How to Allow Independence and Still Keep Your Teen Close

It seems to happen almost overnight. One minute you feel like you have built a close relationship with your teen son or daughter, then the next you are wondering where you might have gone wrong. All of a sudden, she dismisses your suggestions, rolls her eyes at your opinions and accuses you of being the worst parent ever when she doesn't get her way.

The only time you seem to be of any value is when she needs something, which leaves you feeling taken advantage of and no longer appreciated. But rest assured, this scenario is typical for most parent-teen relationships and you are not alone. As a parent, you have done nothing wrong. 

Dealing with disrespectful teenagers
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Why Teen Behavior Becomes Harsh

The push and pull you feel with your teen is a normal part of their development. During adolescence, teens are trying to figure out who they are apart from you. As a result, in an effort to pull away and separate from you, they can be downright mean in the process.

What they are fighting for is more autonomy, freedom, and input into decisions that impact them. And while it may seem at times like they do not care about what you have to say, research indicates that they still do. They just don't know how to show it.

Of course, it is no fun to be the parent who cannot breathe without irritating her own child, but it is much easier to ride out this temporary adolescent affliction when you understand what is at the root.

Growing up involves becoming separate from our parents. This process usually begins in the early teen or tween years with an almost abrupt need to distinguish oneself from the parents.

Remember, this is not an easy thing for teens to accomplish. They are trying to become a separate person from the very people who have controlled almost every aspect of their lives so far.

Consequently, as they begin to disentangle from you, they start to decide which of your behaviors they like and which behaviors they dislike. The downside is that everything you do creates an opportunity for your teen to evaluate how they feel about your behavior. Consequently, you can start to feel like you cannot do anything right.

But try to take a deep breath and remember that your teen is striving to establish their own identity. It is normal for them to disagree with what you do or think. It is even normal for them to act like your thoughts or actions are unbearable. Until their identity is no longer interwoven with yours, your style can cramp theirs. And that is OK. 

Eventually, your teen will get to the point where they can separate from you. They will learn to appreciate the little quirks you have without viewing them as irritants. And, they will still want your advice. After all, parents still have more influence over their kids than anyone else in their lives. But until that day arrives, how do you cope?

How to Manage Teen Behavior 

If you find yourself in that all-too-familiar situation where nothing you do seems to sit right with your teenager, remind yourself that you are not alone. There are plenty of other parents experiencing the same things you are. Here are some suggestions to make the most of the situation.

Understand Teen Development

Every time your teen responds with rude words or seems put off by your very existence, remind yourself that this is a normal part of teen development. Take a deep breath and then respond. Of course, being a teen with raging hormones does not give your teen permission to say hateful things and they need to be reminded of the fact that they are hurting other people.

But try not to take your teen's actions too personally. Remind yourself that this is a phase that she is going through and that in the end, she will have become an independent and responsible young person.

Your teen is trying hard to figure out who he or she is without you. Remember that they still see themselves as an extension of you. And while their words hurt, this is just a season they are going through. It will not last forever. 

Establish Rules Regarding Respect

While it is completely normal for your teen to separate from you during adolescence, you should never tolerate continued disrespect from your teen. Remind her that she can state her opinions, dissatisfactions, and disagreements in a normal tone with respectful words. It is completely acceptable to tell your teen that she is not allowed to say "I hate you."

Instead, explain that she needs to find the words to tell someone what is really bothering her. When you are both calm, remind your teen that if she wants to be treated like a grownup, then she needs to communicate like a grownup. And, if she is unable to communicate in a respectful manner there are consequences for her choices.

Know When to Dig Deeper

Sometimes teens will lash out in anger at you when their frustration has little to do with you at all. Instead, you are just an easy and safe target. In these situations, it is important to distinguish between normal teen frustration and more serious issues like bullying, peer pressure or being excluded from a social event

If your teen's response to you seems extreme, then you may want to probe a little deeper. Instead of getting angry at the outburst, take a deep breath and step back. Think about why she might be behaving in such a way and then ask thoughtful, open-ended questions.

