What to do when you don’t approve of teen’s choices?

A features reporter, Katie Leslie, is working on a story about what do you do as a parent when you totally don’t approve of the choices your child/teen/young adult is making.

The story is off of the Bristol Palin/Levi Johnston getting engaged and Sarah Palin not approving. Here’s the background story.

So we can discuss the topic here but if you wanted to be interviewed for Katie’s story on the topic you can email her at Katie.Leslie@ajc.com.

Is there a decision or many decisions that you just completely disagree with your teen/young adult on? What were the issues involved? How did you handle it?

Do you decide it is their life, they can do it but it’s going to be a huge, huge mistake? Did you tell them it was a mistake? Did you keep your mouth shut and just hope for the best?

Did telling them you think it’s a crappy decision actually force them into making the choice?

What can you actually do to stop them from making a bad choice? I don’t mean teaching them. I mean like stopping something as it about to happen – getting married, leaving town, choosing the wrong dude.

18 comments Add your comment

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July 29th, 2010
2:14 pm

…we all made choices that our parents did not necessarily approve of, so why should we be upset when we diagree with the choices our kids make? We can advise and make our thoughts known, but, as we did, we have to learn from our mistakes, just as our parents had to learn that not all of the choices we made with which they did not approve were bad.

Except TWG – she will never let her kids make a bad choice since she will never let them make a choice because it COULD be bad…


July 29th, 2010
2:31 pm

TWG, as a special favor to you I will stop trolling your blog. It’s been fun, it’ll hurt to give it up. But you seem to get knocked around by lots of the moms here. Mommy blogging is never pretty, as most moms feel that their only actual power is power over their children. Many loose sight of the fact that mothering is not a woman’s sole identity. And many people on this list could serve as the best possible example of women hating women. Opps, I did it again. Anyway, as I go, I leave bright blue and pink glitter in my wake, I tip my feathered hat in your general direction.
Natter on. Last post.


July 29th, 2010
3:06 pm

Well my kids are nowhere near old enough to make those kind of life-changing mistakes yet, but I know only too soon it will come. I can’t say how I’ll react but I hope I will do better than my parents did. I can remember vividly when I told my parents that I was considering making a choice that they might not like (not going to say what it was and my parents were divorced so this was at different times.) My mom burst into tears and left the room. My dad turned his head and wouldn’t talk to me. Both my parents loved me but both buried their heads in the sand and didn’t have a rational conversation with me. I hope that if my kids tell me they’re going to do, or thinking about doing, or even have done, something that isn’t smart & has serious consequences, I will say something along the lines of: “Honey I love you more than I can ever tell you, but you’re being stupid. Now let’s talk about it everything involved in it.” *sign* We’ll see.


July 29th, 2010
3:14 pm

When they are young adults, about the best you can do is make sure they have examined an issue from all sides before committing to something irrevocable. Once they make a decision, you don’t have to agree with it — but you don’t get to second-guess them, either, and you don’t get to harangue them. When you move from being a parent to being a life coach, you move into a role of providing support and advice on demand, not necessarily when YOU want to :-) Unless, that is, you WANT your kids dreading to come and visit you or talk to you!

Saying “I told you so” is the most useless speech in the world. If you have a young adult child who has made a poor choice — spouse, job, etc. — you want them to be able to come to you and say, “OK, I think I may have screwed up — now what?” and not be afraid that you will spend the first 15 minutes smirking and saying, “I TOLD you but you didn’t listen!!” But as far as stopping them? Not going to happen — any more than it would have happened with me at their age. Sometimes life is a far more effective teacher than anything we as a parent can do!

Now, if they’ve made poor choices in the area of drugs or addictions, then, to me, that requires a more proactive frame of mind. If someone is actually putting their life in danger and are too far gone to realize it, that’s a completely different story. I would move heaven and earth to keep my child alive. And even then, sometimes, when you’ve done all that’s in your power, you have to sit back, cry and painfully accept that it falls under the category, “things you cannot change.”


