A 6 step guide to trouble-free teenagers

Dec 26, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. ET

If given a choice, many parents would prefer to fast-forward through the teen years. That's primarily because of all the horror stories we've heard related to assorted delinquent behavior. However, it doesn't have to be like that!

Woman with teen daughter

It's possible to raise (mostly) trouble-free teens. Here are a few ideas to get you started.


Change your attitude

Like so many other challenges in life, raising teens starts with a good attitude — not theirs — yours. Your teens are going to have attitude, and it's probably not going to be very good. Try not to get down on their level .They're the kid — you were put in charge for a reason. Adjust your thinking so that you view teenage situations as an opportunity for you to mentor your child, and for you both to experience a little personal growth.


Talk with them — not at them

Many parents of teens talk at their kids, not with them. Teens aren't stupid, they're just young. There is a huge difference. Your life experience doesn't make you smarter, it just makes you more experienced.

Try viewing your teen as a budding adult, because that is what they are. Validate the points they make and frame your side of the conversation like you're giving them credit for the thought they've put into what they are asking you. When your teen asks to stay the night at a friend's you don't know and has presented her case for doing so, instead of answering "Negative, Ghost-Rider" try something like, "I don't really know that kid's mom, so that makes me kind of nervous. I trust your judgment, but I think I'd just feel better if I talked to the parents and maybe drove by the house before this weekend if you're cool with that."

Kids will be more inclined to work with you, rather than against you, if you meet them halfway. Pretending to ask their permission goes a long way too. The ultimate decision is yours, but whenever you have an opportunity to make them feel important, make the most of it.


Work it

You can't expect a bored teen to stay out of trouble — period. Think back to when your kids were toddlers. If you left them alone for two seconds they cut their hair and filled the tub with dish soap. Bored kids are curious kids, and curious teens are drunk, stoned and/or pregnant teens. Let your teen know if they choose to not be in sports or extracurricular academic or artist pursuits, they need to get a job. Not only does each of these activities give them real world experience, it keeps your kids from getting bored. It will also make them tired, which means they will lack the energy (when they do have a free moment) to get into trouble.


Recognize they aren't a mini-me

Out of love, parents want what's best for their kids, but somewhere along the way determining what kids want to do with their lives can get polluted with unrealistic parental expectations, heavy-handed determination and worst of all, ego.

Your kid is not a place to project all the things you wanted to do with your life, but haven't. If they would rather tie-dye a T-shirt on the weekend than play football, they probably aren't going to fulfill your lifetime dream of being a quarterback.

When kids first start talking about their future, try to be OK with them word-vomiting. If you qualify their ideas with "that doesn't make any money" or "you'll never get anywhere with that career," they'll be less inclined to look at their career choices creatively and even more disinclined to share their ideas with you.

You've got six years to nudge your kids in a direction that you think best suits their skill sets and talents. There's no need to insist they be a knee surgeon in 7th grade.


Raise self-thinkers

Do you really want kids that can make good choices? Then give them the space to think for themselves. If you have done your job as a parent by instilling values and work ethic in your kids at a young age, the job of "molding" a kid is more or less done when they get to be about 16. From there, it's OK to let your teen start to make a few decisions.

This will make the control freaks in the audience break into a cold sweat. We know! It's not easy, but your kids will surprise you. When it comes to things like money, relationships and school work you can step away from a few of those decisions. If your teen says, "Mom, I really want this expensive shirt, but I don't get paid for another week," it's perfectly fine to answer, "You're a big girl honey and you have a good head on your shoulders. I trust you'll do the right thing."

Here's the best part — if your teen does screw up, they are still at home from at least the ages of 16 to 18, giving them a generous safety net if they fall on their face. Don't be afraid to let your kids practice being an adult while they are still living with you. It builds their confidence when you have confidence in them, and it opens the door for you to brainstorm solutions for the decisions that didn't work out.


Make examples of others

This is going to sound more negative than it really is, but making an example of what isn't working for others will help your kids see the consequences of certain behavior without actually having to experience them.

If your teen has a friend that gets a "Minor in Possession" ticket for drinking underage, let that provide a platform for discussing how much that sucks (if you're going to have a teen, get used to saying and hearing the word "sucks"). You and your teen can discuss how embarrassing and expensive MIPs are and how much easier their life will be if they avoid getting one.

It's important when you do this to sit down with your young adult and talk with them as if you are talking with your friend about a problem in your marriage or a similar, sensitive issue. You will be completely ineffective and summarily dismissed if you lecture. Be compassionate toward the youngster in trouble, but point out how much easier life is going to be if your child avoids that drama.

To try to keep teens out of trouble, do what you can to treat your teen like a budding adult. Treat them like the smart individuals they are becoming, respect their ability to make certain decisions, try to maintain a decent attitude, give them a certain amount of responsibility, take yourself out of the equation whenever possible (this is about your kid's future, not yours) and above all — listen, listen, listen.

More about raising teens

Can teenage drinking lead to alcoholism?
What can mindfulness training do for your teen?
How to track your teen's whereabouts