Remember, the teen years are not easy. Aside from dealing with all the physical changes taking place in their bodies, they also have a lot of other things to deal with including social pressures and academic challenges. Make sure you don't write off all bad behavior as normal. Sometimes there might be something bigger going on.

Don't Be Afraid to Be Disliked

One of the biggest responsibilities of parenthood is helping to mold your teen into a responsible, caring adult. Sometimes the result is that your teen does not like you. But that is OK. It is very important that you be a parent first and focus on guiding your teen into doing what is right in the world around her. 

Too many times, parents place too much emphasis on being liked by their teen or being the cool parent. Your child may not always agree with your decisions and she may not always like you, but in the end, if you embrace your role as the parent, she will respect you for making the tough calls and keeping her safe.

Things can get ugly very quickly when parents focus on being their teen's friend instead of their parent. Remember, your teen has plenty of friends, but only you can fill the role of parent.

Keep Your Cool

 It can be hard to remain calm when your teen insults your hair or your music or responds to you in a snippy voice. But if you take the bait and engage in a yelling match, things with your teen will spiral out of hand very quickly.

Instead, take a deep breath before saying anything. Even walking away for a few minutes to calm down can be helpful. The point is that you do not want to stoop to your teen's level and engage in a yelling match filled with smart remarks, name-calling, and hurtful words. 

Remember, teens often do not recognize that they are being hurtful. As a result, when you respond in a calm manner, you can diffuse the situation before it gets out of hand. You can still hold your teen accountable for being disrespectful but there is no reason for you to be disrespectful too. 

Loosen Your Grip

Remember, that it is healthy for your teen to take reasonable risks and make mistakes. This is part of the learning process. So while it may make you nervous to allow your 17-year-old to drive into the city for a concert, if she has proven she is a responsible driver and has a good plan in place, it might be acceptable to let her go.

Too many times parents make the mistake of tightening their grip on their teens and try to control their every move. When this happens, it almost always leads to rebellion.

Even if you disagree with your teen's suggestions or ideas, be sure you are respectful. Listen to what she has to say without lecturing.

For instance, you can say, "I am impressed with how you have worked out a plan for driving three hours away for a baseball game, but I still don't think it is a good idea." What's more, if you do give your teen some freedom and she messes up, do not slip into "I told-you-so" mode. Simply state the facts and move on. There is a very good chance she has already learned her lesson. 

Embrace Your New Independence

As teens get older, they tend to want more privacy. They may even share less information with you than they did before. As long as she is healthy, doing well in school, and does not show any signs of depression or substance abuse, a little bit of space between you and your teen is healthy. Teens need the freedom to make their own plans, choose their own friends, and think their own thoughts.

This distance between you and your teen can cause you to feel insecure at times. On the one hand, you are happy she is becoming more independent and responsible but on the other hand, you are sad that she seems to be growing away from you.

To help cope with the emptiness you are feeling, focus on non-parenting activities that you find fulfilling. You also should do things that make you happy like going for a walk, reading a good book, seeing a movie with a friend, or grabbing a quiet dinner with your spouse.

A Word From Verywell

The teen years are filled with challenges unlike anything you have ever experienced. But they also can be some of the most rewarding years of parenting. While it is true that dealing with your teen's need for independence can cause headaches, there is nothing more rewarding than watching your teen establish her identity and embrace who she is.

Yes, the teen years can be difficult, but don't let those challenges keep you from watching your teen develop into the person she was meant to be.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Szwedo DE, Hessel ET, Loeb EL, Hafen CA, Allen JP. Adolescent support seeking as a path to adult functional independenceDev Psychol. 2017;53(5):949-961. doi:10.1037/dev0000277

  2. Kobak R, Abbott C, Zisk A, Bounoua N. Adapting to the changing needs of adolescents: parenting practices and challenges to sensitive attunementCurr Opin Psychol. 2017;15:137-142. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.02.018

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.