A Well-Lit Path: A Blog from Westtown School

The Art of Not Reacting to Your Teen's Reactions

Posted by Linda Rosenberg McGuire on November 7, 2014

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So, you just told your child they can't do something. Maybe you said no to a concert, a movie date with a young driver, or a gathering with no adult supervision. What happens next? Does your child storm out of the room fuming under their breath? Sulk for an entire evening? Slam his door on the way into his room?

All of these possibilities are disruptive and unsettling to a parent. However, they are totally normal reactions when teenagers don't get their way. One of the mistakes parents make is to call their teenager on how they "react" to being told no. Teenagers, like all of us, do not like to be denied something they want. Most are not mature or self-aware enough to thank their parent for making the tough decisions.

If you have a teenager that defies you, then that is something to be very concerned about. But, if you simply have a teenager who feels angry at you, and as a result may say a throw-away comment, or spend an evening showing just how much they disapprove of your decision, then you have a teen who is acting well within the parameters of normal behavior. 

Here are some ideas about how to keep from reacting to their reaction and escalating the interaction:

1. Keep in mind that the goal of your conversation was met: They are not going to the event you did not want them to go to.

2. Ignoring the reaction works far better than engaging. Things will go from bad to worse the minute you say something like "what did you just say" as they are leaving the room. That only pulls them back into a heated and unproductive conversation.

3. Remind yourself that you want your teenager to be able to vent and emote in a safe place. You don't want to give them the message that they can’t feel angry or unhappy about your limits and decisions. This can lead to emotional dissonance where they know they feel one way, but are being forced to feel and act another way.

4. You are looking for compliance with your decisions, not agreement with your parenting style. Count to 10 and let go of their opinion of you in that moment. Give your teen the space to be frustrated (read as allow them to storm off) and take care of yourself by either talking to a partner or friend who is familiar with teenage behavior (privately so your teen does not hear you talking about them), or doing something distracting that you enjoy.

Remember raising teens is not for the faint of heart. They are going to get mad at their parents, and they are usually going to express it in a way that does not reflect their best. Allow them some space to feel their feelings and then move on, especially if they have accepted your no. Acceptance does not mean agreement, but it does imply understanding that you are still in charge of household boundaries.


Topics: How to get your teen to talk

Linda Rosenberg McGuire

Written by Linda Rosenberg McGuire

Linda Rosenberg McGuire was the Dean of Students at Westtown School from 2011 until 2018. She is a parenting coach, consultant, speaker, and avid writer, providing insight, support, and education for parents and teachers who live and work with teenagers. She works with schools to inspire and reinvigorate their faculty to work successfully with even the most challenging students. Linda is passionate about helping parents develop more effective relationships with their teenagers, stressing the importance of listening, limit-setting, and building competence, character, and independence. Linda has 30 years of experience working with children, most of that time focused on parent-teen relationships. Linda began her career as a caseworker and trip leader for teens-at-risk, leading to work as a community mental health therapist and a school-based counselor. For the past 12 years Linda has been employed in independent school administration, working with teenagers, parents, and faculty as a program director and a dean.Linda received her BA from Bowdoin College, her MSW from the University of New England, and her Master of Organizational Leadership from Nichols College.