Sticking to the Important Stuff (Teen Years)

Increasingly throughout the teenage years, you will notice mistakes, annoyances, and bad judgment calls exhibited by your child.  Everything from not waking up to their alarm or having a messy room to handling social relationships and exploring things that are illegal.

You might find yourself wanting to just tell them exactly what to do, and that’s understandable.  But often this just causes them to ignore or reject your directions.  And it also doesn’t equip your teen with the skills, experiences and tools they’ll need when they later leave the nest.  One of the best ways for your child to learn is by making your own mistakes.  But what types of issues and mistakes are worth worrying about as a parent?

Giving “Advice”

Unless something bad has already happened, my wife and I found the most effective approach during teen years is to give “advice” versus mandates.  We tried to be really careful to make sure our words come across as advice and not direction.

Our kids could choose to take the advice or not.  If they didn’t, but later realized the advice was good, they might start listening more closely and taking our advice more and more.  We didn’t expect them to let us know this each time nor thank us for the advice.  And we always tried to avoid the “I told you so” approach if something we had previously talked about did go wrong for them.  Nobody wants a mistake rubbed in their face.

What’s Worth Worrying About?

Once you kid is a teenager, there will be tons of things they do that annoy or upset you.  But if all of those actions receive the same lecture, scolding or punishment, the risks are much higher that the teen mostly tunes the parent out for everything in the category or just prepares themselves to get disapproving reactions all the time.

My wife and I developed an approach of listing out the 3-5 things we most worried about at a given point in time with a particular daughter.  The items on the list changed between the young teenage years and the late high school years and also the out-of-home college years.  Things like being able to drive a car, going to late night parties, getting into serious relationships, and the like, introduce new levels of bad things that could happen.

Just because something bad could happen doesn’t mean it will.  And since it’s those bad things that we parents mostly worry about, it’s easy to accidentally come off during conversations like the bad things are the only, or most likely, thing that will happen.

If you aren’t already familiar with our “worst things” parenting tool, read my article titled “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

If the teenager wears a dirty shirt to school, watches a late night movie with friends with the volume really loud, or keeps their room cluttered, is that worth admonishing at the same level as getting drunk while driving a car and crashing into a ditch, committing a serious criminal act, experimenting with hard drugs, or having unprotected sex?

Most times with annoyances or concerns that didn’t match our Important Stuff list, our best approach was to just bite our lip and either ignore for a while or let things play out in hopes that our daughter would correct/adjust.  In other words, we picked our battles.

It’s not that we disallowed ourselves from saying anything about the more minor annoyances and concerns.  Rather, we tried to message them in a different way.  For example, sentences that starts with “I would greatly appreciate it if . . .” or “It would be really nice if . . .” or “I’m slightly concerned that . . .”


If you like this concept, each year or so, review and adjust your Important Stuff list and try to keep it short enough to truly represent the important stuff.  There will be a day when your child leaves the nest, grabs the final inch of parental rope, and becomes in a position to make every tactical and strategic decision on their own.

This parenting tool is complemented nicely with the concepts described in another parenting tool called “The Giving More Rope Analogy“.

See my other blog posts on parenting here.

Author: Gordon Daugherty

Gordon Daugherty is a best-selling author, seasoned business executive, entrepreneur, startup advisor and investor. He has made more than 200 investments in early-stage companies and has been involved with raising more than $80 million in growth and venture capital. From his 28-year career in high tech, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200-million acquisition exit under his belt. Now, as co-founder and president of Austin’s Capital Factory and as author of the book “Startup Success”, Gordon spends 100 percent of his time educating, advising, and investing in startups.

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