Navigating the Highs and Lows of Parenting Teens


Being a mom to a teen is like strapping yourself into a high-speed rollercoaster ride. It is filled with unexpected twists and turns and highs and lows that can leave you feeling exhilarated, terrified, or sick to your stomach. Sometimes all at the same time.

But in the middle of the chaos, the screaming, and the challenges, there is an opportunity to connect with these little adults and teach long-lasting values. As a mom to a 15 year old and an almost 13 year old, I’ve encountered trials and tribulations that often make me wonder if I’m cut out to be their mom. But then I remember, I just need to be the adult that I needed at their age.

Navigating the Highs and Lows of Parenting TeensHopefully this ultimate guide to navigating the highs and lows of parenting teens can leave you inspired and motivated to enter what many call the most challenging years of parenthood.

The Dreaded House of Hormones

At the early age of 10 or 11, we began navigating the vast and mysterious land of hormones. I have witnessed hormones that could rival the wildest amusement park attractions with emotional outbursts that seem to come out of nowhere. During these times, I have to remind myself almost daily that kids need kindness not correction, compassion not (always) discipline.

My teens aren’t trying to be difficult. They’re just experiencing really big emotions that they can’t yet understand. How can I expect to understand them when they can’t even understand what they are feeling? Teen’s anger and sensitivity are amplified by hormones and the don’t have the maturity to put these new emotions into words.

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Think of Pixar’s Inside Out. Remember how Riley’s command center seemed to be all out of logic? Well that’s how I relate their breakdowns. I have to remember I am the adult. I have to take a step back and help them process what they are feeling. Sometimes that means giving them space to sort it out without my nagging. Other times it means just letting them cry on my lap without them needing a reason why. I try to provide them with a safe space to navigate these emotions and express themselves without judgment. They just need us to listen. Not solve it, not judge, not condemn . . . just listen!

Navigating the Highs and Lows of Parenting TeensCommunication Malfunctions

Ah, the infamous communication breakdown between teens and parents! It’s like being lost during the times of the Tower of Babel. Everything gets misunderstood and lost in translation which ends in teens storming off and slamming the door behind them! But it doesn’t have to be this way, mamas! The key to great communication with your teens starts when they’re young. It requires us to actively listen even when they are talking about their imaginary friend or a rock they found.

Big Big Energy

What seems insignificant to us is very important to them. We need to make a big deal of everything they think is a big deal. If they bring home a bug and they are excited about it, we need to match that excitement. When something hurts them and I match them with compassion, they continue to volunteer information. If someone has made them angry and they’re speaking to me with intensity, I have to match their intensity (even if that intensity is in the opposite direction and I have to be the calm to their storm).

Active Listening

The secret to great communication in any relationship is active listening! I can’t assume that I know what either the 15 year old or 13 year old are going to say. I cannot jump in with a lecture or advice. I have to fully listen. This has made a world of difference for us. It has opened up a line of communication where my mini-adults feel seen and heard and where they understand that their feelings and opinions are valid.

Too many times, my 15 year old tells me way more than I want to hear, such as when she had her first kiss or the school drama. But I’d rather have this abundance of information than be left wondering what she’s doing, who she’s with, or how she’s feeling. On top of that, both of my teens are good at putting their thoughts and emotions into words now. I’d like to think that it has a lot to do with the freedom to express themselves as needed.

Halloween Runway

There will be moments your teen wants to leave the house in things that make you wonder if they know there’s a mirror in the house! There will be phases of hair in the face, black nail polish, and hoodies (yes, even in the summer). Then there will be phases of short shorts and crop top tees. Followed by a phase of tight dresses, fake eyelashes, and fake nails. They can happen in that order or any order. (To my son’s defense, I’ve really only encountered this with my 15-year-old daughter. My son is still willing to dress in whatever I tell him to.)

I’ve tried to correct her fashion or disallow it, and I quickly became the “uncool mom who just doesn’t get it and has no fashion at all.” That led to her trying to sneak a change of clothes that she borrowed from a friend. So I changed my approach. Rather than forbidding my teen from wearing certain items, I taught her the when and where approach:

Dress for School

“If you are going to school, that is your job! You look presentable and put together. There is a dress code for a reason.” So we separated school-appropriate clothes to one side of her closet.

