Parents and Teens: Who’s the Boss?

Published on July 11, 2019

Ask a teenager raised in a Western culture about who’s the boss at home. More than likely, the response will be a confident “I am.” Ask the same question of one of the teenager’s parents and you are likely to hear a resigned “I wish I were.”

Being a teenager and the parent of one poses considerable challenges. Perhaps the area of greatest conflict is who makes the decisions that affect the teen. More often than not, teens and their parents both claim that right.

So, who is the boss? Psychologists and parenting experts almost universally agree that the parent ultimately is in charge and the main decisionmaker. They emphasize that this authority is not one of a ruthless dictator but an individual of greater maturity who negotiates and make comprises with the teen when appropriate.

I view the role of the teen’s parent as similar to that of a boss in the workplace. An effective boss sets clear expectations and is firm. At the same time, the boss is an excellent communicator, listening carefully and respectably to the employees’ concerns and suggestions.

To successfully parent a teen, we must be effective leaders. Setting clear expectations (e.g., an appropriate curfew time) is one of our seemingly never-ending responsibilities. We must remain firm and not engage in daily negotiations with our teens when it comes to our expectations. At the same time, we strive to listen to and respect their opinions and beliefs. Moreover, we modify and revise them, based on discussions with our teens, changing our expectations accordingly.

As the authority in our families, we are usually our teens’ most important role models. By exercising our authority responsibly and with love, we influence our teens to also become caring and successful parents in the future.

By Andrew Adler, Ph.D.,

Director and Psychologist,

Adler Family Centre, Hong Kong

Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Child Development, Parenting

Written by:

Andrew Adler, Ph.D.

Andrew Adler, Ph.D. is the director of the Adler Family Centre and the Honorary Consultant (Psychology) at OUHK-LiPACE. He is a licensed psychologist in New York State (US) and has specialised in evaluating and treating a wide range of psychological difficulties for the past 20 years. He earned doctoral and master degrees in clinical psychology from Yale University after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. He taught at Yale University and supervised medical students as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College. In his work in hospitals, clinics and private practice, Dr. Adler has evaluated and treated the full range of psychological difficulties experienced by children, adolescents, adults and their families. Prior to moving to Hong Kong, he was a psychologist in Shanghai for three years, treating and assessing children and adolescents, both expats and local residents.