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Adolescence: The Ping-Pong Stage of Life

Reminders for Parents of Teens

  • Stay an adult. As tempting as it is to try to relive your own teen years by joining your kid in teen culture, don’t. Stay out of your kid’s closet (even if you are proud you are the same size). Resist the temptation to tattoo your back or dye your hair green if that’s what the kids are doing. Absolutely do meet your kids’ friends and enjoy them for a few minutes of greeting but absolutely don’t assume they want you to hang out with them for the afternoon. Kids can’t do the task of separation if a parent insists on joining the peer group.
  • Catch them being right. Teens who are trying to assert their independence can be exasperating. It’s only natural that we correct, remind, and nag in our efforts to get them to do their chores, look presentable, and do well in school. But if all the kids hear is criticism, they soon tune us out. At least once a day (ideally more than that), catch your kid doing the right thing, looking good, or behaving admirably – even if it’s a stretch; even if they’re only doing what they ought to be doing. When kids feel recognized for the positives, they are more likely to pay attention when we offer suggestions and critiques.
  • Don’t add your noise to their noise. Like people who get louder when trying to communicate with a person who doesn’t speak their language, the kids up the decibels as a way to make a point. The sure way to lose a fight is to respond in kind. When invited to a shouting match, you’ll get further if you instead kindly and sympathetically tell your teen that you’ll be happy to discuss the issue adult-to-adult when he or she is ready. Then go about your business until things can be talked out rationally.
  • Give in on some things. This is a version of “pick your battles.” Remember: Part of the motivation for teen pigheadedness is to show you that you’re no longer the boss all the time. The kids want to be the boss of themselves. There are probably some things that aren’t really worth the struggle to you. Does it really matter if your teen gets in at 10:00 or 10:30? Do you really care if she drops violin as long as she keeps up piano? Is it worth it to battle over standards for her room if it’s at least minimally sanitary? By all means, give the kids the tussle they’re looking for but let them negotiate a compromise now and then. They’ll feel empowered. You’ll have a little control over what they are feeling empowered about.
  • When you can’t give in, give way. Once a teen has taken a stand, pride becomes more important than the issue. Listen for places where you actually agree. Be willing to entertain a compromise. Offer a deal that preserves kid dignity even though it means that your way is how it’s got to be. This preserves the relationship between you so that you can play another day.
  • Be a role model of adults behaving responsibly. You might win coolness points by offering the kids a beer or ignoring obvious drug use. But your kid will lose respect for the law and won’t get what it means to be a responsible adult if you do. As much as they resist it, they do count on us to be clear about the rules and to be consistent about applying them. While they are pinging and ponging, they need us to be the “net.” Adult steadiness provides much-needed stability in an otherwise confusing time of life.
Adolescence: The Ping-Pong Stage of Life

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Adolescence: The Ping-Pong Stage of Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.