July 29th, 2010
3:25 pm

Tell them why you don’t approve and give them the legitimate reasons. If they’re over 18 and no longer in your house -that’s all you can do. If they’re under 18, then you can NOT let them do whatever it is, and hopefully you can stop it (although I did SO many things I wasn’t “allowed” to do), but ultimately your teenager or young adult is going to do stuff you don’t like. All you can hope is that you’ve raised them to that point so that they don’t engage in something truly harmful to their health or illegal that will get them locked up. Sometimes when it comes to financial decisions, things like moving, relationships with friends or boyfriends and girlfriends -they have to make their own mistakes!


July 29th, 2010
3:44 pm

A – There are plenty of us who don’t agree with TWG’s over-protectiveness of her kids and don’t knock her. BUT I agree, there are lots of moms who are mom bashers… no different than the women in the workplace being our own worst enemies. Instead of being happy that a woman has succeeded, most of her female co-workers will bash her and talk about how she didn’t deserve the success.

As I said in the post about the Palins recently, as much as parents often realize that their kids are making bad choices, it’s often difficult to do anything but love them regardless and tell them you’ll be here for them when they’ve failed or congratulate them when things end up fine BUT I think that applies to situations where the kid is not in eminent danger and it depends on the age of the kid. If the kid is involved in reckless or dangerous behavior, I do think the parents have the right & responsibility to give guidance or a swift kick in the rear. In other words, if it’s a teenager living in your house who gets involved in alcohol or drugs then the parent should step in.

But if we’re talking about a couple of 18-19 year olds who have had a baby together deciding they want to get married, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of room for Mom’s opinion. They’re either going to make it work or it’s going to fall apart and daughter will come running home asking for help.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

July 29th, 2010
4:35 pm

Step one:
To the extent it is legal and only affects them, talk to them about it, explain to them why you think it’s not a good idea, then let them make a fully informed decision and let them deal exclusively with the consequences. Let them know that in making their decision, they make it alone and can expect no support from you in the pursuit of their decision and no bailing them out if it goes bad. In turn if it turns out to be a good decision, they can take 100% credit for it and will not have to give you any credit for helping them out. Subsequently, don’t bear the burden of the ramifications, they got themselves into it alone, let them get out of it alone.

Step 2:
To the extent it is illegal and/or will detrimentally affect your livelihood or lifestyle, explain to them that they have the right to screw themselves but not you and therefore you will take any measures necessary to prevent this decision from affecting anyone but themselves, then revert back to step #1.


July 29th, 2010
4:53 pm

I don’t think my parents would have agreed that stealing a cow, putting a happy birthday banner on it and putting in a friends front yard was the right thing to do – but boy did we have fun. Have you ever been in the back of a truck with 15 teenagers and a cow?
You will disagree with you teenagers decisions but that goes back to an earlier topic – how do you teach responsibility? If you haven’t done it by the time they are teenagers, it’s too late to start then. My rule was I will never agree with all your decisions but I will fight for your right to make them. Some were bad decisions that they regretted, some didn’t turn out like they planned, and some that I thought were horrible were actually okay in the end. Teach when they are young and trust as they get older.


July 29th, 2010
6:25 pm

comment gone and I have no idea why…can you find it T?


July 29th, 2010
6:35 pm

A lot of people say “while they are under 18 and living in my house…” Yes I agree with that of course. But after they are 18, is more of a “if i am paying for it…”

Of course that has its limits I suppose. In which case you counsel, you smile, and you wish them the best.


July 29th, 2010
6:38 pm

@lets see…you are not very nice….you can disagree as we all do at times…but dont be so snarky please

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

July 29th, 2010
6:38 pm

Oh…one more addition to my steps….

Step 3….

YOU, as the parent, are not always right. If the kid does something that you don’t think is a good idea and it turns out to be a success, man up and tell the kid they were right and you were wrong and congratulate them on their success. Tell them how YOU have learned from this and it goes a long way in YOUR ability to trust THEIR judgement and abilities to think critically, analyze risk, and believe in themselves in spite of those closest to them being in disagreement.

Don’t be my mother, and in the face of any successes you experienced in spite of her naysaying, insist upon saying something snide like “well you got lucky this time”, or “I hope you don’t think that things are always going to turn out this well”. That’s just sour grapes and not becoming of an objective, mature, and responsible parent.

