Forget the Terrible Twos — the Terrible Teens may be more like it, with many parents facing their greatest challenge when kids start dating, driving and engaging in all sorts of rebellious and dangerous behavior.
TODAY is exploring this time of life in a special series, "Inside the Teenage Mind," which began Tuesday when correspondent Jenna Bush Hager sat down with 10 teens aged 13 to 17 to find out how they navigate peer pressure, drugs, alcohol and sex.
On Wednesday, some of those teens' parents had a chance to watch the session for the first time, and some teared up when they heard the candid comments. All said they worried about the effect social media and the Internet are having on their children, but only a couple admitted to snooping on their kids online.
Most said one of their most important strategies is to always keep an open line of communication with their teens.
“I went to her and I said, ‘You can tell me anything. You won’t get in trouble if you come to me,‘” said Jamie Natal, mother of Brooke Natal.
“I don’t think she wants me to talk to her about everything and I’m OK with that, as long as she’s prepared to come to me if something goes wrong and I can help her,” added Jeff Linstrom, father of Cali Linstrom.
When it comes to drugs and alcohol, some parents said they don’t believe in the “just say no” approach. “When you tell them not to do something, there’s this natural tendency to be drawn toward it,” said Keith Fuller, dad of Griffin Fuller.
“We’re very honest about drugs, alcohol, sex," he added. "We say, ‘If you do this, you’re probably going to feel good in the short term’ and then we go into why people continue to do it and what happens in the long term.”
Many readers said it’s as basic as parents instilling values and morals, teaching respect and not lowering expectations when children get older. Make teens earn privileges, such as driving and dating, by being good students and behaving obediently, one mom urged.
“I worked hard all through their toddler and elementary years to require and enforce high expectations of behavior,” Stephanie Spitaletto wrote. “Why would I spend all those years setting a high expectation of behavior for my home then lower it and expect something different just because they are teenagers?”
Do not use the excuse of "they’re just being teenagers" when kids are being disrespectful, added Kim Kies.
“To be a teen is part of growing up and becoming more independent, doing more for yourself, being more responsible. Not being hateful and mean,” she wrote.
Holly Tracy, a mom of two teenagers, said it’s important to designate a go-to adult teens can call if they make a mistake so they don't end up in a dangerous situation.
Be sure to keep them busy so they don't have time to get into trouble, Sandy Giafski Beall advised. Her daughter was a swimmer and was too tired from practice to even think of anything but eating, sleeping and schoolwork, she quipped.
Other moms urged parents to relax a bit. Remember that you were a teenager once, too, said Angi Brown. “You did stupid things and didn't die,” she noted.
Finally, one mom had this practical piece of advice. “Buy a helmet and some armor ... it's a bumpy ride,” said Shelby Hermosillo Medina.