Walking the Middle Path: Helping Parents and Teens Connect

Let’s face it, raising teens is challenging! At times, you feel as if you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It is difficult to find the balance between being strict and being lenient, between being secure in what you know works and taking a chance on change. Probably the worst approach is the authoritarian, “I know what is best” or head-on style

One final thing: How can you achieve a balance between being strict and being lenient? Often when one parent is lenient, the other, in reaction is strict. It is hard to find that balance! DBT skill Walking the Middle Path, teaching parents how to find this balance.

Middle Path skills

Authoritarian parents focus on discipline and honoring the rules. The upside is that they are consistent, provide structure and predictability. If not too extreme, they help teens avoid getting into trouble and foster success at school. If more extreme, they create perfectionism, a harsh inner critic and low self- esteem or feelings of being in trouble or not good enough. They tend to not give as much emotional support or warmth.

A lenient parent is either permissive or uninvolved. Rules that exist tend to be inconsistent, nonexistent, or unenforced. On the upside, teens have lots of room to explore and build independence which can lead to creativity and new skills. The downside is that teens don’t have limitations or guidance which can lead to problem behaviors. On the downside, teens with parents who are too lenient can expect others, such as school authorities, to also make exceptions for their tendency not to follow the rules or in relationships, expect others to cater to their freedom to do what they want. They also may feel unimportant and the lack expectations that can lead them to feel not cared about.


Finding the balance is referred to as authoritative (not authoritarian). These parents have reasonable rules, expectations and limits and also have flexibility and some leniency. In other words, parents who find this balance are mindful of the battles they pick, have clear predictable consequences which they follow through on, and allow their teens to make mistakes and some freedom to make their own choices. They have learned to manage their own fears and anxieties and can separate who they are from who their kids are. They have learned to accept that their kids are not necessarily going to follow the path they had mapped out for their lives and are willing to go on that journey with them!

If you want to learn more DBT for parents, click here. 

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