5 rules of engagement for parents of teenagers | Guest column

Moody, brooding, sullen, volatile, strong-willed, argumentative, condescending, angry, impulsive and unpredictable. Do these words describe your adolescent? You might even have a few more descriptive words to add to the list.

Many confused, frustrated and overwhelmed parents have entered my office looking shell-shocked and dazed after engaging with what can sometimes feel like the “enemy.” Looking more like war-torn soldiers than the parents of teenagers, they emerge from the battlefield. The enemies sleep, eat and live in our households.

Sometimes teenagers might be mistaken for aliens. The sweet, mild-mannered child that parents knew and loved in pre-puberty or early childhood has been replaced by a combative hormone-ridden adolescent. Fear not, if your teenager has morphed. You are not alone.

In an attempt to better prepare parents for battle, I have come up with the following five rules of engagement you’ll need to remember when dealing with teens.

1. Your teenager is always right. Teenagers love to debate on almost any topic. They seem to be endowed with natural argumentative skills that transcend most forms of logic or rational thought processes. You could be talking about the law of gravity and they would find a way to disagree and argue just for the sake of arguing. They base arguments on falsehoods and their house of cards might start to crumble, but they will not cower or retreat from their stance. Later, they will misremember and say that you were the one arguing against gravity. Alas, what do parents know anyway?

2. Your teenager knows everything. Did I say that your teen knows everything? I do mean everything. Set aside any pretense that your years of life experience, maturity, educational background or expertise in any field will prepare you for interaction with a teenager. “I know MOM!” is a common mantra of theirs. If you can remember that your teenager knows everything, it will only make your job easier as a parent.

3. Your teenager’s friends also know more than you do. Peers are all important at this age. If your teen’s friends say or do something, then by all means your teen will want to do that also. You will be accused of many crimes such as neglect, deprivation and denying your teenager the opportunity to have friends. You will be attacked on more than one front. You will need to defend yourself against your teen and your teen’s friends. If one of their friends gets to stay out until 1 a.m., eat a bag of potato chips for lunch every day, or run barefoot through a doggy park, be ready for that battle. Be brave. Don’t show fear when facing the enemies.

4. The universe revolves around your teen. If you did not know it before, you know it now. Your teenager is more important than anyone or anything else. Their needs are priority number one. As long as you put your teenager first, you might survive the encounter. If you’re lucky, they might tell you what their needs are. More often than not, you will have to intuit their needs. God help you if you are wrong. I am not guaranteeing that you will be intact, but there is a chance that you will be able to walk away. Call for backup as needed.

5. Your teen is a lethal combination of emotion and hormones. The United States thought it had created something deadly with the A-bomb, but that does not hold a candle to the teenager you created. Your son or daughter will often explode without warning or provocation. Hormones and emotions are to blame. You will often find objects in your home broken or missing (probably broken and thrown away to hide the evidence). You will be accused of moving, taking or throwing their things away. Be prepared for anything, at any time.

Parenting teenagers is a dangerous occupation, but I know that parents out there are ready for the challenge. Follow the five rules of engagement and share them with your friends and neighbors — there is strength in numbers. If all else fails, refer to rule number one: Your teenager is always right.

May the force be with you.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., is a private practice psychotherapist who provides individual and family counseling in Federal Way. Contact: (253) 653-0168 or

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