Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Using Your Marriage as an Asset in Raising Teens:Three Ways

At a time when teens are negotiating major issues of identity, sexuality, friendships, spirituality, cognitive leaps, emotional swings, and future goals, they are in a push-pull relationship with parents. While insisting that they don’t need anyone—they need parents more than ever.

The teen years of your children can be the best of times and the worst of times often in the same day. 

One of the best things you can do for each other and for your teens is to use your marriage as an asset in raising them. How?

Consider drawing upon three principles that are likely to improve your relationship and maximize the best of your parenting skills: Balance, Communication and Connection.


 Teens Balancing Life Changes

Basic to the challenges and chaos of adolescence—most teens have trouble with balancing everything from emotions, to friends, to school assignments.

  • Issues are presented in life or death terms.
  • People are loved or hated within a short span of time.
  • Actions are rarely considered in terms of consequences
  • Independence is professed while dependency demanded.
  • They expect The world revolves around their lives.
  • Ever changing versions of how they look, what they believe, what they eat, and what they need leave little room for negotiation.

 Parents Can Strike a Balance

Given history, gender, and personality, it is not unusual for parents to become seduced by their teens or polarized into extreme positions. It may actually be an advantage that you see things differently if you can use different perspectives as points of information to help strike a balance.

  • Rather than going along with something you think is dangerous, or putting your partner down to align with the teen, try being authentic and respectful of each other’s opinion.
  • Clarify the situation from both of your perspectives and from your teen’s point of view rather than fight over the solutions. It sets the stage for collaborative problem solving and often finding a middle ground.

“ You are right Dad thinks you are a good driver. I am more worried about two new drivers traveling so far.  Let’s talk more about Spring Break and what you were thinking.”

 Balancing the Degree of Parenting

  • An important but difficult balance for parents is the ability, as psychologist Brooke Feeney suggests, to restrain the need to help until the teen needs it–to support rather than substitute for a teen’s efforts.

“Maybe we should let her try getting the job on her own.”

  • When parents trust each other for feedback, they can often avoid “ helicopter parenting” or missing evidence that the teen really needs help. In most cases the person to ask is the teen.

“ Mom and I are both eager to help, but we really want to know what you have in mind.”

 Balancing The Needs of Parents and Teens.

 Some parents are so enthralled with their teen and his/her activities, friends, and future, they abandon a personal interest in self and their marriage to become the 24/7 audience to their child.

  • Some parents are so worried by the problem their teen has—that they abdicate their role as partner to be the vigilant parent.
  • When love, support or even concern for a teen bankrupts a marriage, everyone loses.
  • It is to your teen’s advantage to realize that you are there for them; but that you also have a life, needs and a relationship apart from them.


 The Language of Teens

  • Anyone who has parented teens knows that communication can get challenging.
  • If you have raised girls you know that most issues are vocalized as high drama. Asking someone to get off the phone to help with dinner can invite hysteria.
  • If you have raised boys then you are more accustomed to feeling like you are living with a CIA agent. If you ask too much or he reveals too much–he may have to kill you.
  • Add the communication of social media in cell phones, emails, texting, etc. and gender differences are eclipsed. The only thing that matters is constant communication—with peers.

 The Language of Parents

  • In face of this, some parents never stop talking to their teen and others shut down.
  • Reflecting their stress, the parents can go into fight or flight mode and their communication with each other often becomes colored by criticism of each other.

“ No wonder he doesn’t listen – you never stop yelling at him.”

“ So she lied again and you’re still saying nothing to her?”

  • It is worth considering that that criticizing each other simply adds to the parent’s stress as well as their teen’s.
  • Rather than fighting about the teen, it is better for a teen to hear parents with different styles or opinions ask for the teen for help in understanding the issue at hand.
  • The request puts the parents into an emotionally available place and gives the teen the chance to communicate what he/she is feeling or thinking. It may not happen at that very moment; but given time, the teen may share with one of the parents.
  • Another important communication dynamic for parents with teens is positive communication. There are some teens and partners who never stop hearing what they are doing wrong. There is no motivation to listen if listening equates to hearing negatives about yourself.
  • It is valuable to communicate as “people” not just as worried parents to each other and to your teen. Teens should hear parents share stories about their own lives and even be asked for their advice or opinion. When they are not the focus, teens are more relaxed and will take more by way of example than lecture.


 Peer Attachments

  • A primary change for parents and teens is the teen’s move from attachment with parents to peers for affirmation, acceptance and connection. Whereas the parents were once the ones who were idealized, sought after, modeled—the peers now take center stage.
  • Some parents are so threatened by this loss that they will over-gratify their son/daughter as a way to keep them connected. They become the parent who always says “ yes” – forcing a triangulation with the other parent who feels forced to say, “ No.”
  • A major task for teens is developing a sense of identity. A major way that teens try out versions of self is through versions of friends. Let it unfold.
  • According to teen expert, Dr. John Duffy, it is far more productive to open the door to welcome your teen’s friends than criticize them from a distance. You won’t lose your teen if you stay the “available” parent.
  • As a parent, continue to welcome, entertain, go out with your own friends. Regardless of what your teen says about your friends, your relationships and happiness impact your teen’s self-esteem.


  • Adolescence is a time of emerging gender and sexual identity. It is a time when physical and emotional needs invite romantic connections and the worry or wish for such connections.
  • This is an important time for parents to affirm their child’s sexuality without rushing it or rejecting it.
  • It is interesting to learn that most teens learn about sex from peers and media –not from parents.
  • What can parents do? Dr. Andrew Smiler, author of Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Boy, reminds us that there is often an opportunity to touch upon sex, dating, consent and health risks by spending time with teens, watching movies and series etc. as there is ample material to talk about in the third person. Issues can be raised and opinions shared that may lead to more personal questions.
  • A teen does not need a parent to know everything about their relationships with new friends and dating partners. It is worth noting that the relationship with the parent and the values of the parents are the most significant factors influencing a teen’s sexual behavior.
  • Often parents are so upset or so self-conscious with teens in the home that they put their own sexual relationship aside. Consider that your teens will benefit from the example of love and affection expressed by parents.

 Marriage and Raising Teens

If you grow together as your teens grow, if they see your laughter as well as your stress, if they hear your apologies as well as your anger, if they know you love each other as you love them…you will have given them what they need to go forward…


Dr. John Duffy live/podcast ” The Available Parent: Maximize The Relationship with Your Teen or Tween on Psych Up Live