Dress for Church

“If you’re going to church, you need to look even better. Put some effort into your outfits, and make sure you are covered up. You are going to learn about God, not pick up guys.”

Dress for Fun

“If you’re at home or hanging out with friends, the world is your runway! Dress how you feel and how you’d like.”

This has helped her find her own style and identity while dressing in a way that makes her feel comfortable and promotes confidence. As long as her fashion choices are within reasonable bounds, she has been allowed to explore and experiment.

The Social Dilemma

Constant middle school/high school drama can leave you feeling like you’re a detective in a never-ending mystery novel. Friends, relationships, and peer pressure all hold a crucial role in their lives. Hindsight is 20/20, and we as adults know how insignificant these issues will be later on in life. Yet, I’ve had to dig deep and pull up several memories I wish I could forget.

Navigating the Highs and Lows of Parenting TeensI’ve had to lean in on past heartbreaks, embarrassing situations, and failures I experienced during my teenage years. I’ve had to relive and reflect on those moments to teach my kids to listen to their own boundaries and to stand up for themselves.

I’ve known some moms who try really hard to hide who they were from their kids. “My kids will never know I did (fill in the blank),” they say. I try to be relatable and let them in on times in my life when I was in their shoes. Even if the choices I made at their age were choices I regret or choices I wouldn’t want them to make, I still let them know the truth. I let them know how that decision made me feel, and I let them know what wish I could have done differently.

The Balancing Act: Peer Pressure, Independence & Boundaries

Teenagers crave independence! They want the freedom to do what everyone else is doing without restrictions. They want to stay out late, hang out with friends, and go to parties. Let’s be honest, that’s HARD for us parents. If we could, we would keep our teens safe in bubbles, especially with all that’s going on in today’s world. Yet, by being over-protective, we never allow them to use their own intuition or self-control, have confidence in their own conscience, or learn the meaning of a consequence.

They crave this independence because they are forming autonomy. They are learning to apply the knowledge we’ve provided them and make decisions without us. In essence, we are teaching them how to not need us anymore.

Sad, right? But it is important to remind our teens to rely on their own values and see if their actions align. This is where it is important to establish healthy boundaries. Teach your teens early on about curfews, responsibilities, and consequences so when they begin to test the boundaries and gain independence, they are able to do so within the safe boundaries you have provided. I’ve found the most success in letting them think they have the freedom to make any decision they want as long as it falls within the parameters I have set for them.

Navigating the Highs and Lows of Parenting TeensHouse of Horrors or Adventure of a Lifetime

So, if you ask me, it doesn’t have to be a whirlwind house of horror to raise teens. What does it take to be a successful teenage parent? Trial and error, flexibility, compassion, grace, and kindness. And don’t get me wrong, I am not out of the woods yet. But so far, I can say I have great teens and a great relationship with them.

Place yourself in their shoes. Try to relate to their emotions as much as possible. Remember who you would have needed at that age if you were in their situation. What advice would you have needed if you could truly open up to an adult at that age? If you were fortunate to have a great adult in your life, what advice did they give you that made a lasting impact? Be that for your teen.

They may be different than you, and we might need to release our expectations and give them the freedom to be their own individual person while guiding them with proper values, morals, and boundaries. As I always have said, it’s not easy being a mom, but it is definitely worth it!

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of El Paso Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.

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Melissa Montalvo
Melissa is a loving mother of three who is married to a Marine turned educator. Her children range in all stages of life; a teenager, a pre-teen, and a preschooler. She also has 4 adult stepchildren, making them a family of 9! Prior to her career in real estate, Melissa worked in the healthcare industry for over 10 years. However, in 2019, she decided to prioritize her family and quit her job. In the midst of the pandemic, she began a new career in real estate, which has allowed her to be present with her family. Melissa is a woman of faith who is passionate about serving her community and empowering other women. She believes that every woman has the potential to achieve their goals and overcome the guilt that comes with being a mom. Melissa's ultimate goal is to become a life coach and serve as an inspiration to other moms who want to balance their careers and family while pursuing their passions and reaching their full potential.


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