense of urgency you feel to heal right away? My recommendation is to not hate on this part of you that feels this urgency but to be curious about it. What is this sense of urgency about? What is it trying to help you accomplish? What is it afraid would happen if you aren't allowed to feel this sense of urgency? What are your thoughts? Follow, like, comment below,share! #gentleparenting #gentle #selfcare #selfesteemboost #parenting101 #parentingtips #anxiety #anxietyawareness #selflove ♬ original sound - Parenting.Resilience

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3. Feeling pushed to your limits complicates your coping

Another common parenting hot-button issue occurs when you are pushed to your limit. It's not hard to worry about whether you can handle or have the endurance to continue parenting through your teen’s struggles.

Think about when your teen is yelling, not listening, getting into trouble, or simply making your life more complicated. These situations can be overwhelming and leave you wondering if you can do what needs to be done.

Mother and daughter back to back with tension because parenting teens is challenging fizkes via Shutterstock


This is when any number of coping tools can emerge, including ones that aren’t as helpful (avoidance, substance abuse, or for older kids like teens, "don’t ask/don’t tell").

Recognizing your limitations and what you need to regain balance can be critical to taking back control in these situations. As in-flight safety videos often tell us, we must first secure our oxygen masks before helping others. Sometimes, taking a break and carving productive time for yourself is just what you need to regain stamina.

RELATED: A Therapist’s Guide To Overcoming The Anxiety Of Parenting Teens

4. Unresolved issues can be triggered from the past

Hot-button issues are always related, in part, to a parent’s past and unresolved feelings from it. It's easy to be triggered by emotional situations that remind you of painful situations from the past. It's critical to separate the past, which you do not have control over, from the present, which deserves your attention.


However, detangling the present from the past can be challenging. However, when you remember that you are no longer the helpless child or adolescent you once were, you can begin regaining control of the present.

As an adult, you can access an array of cognitive resources you simply did not have in the past.

By harnessing these resources, you can forge a more adaptive solution to the current challenge while beginning to detangle the original associations that created your hot-button issue in the first place.

Mother comforts sad son because parenting teens is challenging Egoitz Bengoetxea via Shutterstock


For parents of struggling teens, dealing with hot-button issues can at times seem to be a daily occurrence. It is natural to worry about making a parenting mistake that could have negative repercussions now and in the future.

There is nothing wrong with you if your buttons are being pushed — it simply confirms you are engaged.

Remember, anxiety can be normal, and worrying is a good sign that you care. Even if you are pushed beyond your limits, worry helps you recognize the love you have for your child, which activates needed attunement and problem-solving.

Hot-button issues and parenting worries can help you access the courage, focus, and motivation you need to keep up with your best parenting efforts with resilience and love.


RELATED: Why Trust Between Parents And Kids Only Works With Effective Communication

Dr. Alicia Clark has been a practicing psychologist for over 25 years and has been named one of Washington’s Top Doctors by Washingtonian Magazine. She is the author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You In Life, Love, and All That You Do.