The Importance of Giving Teenagers Choices

Teenagers are growing, starting to think more independently and trying to be more independent. If they are not given choices, the consequences could include their not learning to make their own decisions or that they are always frustrated, angry and resistant to anything you have to say. Although it can be scary and take a little more effort upfront, giving teenagers choices when possible can be very positive for their development and actually save you, as the parent, a lot of frustration.

With that said, I want to stress that what I am saying is "give choices when possible' not "always give choices". Some things do not warrant a choice. For example - whether to attend school daily or not should not be a choice given to a teenager. However, a parent could say, "you can shower and get everything ready tonight and sleep until 6:30am or you can watching TV now and shower in the morning and get up at 6:00am." As the parent, you are not negotiating whether they attend school or not but you are giving them some control over what time they will get up for school.

This can take some thought and creativity but can be very powerful for teens. Ultimately, you will give them more of a sense of control while still having clear parameters about what you will and will not tolerate. I recently worked with a mother who was having almost daily battles with her teenage son about doing his homework. What was not negotiable was that he does his homework - it had to get done each night. However, this mother was able to give her son choices about when he did his homework which took a lot of the pressure off her and gave him more control. What this mother did was tell him he could do his homework right after school while having a snack or he could spend time with his friends after school until dinner time and do his homework after dinner but that there would be no TV, video games or phone after dinner until his homework was done. (This mother had also already established that if she got a report from teachers that her sons homework was not being done and turned in then he would lose all TV privileges for two weeks which was a really serious consequence for her son).

Tips for Parents:

1. Think about the things that you feel you constantly argue or "power struggle" with your teenager about (often times this is: what time to turn off the computer / phone at night, curfew, homework, waking up in the morning or helping out around the house).

2. Think about what things are NOT negotiable (and there should be things that are not negotiable!) and think about the areas where you can give them choices.

3. Be clear about what choices you can give them (and make sure they feel they are true choices on some level) and also be clear about what the consequences will be if they do not follow through. the example above - not doing homework was not an option and there were clear consequences for failure to do homework, however, this mother was able to give choices in the "process" of doing the homework.

This is not always an easy thing to do and takes some thought. If you feel your teenager is putting you on the spot about something, tell them you need a little while to think about it and then take the time to review the steps above. Again, when done effectively it will take the pressure off you and also teach your teenager some valuable decision making skills.

For more information on Life Coaching or coaching for parents please visit [] or email

My name is Karen Vincent. I am a Certified Life Coach as well as a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. I have worked with teenagers / adolescents and their parents for the last 15 years in a variety of settings, including outpatient therapy, specialized schools, over the phone and in the home.

In my work, I partner with parents (usually through phone calls) who are experiencing difficulties in connecting with their teenage children and who are struggling to manage social, emotional or behavioral issues which arise during the teenage years.

Please call for a free Coaching Consultation: 774-245-7775

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