When teenagers challenge — a tip for how to respond

I have a dear friend who is a mentor and life coach in all senses of the word, offering advice to everyone at all stages of life — from how to develop healthy sleep habits with your baby to dealing with the death of a loved one.  She’s also a mother of four, including two teenage children, so she’s been a perfect sounding board for me as we navigate our way into the first stages of teenage-hood with our eldest. (Free friend counselling! Lucky me!)

The other day I was chatting with her and had mentioned that Easton (aged 12 and a half) has been starting to challenge me and assert his opinion in social situations. For example, I will be talking with a friend, telling a story (unaware that he is even nearby) and he will interject and correct me. It can be about something so little, like the colour of the sky or the size of the waves, but he feels this need to assert himself and correct me, as if to say ‘hey, I’m becoming an adult, and my opinion matters here’, but without the social awareness to know that it’s inconsiderate to interject in that moment.  My friend told me this is SO NORMAL. She also told me she had already observed this happening with him (which obviously made me feel better to know that I wasn’t just making it up), and she offered advice for how to deal with this when it happens.

Instead of correcting him back or challenging him, which only adds fuel to the fire, I should just simply say something like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting that we saw it differently’ and allow him to feel valued in his opinion without encouraging him to continue correcting me. She mentioned that in these pre-teen and early teenage years, children will often throw out a hook and wait for their parents to bite. When their parents bite, they start to reel in and the rage/aggression/anger/rebellion kicks in and escalates. If we as parents can recognise that our children are throwing out hooks and how to avoid biting, we will be able to navigate this phase much more easily. Isn’t that a good tip?

I’ve spent the past couple weeks noticing the ‘hooks’ he’s casting out, trying my hardest not to bite, and I must say that it has lead to more patience on my part and fewer arguments in general. It also always helps to remind myself that his behaviour is totally normal. I think the more we see the things our children do as normal parts of their development (in all stages, not just teenage-hood), the easier it is to react, respond and eventually overcome. As our children grow older, we have a tendency as parents to expect them to become more mature, and as a result, we have less patience for their behaviour, but really the teenage phase requires more patience and understanding than ever before.

Do you have a pre-teen or teenager and have you noticed similar challenging? I’d be curious to hear how you’re navigating this phase and any tips you might have.

Courtney x


Comments (17)

January 30, 2018

Hello Courtney, thank you very much for your post. I am am mother of 5 and my 14 year-old boy is doing the same but in a aggressive way. We’ve tried to talk to him and explain to him that it’s not ok to interfere like this when adults are talking but it’s getting worse. As you say, it is really hard not to bite but he’s doing the same at school and his behavior is getting worse. Its is reassuring to read that other families are experiencing the same challenges. We will try to be more patient moving forward. Thank you again for sharing your experience.

January 30, 2018

Could this be happening at age 9? I feel like my son is full of back-talk and ‘assertiveness’ which I’m finding hard to deal with

January 30, 2018

Great post. I think one of your sentiments especially struck true to me. The fact that even though they are tall, they are not yet adults and we cannot expect them to behave that way – so patience is essential (but sometimes a bit hard to have) 😉 xx

January 30, 2018

Thank you for sharing your insights, Courtney! Learning from other people’s experiences is so valuable. Actually, I think your strategy of reacting to comments and involving him in the discussion also works for my six year old who is eager to joint adult conversations 🙂 I was wondering whether you could also give us some insights in another teenager challenge. I guess your son is old enough now to browse the internet and social media? How do you handle that, and maybe more importantly, how does he react to your social media posts (and now in particular this one about him)? Thank you

January 30, 2018

The point about kids throwing out a hook and waiting for a parent to bite is so true. I am so torn between focusing on every single misstep my children make (so that we don’t set bad habits and so that I’m consistent) and then also just allowing some grace and room for an off-comment or bad mood or growing pains. It’s difficult to know, in every single instance, the best road to take, but I remind myself of my husband’s motto all the time: we haven’t failed until we stop trying. 🙂 Thanks for a lovely post that is so relevant to my life at the moment. Amy

Helen Griffiths
January 30, 2018

I too have a 12 1/2 year old and we are all struggling with the changes in his mood! One minute he is the most affectionate boy tellling me how much he loves me the next crying with anger and frustration! It doesn’t help when he and my husband and battling for the last word! I will certainly try this thank you x

January 31, 2018

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Esther in Amsterdam
January 31, 2018

I haven’t noticed this as much with Sara yet, but I’m sure it will come. I actually remember feeling so valued when I was a teenager and my parents let me sit in on an ‘adult’ conversation they were having with friends, and let me give them my opinion about whatever they were talking about! Of course I was an only child, so perhaps it mattered even more because of that… xx

January 31, 2018

Great post- thank you…I feel I could even apply it a little bit to my 7 year old-it feels like 7 going on 13 at times. I love your writing, Courtney, it’s clear and accessible! Merci:-)

January 31, 2018

This is such a good reading. I have a 11.5 year old, my oldest of 3 and I start to see how he wants to be more and more integrated into decisions and being part of the adults when we get together with friends or family. Really funny is how he all of the sudden claims to do his order by himself in the restaurant. I used to pick out their meals (and drinks) most of the time. A stupid habit maybe I carried on because a two year old cannot responsibly decide what to have for lunch 🙂
I saw him getting really upset, never angry, but he actually teared up when I didn’t let him order his juice of choice (which I obviously just did out of practicability and habit… not because I don’t want him to!). So I try to make him feel more of a „grown up“ now. Hard when they are the first, you tend to make mistakes without really knowing.

