This Post: Hands-On Parenting: Research Shows It’s the Best Way to Parent Teens
Written by: Marybeth Bock
Parenting has never been an easy gig, especially during the trying teen years. As our kids grow, so does our worry. Everything from drinking, drugs and sex to online bullying, their mental health, and the unrelenting pressure to excel in school has a way of keeping us up at night.
As parents, it feels like we’re constantly walking that fine line between letting our teens figure things out (and suffering the consequences when they mess up) and hovering over their day-to-day life just to keep them on a good path.
We don’t talk about it much, but nearly every parent of teens has found themselves mentally and physically exhausted at one point or another just trying to find the best approach to raise their kids right. And, every single parent has their own unique parenting style.
Hands-On Parenting: Research Shows It’s the Best Way to Parent Teens
The 4 Major Parenting Styles
According to Psychology Today, parents typically fall into one of four major styles of parenting. Of course, not every parent will fit perfectly in a particular style. For the most part, the vast majority of parents tend to lean toward one “style” of parenting.
Authoritarian (High Control)
Authoritarian parents tend to maintain a high level of control over their children. They set and adhere to a strict set of rules and are often harsh and unforgiving when rules are broken.
Disengaged parents take on a limited parenting role. They don’t spend much time with their kids in conversation or other activities and they quite often don’t bother to set many house rules. They allow their kids to “grow up on their own.”
Permissive parents are often attentive and warm, but they typically don’t set many rules for their kids and they tend to blur the lines of parenting. Parents who prioritize being their child’s friend over being their parent often fit the mold of permissive parenting.
Hands-on parents take a much more pragmatic approach and are more flexible. They set clear boundaries but also encourage their kid’s independence within the limits they set. They also opt for more supportive discipline rather than punitive.
While it might be tempting to crack down on your teen and control their every move or perhaps let go and let them figure things out for themselves with little involvement from you, but years of research have shown that one parenting style, in particular, is the best way to parent teenagers: Hands-on (or authoritative) parenting.
Research shows that parents who adopt a hands-on parenting approach – who set clear expectations and offer plenty of support and guidance – have children who have the highest level of confidence, respect for others, self-control, and school achievement.
In other words, hands-on parents take an “all hands on deck” approach to raising their kids. They’re present in their kids’ lives, respectful of their views, offer them a voice and they’re fair and transparent when it comes to boundaries and expectations… but they also have high expectations of their kids when it comes to abiding by their rules.
Why Hands-On Parenting is Effective in the Teen Years
In 2020, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University conducted a study that correlated teens’ risk of substance abuse with a series of twelve possible actions the teen attributed to his or her parents.
The teens were asked to identify their parent’s behavior as “hands-on,” ” “half-hearted” or “hands-off.”
What they found is that teens who have parents who have a “hands-on” approach are less likely to engage in risky behavior than teens with “hands-off” parents.
What Does “Hands-On” Parenting Actually Entail?
We all know that part of our kids’ normal development involves pulling away from us. They start to spend more time with friends and begin to form their own identities outside of the family unit. But experts say, just because our kids are seeking more independence doesn’t mean we should step back from knowing things like where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. In fact, in many areas of our kids’ lives, we should still be very involved.
The CASA survey showed that “hands-on” households have parents who consistently engage in ten or more of these 12 actions with their teenagers:
- Monitor what their teens watch on TV
- Monitor what they do online
- Monitor (and/or) put restrictions on the music they purchase
- Know where their teens are after school and on weekends
- Expect to be told the truth by their teens about where they are going and who they’re with
- Are “very aware” of their teen’s academic performance
- Impose a curfew for their teen
- Make clear they would be “extremely upset” if their teen used pot
- Eat dinner with their teens almost every night
- Turn off the TV during dinner
- Assign their teen regular chores
- Have an adult present when the teen returns from school
This latest CASA survey showed that teens who live with hands-on parents are at one-fourth the risk of substance abuse than those with hands-off parents and that only one in four teens lives with hands-on parents – those who regularly practice 10 of the 12 steps above. Nearly one in five teenagers have parents who meet the definition of hands-off – those who consistently take five or fewer of those actions.
But Isn’t This Just Another Name for “Helicopter Parenting?”
In short, no.
There’s a major difference between setting high (and clear) expectations for your teen versus constantly removing obstacles from their path and rescuing them so they never experience failure or face challenges – a common trait of helicopter parenting.
It’s also possible to monitor your teen’s academic performance without jumping in to complete homework for them, contacting teachers every time they struggle or managing their homework schedule for them. And, just because you know your teen’s whereabouts, doesn’t mean you’re stifling their freedom.
Being present and hands-on with your teen doesn’t mean micromanaging every aspect of their life. It means being positively involved in their life. Showing up. Being a strong presence and making sure they know you’re right beside them every step of the way – no matter how hard it gets.
Remember These 5 Things as a Hands-On Parent
1. Set High, But Age-Appropriate Expectations
Older teens who have shown responsible behavior should obviously be given more leeway when it comes to things like curfews and technology use. Younger teens, however, need time to earn your trust while developing greater independence.
Give your teen plenty of opportunities to learn and earn your trust by slowly increasing their responsibility and loosening your grip.
2. Always Provide Rational Explanations for Your Rules and Requirements
Every teenager deserves to know why you have set high expectations for them or why rules have been put in place. When you share your reasons and help them understand that your rules come from a place of concern, safety, and love, they are less apt to push back against family expectations.
3. Be Willing to Engage in Discussion (and Possibly Give-and-Take) Before Making a Final Decision Regarding Consequences
Many times, teens have no control over conditions that might cause them to break a curfew or not get their chores done on time. Listen to them and allow them a bit of flexibility, especially if it’s not an issue of health or safety. Your goal should be to have your teen tell you the truth without living in fear of your reaction if they break a rule.
4. Be Fair and Reasonable With Discipline
Or course we should hold our teens accountable when they break a rule or disregard our authority, but we should always do so with fairness and the goal to teach in mind. Above all, make sure the punishment fits the “crime.” Wait until you and your teen are calm before discussing a consequence and tie it to their behavior so it makes sense to them.
5. Treat Your Teen With Respect
Your teen is getting older, which means they don’t want to hear “Because I said so,” when you respond to a request they have. When we treat our teens with respect and take their feelings and growing maturity into account, we help strengthen the bond we have with them.
Take the time to invest in your teen’s life by being a loving, caring, hands-on parent. Not only will you be laying the foundation for your teen to mature with confidence and competence, but you will also be strengthening your bond with them and helping them thrive in a challenging world.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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