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Want to Control Your Teens? Don’t

Parents often have a difficult time letting go of their children. After all, parents spend a significant amount of time raising their children for 12 or 14 years and can’t just wake up one day and say, “Sure, you can do whatever you want. Have fun!” Most parents have invested a lot — emotionally, psychologically, financially — into their childrens’ lives. Just because that child hits teenage years doesn’t change how many parents feel toward their children and their expectations of control in their child’s life.

However, that expectation of control becomes more and more of an illusion as a child ages. At around age 11 or 12 for most children, they begin to understand that while there may be consequences for violating one of their parents’ rules, they are their own person and have a lot of opportunities open to them for curious exploration.

But adults will be adults, and try their best to continue to exert significant control in their child’s lives, even as they turn into teens and demand more freedoms.

New research suggests that efforts to over-control one’s teenagers may backfire and end up reinforcing the exact behaviors they are trying to control (usually sexually oriented behaviors).

In a comparative survey of nearly 5,000 teens, the research discovered certain family and parental behaviors were correlated with certain types of sexual activities:

Regular family activities — “things like eating dinner together as a family or engaging in fun activities or religious activities together” — seemed to make sexual activity less likely, [researchers] said.

Children also seemed to be less sexually active if their parents did not engage in “negative and psychologically controlling behaviors.”

What’s a parent to do? The researchers have a few suggestions:

Support your teens, spend time with them, be less critical and controlling and more nurturing in their adolescent development. This, in turn, can help them make more informed, safe decisions about sexual activity.

In other words, give your teens some space.

Yes, teens will make bad decisions and mistakes. But they will make those decisions and mistakes regardless of how much you try and control them. In a supportive and nurturing family environment, they are apparently less likely to make those mistakes early on or in relation to sexual activity.

Teens and young adults — they are learning the ways of the world, of working and earning something for that work and most importantly, of relationships and sex. You can only trust that your parenting skills up to this point have done the job, so to speak, and give them the latitude to explore life and all it has to offer.

Because, in the end, they’ll find a way to do so anyways, no matter how controlling you might be. And as this research suggests, they are likely to do so in more sexually active ways the more controlling one is.

It’s hard to let go… But find a way. And help your teen make the right decisions on their own.

Read the full article: Rigid Parenting May Backfire

Want to Control Your Teens? Don’t

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Want to Control Your Teens? Don’t. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Jul 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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