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Tips from The Parents' Coach » Blog Archive » Parenting Teenagers is Like Fighting a Gorilla War

Parenting Teenagers is Like Fighting a Gorilla War

When I was in Viet Nam, I realized that gorilla wars were very different from the ones in the movies. There were no fronts, no back lines and the territory was very peaceful just like any town in the U.S., until it wasn’t. It could go from tranquillity and boredom to total chaos in seconds. I am not suggesting that parenting is like fighting a war. To the contrary, if you follow my parenting advice, it will be one of collaboration with zero supremacy battles. It is that just like in gorilla wars, parenting teens often is quite boring with little to do most of the time, until it is not. Parenting then becomes a non-stop, intense period of coaching, teaching, sorting through high drama and lots of emotion, consoling and cheer-leading. Did I leave anything out?

It is the boring – nothing is happening – what am I doing here? – part of parenting teens to which I am going to address my comments. In the last blog, I talked about how parents need to understand that they are in this parenting game until their teens are adults. Even then, they are still on call until they can no longer take the calls and expire. I call it "Parenting On Demand." That is still true and here is the other part of parenting.

When kids are young, parenting is a full time occupation. As they go through the teen years, parenting duties become more like my description of the gorilla war, boring until it’s not. In late teens and early twenties, especially after they move out, the times when parents get to be parents get to be less and less. There might be months and even a year when an occasional phone call might be the only contact. The is true even more when the teens are doing things like drugs and alcohol. The last thing they want to get is parental feedback. This is when the going gets rough, emotionally for parents.

How do we, as parents, mentally deal with this decreasing lack of parenting opportunities? We need to understand that good parenting includes getting out of the way and letting our teens have the experiences that will let them develop as young adults. Understanding that will go a long way to alleviating the pangs of uselessness and guilt that naturally run through the brains of parents who are used to the non-stop parenting of pre-teens. They need to have their experiences, positive and negative. The positive ones allow them to feel good and become confidant about what they do know and handle well. Most important, they get to unequivocally own that their achievements were the result of their own abilities and not because they were under their parents wings. They also need to have the negative ones to know what they do not know, what they still need to learn and for what to ask your teaching, coaching and guidance. Until they know they don’t know, they are not teachable.

The hardest part of this new parenting role is dealing with the helplessness of not being able to protect them from, or even warn them of the impending negative consequences of their actions. If we have done our jobs when they were preteens and early teens, we must trust that they already know almost everything we might tell them and that our words go with them as they test the water for themselves. They will use our teachings to guide themselves through those waters when the going gets rough. There is a greater chance that they will call on our advice, counsel and coaching if we get out of the way, allow them to have increasing freedom to figure life out for themselves, and make it quite clear that we still love and care for them and are infinitely available for them when they have the need.

There is an old adage about relationships, "The bird you grasp in your hand is not yours. The one you allow to perch on your wrist, which then flies into the trees and, on its own, returns to your wrist is truly yours." Grasping your teens and not letting them fly, creates polarity responses where they will do the opposite of what you are suggesting, even when they know you are right. That is because asserting their individuality becomes their over-riding mission.

There is another emotional problem that hits parents when their teens and young adult kids are out developing life on their own. It has been dubbed "the empty nest syndrome." This is especially true for single parents who have been relying on their teens to be their only source of companionship. The antidote to this is "Get A Life!" It is imperative throughout the teenage years, especially the latter ones, that parents develop and pursue the personal relationships and activities that they only dreamed of having and pursuing when they were full-time parents. Empty nest feelings and loneliness are good feedback messages the scream, "Go get a life apart from your kids!" Your kids will be relieved when they see you having a social life. They also have separation feelings that include guilt of abandoning you, so for their sake and yours, go get a life. This ought to be a liberating and fun time for all. Start treating yourself well, you earned it!

About the Author:

Jason Wittman, MPS has a private practice as a Life Coach specializing in working with parents of teenage boys and young adults and teaching effective parenting techniques ( ) He can be reached at

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