How to Father Teens? It’s All About Balance and Self-Control

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The teenage years are a challenging time … for the kids and their dads, right? Our children are old enough and smart enough to think they have it all together and they know what’s what, but in reality there’s still a lot they don’t really understand or appreciate. It sets up the classic conflicts between teens and their parents.

One of our bloggers, Clark Smith, wrote about this earlier in the week. As he put it, “Something happens when kids approach their early teens that turns them inside out, upside down, and makes them uneasy with life in general.”

And here’s another key insight from Clark: “Your kids are, for the first time in their lives, wrestling with ideas… and they’re not going to get everything right the first time.”

I have four children, and I saw these dynamics at work at various times with each of them. It struck me that I so often heard the word “I” from my kids, and I couldn’t help thinking they were just plain selfish.

How to Father Teens Balance and Self-ControlDon’t get me wrong—they were good kids, but they didn’t get everything right the first time. And I know they cared about other people, but often it was like, “Dad, I’m not concerned about you right now.” It sounds negative, but what I think they meant was, Dad, you have a job, a family, a house. You have your life pretty much figured out. But I have a lot I’m still trying to figure out.

My kids—like all teens—were learning to navigate life, and we all need to remember how challenging that is during adolescence. They’re going through a complicated time, and sometimes they’re so overwhelmed that it’s all they can do to think only of themselves and their own issues.

Does that mean we excuse behavior that is unacceptable? Not at all. But it does mean we seek to understand what they’re going through, and balance high expectations with cutting them some slack and giving grace. It really takes wisdom and self-control on our part.

Recently we heard from a dad named Alan whose 14-year-old son said, “You’re the worst dad ever; you don’t do anything for me.” It was an impulsive comment in the heat of the moment, but it’s also the kind of thing a dad doesn’t soon forget, as I’m sure you can imagine.

So, filled with that feeling of being unappreciated, Alan went to his computer and made up an invoice for his son, detailing all the money he has spent on him so far. He itemized clothing, school supplies, toys, trips and vacations, computers, food, equipment and team costs for four different sports, and on and on. (He also listed “dad hours,” but as he said, there’s no price on those.)

The total was just under $850,000. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’m guessing it’s pretty close. I also don’t know if it had the desired effect on his son.

Alan is running up against what happens with most teenagers, as I mentioned earlier: their limited perspective on life makes them seem selfish and ungrateful. But as fathers, we need to be self-controlled.

It’s natural to want to defend ourselves, and it’s appropriate to teach our kids important life lessons. Sometimes it makes sense to take away a privilege until he changes his attitude. After all, that’s how the real world works; if he smarts off to his boss some day, there will be consequences. He needs to learn that, and the sooner the better.

But as fathers of teens, we also have to remember that there’s a balance here. We have a bigger perspective; we know that most kids get five, seven or ten years down the road, gain some wisdom of their own, and they see that we weren’t so crazy after all. They might even realize how dedicated their parents were and are.

So sometimes it makes sense to just smile, maintain your self-control and continue to do what’s best for him, since you know that he’ll grow out of this immature point of view. “They come back,” as Clark put it.

Each of us has to find that balance between “teaching him a lesson” and “maintaining our poise.” And it isn’t easy! But both of those are needed with teenagers. Sometimes we do need to bring about tough consequences and teach important lessons. Other times, it makes more sense to take a deep breath and trust that all the love and life lessons we have invested in them to this point will eventually bear fruit.

Yes, they often come off as selfish, which isn’t fun when we’re trying to teach them to be responsible and think about other people. But remember that they’re good kids for the most part, and be patient with them while they figure things out.

That’s self-control. When our children reach this age, we can’t “run” them; they run themselves. Yes, we can make tough decisions that impact them, but we can’t force them to change. What we can do is change ourselves and how we respond to them. That’s how we can earn the right to walk alongside them in their journey to adulthood.

Make sure you read Clark Smith’s blog for more about this.

Dad, where are you exercising self-control right now in your fathering? What truths do you rely on to get you through these (often) turbulent teen years? If this week’s topic hits home with you, I hope you’ll join the discussion either below or on our Facebook page.

