With teenagers, it’s all about who’s in control, right? But for dads, the best approach is kind of a paradox.

One of the key attributes of an effective father of teenagers is self-control.

It’s true. And this isn’t about teaching our teens to have self-control—though that is certainly important. It’s even more important for fathers to control ourselves; that’s how we can foster a closer relationship when it seems like our teens want to pull away.

What does self-control look like? Here’s a true story that illustrates this well:

A father and mother were at their wits’ end concerning their daughter. Her behavior was irresponsible and disrespectful, and things seemed to be quickly going south. They needed to do something before it tore the family apart.

One day they decided that it was time for some “tough love,” so when she came home that evening, they’d give her an ultimatum. She would make certain changes or she would move out.

As they waited for their daughter, the dad took a sheet of paper and began to list the changes she’d have to make in order to stay. It was an excruciating experience, because he couldn’t imagine that she’d agree to his demands. It seemed clear that she would have to move out, his time with her and influence on her would be reduced or taken away completely, and who knows where all that would lead her?

Then, as he continued to wait, something prompted him to turn the page over and make another list. This time, he wrote down some of the things he would change if his daughter agreed to the items on the other side. When he finished, he was in tears. His list of changes was longer than the one he’d made for his daughter.

When she did eventually come home—because of this dad’s broken, humble spirit—their talk was heartfelt and meaningful. Instead of starting with finger-pointing and ultimatums, he began by going through the items on his side of the paper. He wanted to change and grow. His daughter saw his sincerity, and she was more open to making changes herself.

Do you see how self-control is so important for fathers of teens?

It’s a painful reality that when our children get to this age, we can’t “run” them; they run themselves. Yes, we can make decisions that impact them, and sometimes “tough love” is the best course of action. 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. And they’ll be glad we’re there.

What’s your best advice for control battles with a teenager? Leave a comment and get tips from other dads on our Facebook page.

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