No kid wants to tell her mother to go f%*# herself, but I’m telling you, ignoring step #3 is the road to it. I know first hand.


July 29th, 2010
6:47 pm

you can only teach your kids right and wrong…and talk about the repercussions of any of their actions…no matter how old they are (once they are over 14 or so) you cant MAKE them not do something. i wasnt allowed to do anything and i did everything!…my kids do listen to me and have actually changed a behavior or plan because of my advice. of course there are times they didnt…but we all have to live with our choices and thats the bottom line…if they are hell bent on doing something….they have to live with the consequences of their choices. i have to say….if your child chooses a mate you dont approve of…then you most likely will be the one left out…parents cannot over rule love (or what kids may think of as love)


July 30th, 2010
12:05 am

I think much of it depends on the kind of relationship you’ve developed with your kids when they were younger. (And I say this as a mom whose oldest is 8, so my experience is non-existent.) If your kids have learned that they can come to you when they’ve made mistakes, and you’ve handled it well (expressing disappointment without judging), then it’s much easier to talk to them when you see them making choices that you don’t agree with. Trust is a two way street. Your kids have to have some in you that you’ll be there for them, even if they screw up big.


July 30th, 2010
12:26 am

@jan – LOL! I’m sure that was hilarious! Hopefully the birthday person appreciated the gesture.

I guess I make a distinction between silly teen pranks (my dad and his friends disassembled a car and reassembled it inside the school hallway) and major life decisions (marriage, moving in together, taking a job, etc). The teen prank you just hope doesn’t go too badly and that they don’t get anyone into major trouble.

For major life decisions, I agree with most of the posts so far. If they are over 18 and aren’t expecting you to pay for whatever it is they’ve decided, then advice is really all you can do. Hopefully, your relationship is such that they will listen to what you have to say. If they are under 18, then you hopefully have more control over what they do and don’t do.

Interesting note, in the book Nurture Shock, one of the studies was on teen’s arguing versus lying. They found that arguing was actually a sign that they were less likely to lie to you about that particular subject. If they argue with you, it’s because they respect you in that area and feel like there is some possibility that you will listen to their thoughts. If they feel they can’t argue (i.e. discuss loudly) it with you, then they are likely to just lie about it and do it anyway. I agree with @irisheyes that how you have reacted in the past is going to be a big indication of how much your kids will trust you in the future.


July 30th, 2010
9:14 am

We have kids ranging in ages from 9 to 19 and have gone through just about any cycle known. We sure aren’t always right, but we do discuss decisions with them going over the good and bad of each decision. A lot of times it is more effective to not lecture, but instead have them think it through and come up with the good and bad of their decisions. This is a life lesson that will help them as they grow older and definitely helps them to be more independent. I sure don’t plan to have 4 kids coming to me to pay their bills at 40 years old like so many parents have. The biggest thing you can do is teach them right from wrong at an early age. No matter what, we are not with them all hours of the day and they will have to make their own decisions.

Warrior Woman

July 30th, 2010
12:40 pm

My teens are all under 18 and living under my roof. As long as that’s the case, my rules apply. That said, we ALWAYS discuss why and I’m fairly lenient with what I’d call typical growing up foolishness. Do I forbid them to fork yards or other silly pranks? No. Do I forbid body art? Ungauged piercings are OK, but gauged piercings and tattoos are no-nos. Do I let them go places or do things that have a high risk of serious injury or arrest, like a party at a friend’s house whose parents have not provided adequate supervision in the past, or unsupervised trips to Florida, Mexico, or the Caribbean? Not on your life!

Old School

July 31st, 2010
3:48 pm

Kids have lives that we know all about when they are physically in our presence. Once they are out of sight, no matter how smart we think we are, they lead secret lives known only to their friends and themselves. We can only keep the lines of communication open by really, truly LISTENING to them and letting them know all subjects are open for discussion.

You have to let them know your value system by living it each day as an example. Likewise your expectations of them must be communicated clearly and consistently. Let them know what is acceptable and not acceptable but allow some room for flexibility. They’ll still screw up and make some pretty bad choices. Just be there for them, not to bail them out but to help them find their way.