Action Points for Dads on the Journey

  • Do something with your teenager that he or she enjoys (even if it’s a stretch for you): seeing a movie, bicycling, working on the car, golf or disc golf, etc. If your relationship is often tense, you need to have fun and laugh together.
  • Teach your children a skill or truth that will help them after they leave home. For example, they most likely won’t start out on their own living at the standard their parents provided. Find 1,000 more truths to teach in this book.
  • Although it might not seem like it, you’re still a powerful figure in your teenager’s life. Maybe the most important thing you can do is demonstrate the character you hope he or she develops.
  • Ask your teenager where she sees herself in ten years. What will she do for a living? Will she be married? How will she spend her spare time?
  • Keep trying to coach your child about responsibility and mistakes to avoid—but do it calmly and patiently. Over time, he’ll see that a lot of what you’re saying makes sense.


Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.



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  1. As I grow closer to Christ, I feel myself using more self control and restraint. I no longer get upset over the “small” things. There was a time when I would just explode over matters that really did not warrant that reaction. God has blessed me with a new found peace with love and understanding. I hope that it continues to last.

  2. Thank you brothers, this really pulled me back to my center. I recently had that moment of out of control and my teen daughter saw me, along with my other 3 children. My daughter is speaking her mind and questioning our believes and it’s very hard for me to allow her to make her own mistakes. I love her so much and I don’t want the world to absorber her. I also remember questioning and speaking to my parents disrespectable, back in the 1970’s they would just use corporal punishment to keep you on track, at least I have learned that does not always have the desired effect and I don’t want to subjugate my kids to that. It’s hard to see the ones you love making mistakes. I have to be strong and sometime allow them to make their decisions and let them know I’ll be there if things go wrong. Thanks again guys, keep up the great work.

  3. Hi all,
    My name is Derek. I’m new to this site.
    These past few years have been hell on me. Or maybe I’ve been hell to myself too.
    Fatherhood has taken on a totally new meaning for me.
    As a child, I didn’t have that father figure. My dad was around but most of the time was drunk and we endured many days of vicious beatings from him. My Dad had a lot of demons I believe he fought regularly.
    Needless to say, I had a hellish childhood.
    My Dad was murdered in Los Angeles when I was in the service, one month before my daughter was born.
    I cried alot. I cried when I’d see my fellow Shipmates’ father’s hugging them when we returned from the warzone.
    I cried alone when I graduated my first fire academy and saw my fellow cadets hugging there fathers and hearing their dad’s say “I’m proud of you Son”. When I received my Paramedic’s badge, same thing. LOL.
    A promise was made to my self when my Daughter (Melissa) was born (16 years ago), that I’d love and care for her unconditionally and be the father to her that she would need and also, a father that I always wanted.
    I also have a handsome 14 year old Son named Kenny. Same thing with him, I made that promise.
    My children have always been the priority. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them. I truly, with all my heart and soul love their very existence. Their lives thing short of a wonderful blessing that I could never find the words to describe. Heavenly is a great description.
    There hasn’t been a chore or task that I felt i was too good for. Diaper changes, making formula, bathing, homework, cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes, laundry, driving to/ picking up from school, endless “I love you”s” and compliments, cuddles, bedtime stories, decorating of rooms, board games, the list is endless.
    My Daughter is just that, my Daughter. My only daughter. Daddy’s little girl. My Angel. Pony tails and all. Named after the Allman Brothers song “Melissa”.
    My life changed when I came home early a couple years ago (when I was working in the ER) at around 3:30 a.m..
    I walk in my house to find my Daughter passed out, half-naked with a bottle of whiskey on the counter with two glasses. One glass for her and the other for the boy who was sitting at my computer half naked surfing on the internet.
    Saying I was shocked would be an understatement. She swore they didn’t have sex but, the image of finding my daughter and this boy whom I never even met, was burned into my brain. Traumatized and stabbed in the heart……..perfect description.
    I scolded Melissa and told her to get out of this house. I told her many things and reminded her of how slutty I thought she was. I wanted to hurt her like she had just hurt me. I’m sure i did.
    I went through counseling so I could have better coping skills and also put our daughter through counseling just to make sure there were no past issues with sexual abuse that we didn’t know about and to see if we could learn more as to why our daughter is going this route in life.
    Since that early morning, I have found some extremely dirty and vulgar sexual text messaging and emails since I started keeping a very close eye on her. Every time a new text or email was found, my heart felt like it weighed a ton.
    Then, one day, she broke the news to us. She confessed that a high school choir trip to Canada in which my Wife and I spent $2000 on ended up with her having sex there for the first time.
    I was speechless. The hits didn’t stop. I took one jab after another.
    Feeling the sensation of anger, frustration and betrayal…….i was about to explode.
    My mind was racing on a different level. I took this all so very personal. Like a personal attack against me.
    I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s missing in her life? What didn’t my Wife and I right? What did I screw up on? We have a very good home, very clean, happy, full of “no drama”, my Wife and I have a very healthy marriage of 19 years, we travel with our children, go camping, to the movies, maintain open communication, etc.
    Last week, I once again was hit with another blow.
    I laid awake with her many nights talking with her and explaining to her how much I love her and just talking to see if there was anything on her mind. She and I cried together. I cried explaining to her how very much she means to me and all the many ways i love her. She I’m sure has a lot of regrets atleast I’d like to think).
    My Son advised me that he went into my Daughters room and right there she was “skyping” fully naked with a boy whom I found out she just met at a church camp one month ago.
    I lost my control and said things that I know I shouldn’t have said. Actually, i said things to her that i will forever regret.
    I scolded her and scolded her and upon thinking of all the hell I went through as a child and how hard I worked to give my children the life I could have only dreamed of as a child, I began having the feeling of betrayal and questioned “how could my own beloved Daughter do this to me after I have given my life to her”?
    “How could she do this after I have always been there for her to teach, preach, hug, cuddle, compliment, protect and give her endless attention”?
    I told her I was ashamed of her. That she is shameful. That she is every Father’s nightmare as a daughter doing what she has continually done, I told her that I wish she wasn’t my daughter.
    Once again, i told her to get out of this house knowing she would go to her friends house up the street.
    It infuriated me that she didn’t seem to have any remorse once again towards everything I have caught her doing.
    I told her that I wish she wouldn’t come back. That she has hurt me and stabbed me in the back enough times.
    She ended up leaving and going to her friends house for the weekend.
    My thoughts and feelings were “why me”? “Why do I have a Daughter who is so cheap to do these things”?

