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For "how not to parent 101", just refer to laptop dad, the guy who shot his daughter's computer on YouTube. Good parenting connects, rather than tears apart. What shouldn't you do while raising a teenager?

Back in 2012, a teenage girl blocked her parents from seeing her Facebook feed and proceeded to post a rant about what she perceived as her excessive chore schedule, helping herself to some explosive words in the process. Her dad — a stocky, bearded, cowboy-hat wearing white guy — saw his teen's rant anyway, and plonked himself down on a garden chair in front of a camera in response. While smoking a cigarette, the man, who said he worked in IT and had just spent a lot of time and money updating his daughter's laptop, engaged in a vent of his own. He ended it by going to town on his daughter's laptop with his firearm and telling her that the next time she'd have a laptop would be when she'd be able to pay for it herself. Finally, he posted the whole thing on YouTube. Google "dad shoots daughter's laptop" if you haven't seen it yet, but want to.  

Dad, it appears, got the last word. He overpowered his daughter, who was then no longer, at least from that laptop, able to publicly voice her disagreements with her parents. He "taught his daughter some respect". If those were his goals, he achieved what he set out to. For the rest of us, the video might as well have been called "how not to parent 101". Parents and teenagers, research shows, don't get along nearly as badly as popular culture might have you believe. [1] The keys to a good relationship are many, but none of them involve laying down the law with firearms. 

So, what shouldn't you do when deciding how to deal with teenagers?

Micromanaging Your Teen's Life

Individuation-separation, the process in which your teen establishes their own self-identity apart from the family, is a crucial part of adolescence. Teenagers crave growing independence and autonomy, both things they'll need in order to be good at "adulting" in just a few short years. Micromanaging your teen's life — being a helicopter parent — interferes with this task. Do you have the urge to solve all your teen's problems for them, to decide on their schedule without their input, to monitor their every small step? Research suggests that helicopter parenting damages a teen's psychological well-being and puts them at a higher risk of becoming anxious and depressed, and taking medication for those things. [2]

Leaving Your Child To It

Assuming your teen is now mature enough to handle just about everything on their own isn't good either — the teen years are a prime time for a person to get into things like alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and studies show that the peer group plays a large role in this. [3] If you aren't there to provide guidance on the important stuff, your child's friends (and "friends") will be, but they may not be steering your teen in a direction you'd consider positive. Teenagers no longer need literal hand-holding, but the fact is that brain maturation continues well into a person's twenties [4]. By offering guidance on the big stuff, by encouraging achievement, making joint decisions and broadly monitoring your teen's behavior and actions, research shows that you indeed help your teen make better choices. Can parents influence the peer group a teen chooses? Yup, offering this kind of support indeed promotes the choice of a more positive peer group, one study suggests. [5]

Carpet-Bombing Questions To Drown Out Your Teen's Voice

Why are you home three hours late? Don't you know what the time is? Have you been drinking? Did you have sex? WhydidyougetaDon thattestIheardyouwereinafightwithyourfriendwhathappenedIknowyou'relyingwhat'sgoingon...

Yeah, that last bit was hard to decipher, but I'm darn sure that, if you think back to your own adolescent years and your parents used the "carpet-bombing questions" approach, their voice sounded like that at times. You're worried. Or angry. Or both. I get it. Your teen won't, not if you talk like this. They'll assume you've already pre-judged their actions without truly wanting to understand them. It's not their adolescent brain; you and I would feel the same if our bosses talked to us like that. 

Instead, try active listening, an important part of any effective conflict-resolution strategy [6]. Get your teen's view, make sure to repeat it in different words so you know you're both understanding each other, and pay attention to your teen's non-verbal signals, such as tone of voice and body language, as well. Sharing your opinion — and expecting your teen to abide by it — is much less effective than coming to a mutual understanding and agreement, and active listening can help you make sure you are on the same page. Or perhaps in short, talk with your teen, not at your teen. Ask open-ended, genuinely interested, questions rather than leading questions. And make sure to listen more than you talk at least during some conversations. 

Connecting With Your Teen: Banish 'Me Vs My Teen'

The laptop dad might have been rather proud of himself for winning the small victory of preventing his child from using social media to disrespect him, but did those two connect? Nope. The teenage years are so notorious for being mutually unpleasant for parents and teens that it's all too easy to slip into a "glass completely empty" approach and to start seeing parenting as a gigantic "us vs. them" fest. Banishing that, and consciously reminding yourself that you and your teen are ultimately on the same side, can help you make it easier to find common ground rather than just trying to "win" an argument or laying down the law. 

Besides this basic shift in mindset, other effective conflict resolution strategies you may like to try are [7]:

  • Keep your own emotions under control and avoid the temptation to make moves that would clearly serve to provoke your teen and thereby escalate the conflict. Angrily threatening to ground your teen for a month or take their tech away are examples of provocations. (Conversely, discussing consequences for future transgressions and calmly reaching an agreement that these things will happen if your teen does X bad thing again may not be.)
  • Don't just look at the surface issues going on right now, but also discuss the deeper, underlying, problems. 
  • Pick your battles. There are certainly going to be hills you are willing to die on, but if you don't negotiate at all and simply expect your teen to do whatever you say, things are going to get sticky really quickly.

The Bottom Line

Good parenting allows you to connect with your teen, rather than overpower them. Disagreements might be par for the course, but they don't need to result in a great schism between the two of you, and can instead be learning opportunities — and even bonding opportunities. Yeah, that's hard to remember when your teen screams at you, and it won't always work out all Pollyanna, but trying ultimately results in a better relationship, which in turn has a positive impact on your well-being and your teen's.