When Should a Parent Intervene in a Teenager’s Life?

Something has happened with regard to your teenager. As a parent, you wonder, “So, what should I do now?”

4 ideas to help you with next steps

Don't give up
Breathe. Take some time to respond if the situation is not dangerous.

What to do when your teenager commits a behavior that feels too different or inappropriate is one of the most perplexing questions for a parent. Since teenagers present interesting dilemmas on a regular basis, it is helpful to know when to get involved and when to hold back or tolerate certain behaviors?

Reviewing the work of Thomas W. Phelan, specifically his video Surviving Your Adolescent, may provide you with some answers to these occasions.

In addition, here are some questions that may be helpful as you assess these types of situations:

How serious is the problem? Is the problem more normal and annoying than serious or dangerous? If the problem is serious or dangerous, then a parent should initiate an immediate response. If not, then it may be wise to ignore–or at least modify–the intensity of the response.

What kind of teenager is this? If you know the overall personality traits of your teenager, you can better assess how serious a behavior might be. For instance, if your child has always been a risk-taker, then taking risks may be more normal to him than another teenager.  If he has been cautious and then becomes a significant risk-taker, then there may be a need to intervene more directly.

What kind of relationship do I have with this teenager? If you have always had a strong relationship with the teenager, then she will be more likely to bring situations to you that are more dangerous or compromising. If there has been serious damage to the relationship, you might have to be more vigilant regarding serious and dangerous behaviors.

Parents fight in front of sons
Are your own life issues getting in the way of your parenting?

How Stressed am I? When parents are stressed, overwhelmed or distracted with issues surrounding their own lives, they will be less likely to be as aware to their teenager’s vulnerabilities to engage in serious or dangerous activities. Further, if parents are struggling with life issues, they are more likely to respond in ways that criticize, blame, shame or attack their teenager. Obviously, this will not help a teenager become aware nor understand the risks or dangers he is truly facing. Parents who are struggling in this way should seriously consider getting professional support for their own issues prior to dealing with the needs of their teenagers.

It’s okay to take some time before responding

Remember, too, that as a parent, you are human, vulnerable and have the potential to make errors in judgment when it comes to evaluating and dealing with the behaviors of your teenagers. When this happens, be quick to make amends appropriately (you will also be providing a good role model to your teen) and discuss the situation.

Sometimes before responding, it is important to take some time, ask the right questions and be intentional about the decisions that are so important to the health, safety and growth or your teenager. You will not get every situation right, but taking some time to ask questions may save you from having to apologize to your teenager or spend a great deal of time handling conflict thay may have not even been necessary.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

*Some information taken from Understanding Teens, Diane Wagenhals, 2007.

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