    After the first day she was gone, I found myself missing her. Missing her voice, her laugh, her giggle, her conversations we’d have about anything, her wonderful happy and cheerful personality, etc.

    Then, I found myself analyzing what had transpired over the past few years along with my reaction(s) to her actions.

    My thoughts began steering towards myself. The fact that I would take it so extremely personal to the point of making it all worse. Making her feel worse than she might already feel about herself. Saying the things I said just to hurt her the same way she has hurt me. In the end, is it I who is the selfish one? I have come to the conclusion that my answer to that is yes. I have hurt my daughter by saying things I wish I could take back.
    Though she has made her mistakes and chose to do those things, I chose to compare my life with her’s and question why she could do such things as though she was intentionally trying to hurt me.

    My daughter must feel horrible inside from the things I have said to her. It must have killed her inside to see and hear my reaction(s) to her mistakes.
    I told my only Daughter, whom I love with everything I’ve got, that I wish she wasn’t mine.
    A Daughter who I’d proudly give up my soul for if it would take away the sadness and grief I might have caused her. No!! What I know I did cause her.
    I said things to that beautiful little girl that I cannot find it in me to forgive myself.
    For every action, there’s a reaction. My reaction all these times must have destroyed her.
    Though I know and she knows what she did was wrong, I took it so personal that I hurt her emotionally.

    Hurt her in a way that it would be mercy for me when she turns 18, if she told me to go to hell and stay out of her life. I wouldn’t blame her one bit. Not at all.
    I don’t deserve to have her tell me she loves me. If she doesn’t, I do not blame her.
    When she needed me most, I insulted her and let her know how much she hurt me.
    I was such a fool, so caught up in my own selfishness and throwing it in her face what all I did for her as if she owed me.
    What I have said and most likely done to my beautiful angel Melissa, I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
    I don’t deserve her love. Not with the things i have said.
    I have hurt my Daughter in a way that I swore I never would do. The way I was hurt as a child.

    I love you my beautiful Melissa Angelica forever and a day.


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