Cincinnati Family Magazine

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June 22, 2024

Raising Teens as a Single Parent

Parenting a teen can be difficult no matter what. When doing it solo, retain your sense of humor and set boundaries.

Full1398.jpgIt’s no question that raising teenagers is a challenge no matter how many parents are living in the home. Particularly challenging are the ages between 12 and 16, which are marked by mood swings, defiant attitudes and attempts to push limits set by parents.

During this time, teens try their hardest to gain adult independence, which is a normal part of the natural growing process. So, this is the time to help them learn lessons and find their way to adulthood, despite the fact that it sometimes makes us feel like we are raising aliens from another planet.

In single parent homes, a healthy and loving atmosphere is the key ingredient to raising responsible teens. Teens are often masters at pitting married parents against one another, so when parents are divorced and living in different households, it can be extra difficult to co-parent with effectiveness.

So, what can single parents do to make the teen years in their homes more pleasant? Here are a few suggestions:

Create Realistic and Enforceable Boundaries

The earlier this is done the better. Let your teen know that you will negotiate boundaries every six months, in January and June, for instance. This means that twice a year, you will sit down with her and discuss important rules and appropriate consequences for her age. Let her come up with ideas so that she will be more apt to comply.

Topics to discuss should include:

  • How time is spent after school and on school nights
  • What your expectations are for completing homework and chores before talking on the phone or visiting with friends, and when she should be in bed with the lights out
  • How time is spent at home during summer break and on weekends
  • Household chores, job expectations and church and/or social responsibilities
  • Appropriate places for hanging out with friends. If R-rated movies are against your rules, make that clear. If your teen is driving, make specific rules about when and how often she can use the car and who will pay for expenses.

    Setting blanket curfews based on age can be pointless because if there is no reason for a teen to be out until 11 p.m., then the curfew for that night should be earlier.

    “Cruising” and hanging out until curfew provides more time to look for trouble. Find out where your teen is going, who she will be with, and what she will be doing. Base curfew times on what she has planned.

    If she’s going to a 7:30 p.m. movie, then set the curfew for 10 p.m. Let her know you expect a phone call 30 minutes before she expects to be late, not five minutes. Set tough consequences for dishonesty and lateness without a phone call.

Dress Codes and Hairstyles

This is a good place for negotiating. The job of the teen is to shock her parents more than her parents shocked their parents! Most of the time, her desires to wear extreme clothing or hairstyles is directly correlated to the parent’s vulnerability to the shock value.

If you are horrified that your son wants to wear 36-inch wide bell bottom jeans, you might want to compromise and allow 24-inch wides. If your daughter wants to dye her hair purple, don’t freak out. Encourage her to buy non-permanent dye and allow her to do it for a weekend. Compromise a little and don’t let your shock show – the motivation for the extreme will probably wane.

Non-Negotiable Health Issues

When it comes to alcohol, drugs, smoking and other obvious health risks, there should be no negotiation, and your teen needs to know this every time you sit down to have your six-month meeting. Let her know she is responsible for her own behavior and should take herself out of situations that could lead to trouble.

I gave each of my kids a “Take Charge” card (the size of a credit card) with my pager number on it. We agreed that if they ended up at a party or home where alcohol, drugs or sex-related acitivites were taking place, they were to leave the situation immediately, find a phone and page me for a ride. No excuses. It was their job to scope out a situation and remove themselves from it if it looked like a potential problem. I never gave them permission to drink and then call me to rescue them – drinking under the age of 21 is illegal and that’s final.

Other items you can discuss are your rules about body piercing, tattoos, driving with a seatbelt, etc. When your teen sees that you are serious about health and safety issues – and you have a set of firm consequences to address violations – she may whine and moan, but she’ll get the message that you care and will most likely tow the line.

Create an Inviting Environment

Make your home a safe haven for not only your own child, but for your child’s friends as well. This means being approachable and available, even if the teens don’t have much to say. Talk about your favorite TV show or other non-threatening topics. Have sit-down dinners whenever possible and encourage your kids’ friends to eat with you, even if it’s pizza or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Declare your home a peace zone, keeping arguments at a minimum and humor at a maximum.

Teens love to laugh, and they love to tease – learn to laugh at yourself and with them. If you handle setting boundaries as described above, you will spend a lot less time revisiting familiar battles and will have more opportunities to enjoy living together. This inviting attitude will keep your kids and their friends closer to home and out of trouble – and will mean less grey hair for you!

Show Respect for the Other Parent

A week before your six-month meeting with your teen, call the other parent and talk about how things have been going in each household. Find out about any new rules and issues that have come up. Talk about how you might help reinforce the rules in the other household.

Even though you may have different rules, respect the other parent’s opinion and explain to your teen that you are each entitled to make different rules for your separate homes.

Don’t try to change the rules in the other home, but do show support if you can for the other parenting style. If you think a style is extreme or hurtful, consult with an adolescent counselor to make sure the other parent isn’t engaging in harmful discipline. Most of the time, though, there is a wide range of healthy variations in parenting styles that will not adversely affect your teen’s emotional welfare.

Explain to your teen that when she enters the workforce, she will be forced to work within varying guidelines in different companies and with different supervisors, so operating under moderately different household guidelines should be respected and will be good training for her future.

Diane Shearer is a single mom and freelance writer.


From local groups to web support, you don’t have to go it alone.

In Middle Tennessee
Nashville Single Parents Meetup

This support group for single parents meets every fourth Saturday of each month. Child care provided.

Get tips with articles specific to single parenting, links to other online resources and forums.
This site for families of all types has an extensive section for single parents of teens. Find out how to answer some of your teen’s hardest questions, read testimonials and link to other single parent websites.

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