Irene Kemp
January 31, 2018

Dear Courtney,

Thank you for this post. I too am coming into this stage and have tried to be as prepared as l can!! There is never prepared with tweens and teenagers. However l came across an amazing book called, The Available Parent by John Dufy and Brainstorm by Daniel J Siegel which completely changed the way l view ALL teenagers and my interactions with my own children and friends children of a similar age.
Its amazing seeing them grown but l think nerves of steal may be needed sometimes!

Irene x

January 31, 2018

Oh, Courtney great post. We have girl 12 years old and boy 13 years old, Masters in challenging parents. We have a moments similar to vulcano explosion between they two. Brother who loves to be the big brother and sister who wants to proof that girls are better and more mature😑. And when we are trying to explain anything, of course they know better. They will even remind us about the hormones changing in them and all the clever things. Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with all army of teenagers not only 2. Courtney I’m very interested how other families with young teenagers are dealing with internet and social media access. It’s looks like teen disease, a specially with a boy in our house. As we have “on line” house rules, parental control option on kids computer and time limit the pressure from they friends who have unlimited time and access is huge. And I have to say most of arguments, if not only one we have about that matter. How to get to the young minds and pass the message “just because we care” We had many conversations and one day Kordian and Korina they do understand us, agree and are happy with everything and next day we are back to scratch. And yes I know the hormones.
Please, please write more about teenagers.
All best

February 1, 2018

I have worked with teenagers and even though a understand they can be hard on their parents patience, and vice versa, I find them extraordinary. It’s as everything opens and comes flooding out in no order, and they are supposed to bring order to this. They question everything, from family to friends to clothes to life itself and try to form their own identity. They break free from their family, find a new family in their friends and maybe even in a relationship. It’s as intense as those first years with a baby (for everyone around), but this time you, as a parent, have to lean back a bit, trust the years that gone by and interfer just when it’s really necessary. Oh, so difficult, but that’s what I love with your post, the message of: welcome, I’m want to listen to you.

Ps. Sorry if I’m rambling a bit, but teens are so wonderful and give me real hope of a better future. 🙂

February 4, 2018

Yes, I would also like to know how Easton deals with being the subject of that kind of article. Does he find it embarrasing in any way that classmates know that his mum discusses that kind of topic in public? Is he fine with it, because he is used to leading a slightly public life anyway? Do you plan to state his personal opinion at some point?

February 4, 2018

Your friend is so wise, and so I feel so important to have a support network of people who are ahead of you in the partnering journey! I was chatting to a therapist about the exact same topic and she mentioned she was happy to hear that my almost 13 yo was throwing out “hooks” – it means she is in a stable, loving and safe environment. Although these “hooks” are sometimes hard to ignore or deal with, her comments gave me a lot of comfort that I am doing things right.

May 8, 2018

I have two 11 year olds, but one of them has precocious puberty (meaning she has been in puberty since the age of 6). We put her on medication when she was 8 and it was stunning to see how a monthly injection turned a “don’t kiss me, I want this my way” stroppy child back into my lovely cuddly little girl. She is off medication now and so far things are fine. However, I am getting geared up. 🙂 I came across a few useful books:

Blame My Brain: the Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed by Nicola Morgan – I think teens need to know what is going on in their brains.

Age of Opportunity Paperback by Laurence Steinberg (please note, there is another book with this title which has a biblical approach which has nothing to do with this book)

Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence: How to Understand, and Even Enjoy, the Rocky Road to Independence by Carl Pickhardt

Adolescence Is Not a Disease: Beyond Drinking, Drugs, and Dangerous Friends: The Journey to Adulthood by Jeffrey Leiken

I haven’t read all of them yet, but have heard that they are useful.

A friend of mine found it useful to constantly apologise to one of her sons. It calmed him down and made him compliant. I am not sure I would be up for that, but I guess it depends on how worn down you are…

Helen Griffiths
October 13, 2018

My son turned 13 last July and he has gone from a happy, chatty telling me he loves me several times a day boy to a grumpy, quiet teenager who pushes the boundaries. I personally struggle with the realisation that he is changing, (My friends who have been through this say he will come back around)🤞and I need to give him more independence. Luckily he loves sport and this takes up a lot of his time. People say babies are difficult, give me babies any day! Keeping talking and communicating so he can acknowledge how he is feeling is key, I think xx

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