Parenting a Teen as a Single Parent

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Parenting teens is difficult enough for married parents, but when parents are separated or doing it on their own, it can be a confusing challenge. Teens are wired to differentiate themselves from their parents in order to define who they are as individuals. They also want a lot of freedom, but often are not responsible enough to earn it from their parents. Add a divorce situation, where they see opportunities for manipulation, and the potential for tension is almost inevitable.


Here are a few tips for dealing with teens as a single parent:


Teach teens responsibility comes with freedom of choice. Often in divorce situations, teens are given more power than they can handle. While courts might think teens should have a say in which parent they have a better bond with, it can have a serious impact on teens when the power of choice is abused. Regardless of what the law says, parents should put teens on notice that, if they do choose to be with one parent over the other, there are boundaries and rules about that choice. A time limit should be put in place, so teens don’t think they can bounce back and forth between Mom’s and Dad’s every time there is a conflict. If a choice is made, it needs to be in force for the summer or an entire school year, or for some other definitive amount of time. This allows parents and teens the time they need to adjust and ensures parents maintain control of the situation. Also, if at the end of the agreed upon period, teens decide they have made a mistake, then it’s OK to revert to the previous living situation without repercussions.


Keep them focused on their own lives. Parents should keep teens out of the middle of any of the adult conflicts and problems. It is also important to not allow them to take on adult roles in the household. If teens think it is their job to discipline siblings or be Mom’s best friend and confidante, then they will begin to think they are peers with their parents instead of children. Promoting kids to adulthood is easy to do, but demoting them back to children, when parents need to act parental, can set up an environment for rebellion. When teens want to take over their parents’ responsibility in the household, parents need to lovingly and firmly encourage them to focus on schoolwork and relationships in preparation for college or their future careers.


Listen, listen, listen. Teens have a unique way of communicating that often includes slang and distasteful language. Parents often fail to recognize that coming home from the high school often can seem like going from the war zone, where they have to fight for position, to a place where they have no voice. Parents do well to spend time listening to their teens before interjecting their criticisms or opinions. Get in the habit of allowing teens to talk for two minutes before stating an opinion or making a comment. Nod, stay engaged in the conversation and let them vent (even when you cringe at their attitude). Then, acknowledge what they are feeling with, “I’d be upset, too, if my friend did that to me” or “I can see how you might be angry at your teacher.” This goes a long way to let them know they have been heard. Save the lecture or opinions for when they ask for your help. Most of the time, teens simply need to know they can tell their parents anything and they will be accepted anyway.


Diane Chambers Shearer is a licensed marriage and family therapist, divorce mediator and parent educator in Atlanta. She is author of “Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families” (Fairview Press, 1997) and publishes The Peaceful Co-Parent, a quarterly newsletter. Visit