Animal Kingdom Hints for Parenting Teenagers

Once upon a time I saw a television documentary on lions. Or tigers. Or maybe bears. The species doesn’t matter. What matters is that the animals in question had sharp claws and scary teeth designed for death.

What matters even more is that the animal mothers fought with their dangerous teens on purpose. Why did the mothers fight? To give their teens fighting practice and to push them out into the big, bad world.

After watching that show, I suffered nightmares. I dreamed of fighting my own teenage children with their sharp claws and scary teeth. I worried about injury, about love, about damage. I thought about the big, bad world. I tossed and turned over scenes of murder, blood, gore.

Then one sunny day I had the bright idea to share my animal kingdom fears with my kids. Frequently. With every discipline and future-planning conversation. With reckless abandon.

After I decided to share my thoughts, my parenting changed. Instead of protecting my kids with happy fairy tales, I educated them with cold, hard tales about the world. Instead of remaining calm during parent-teen fights, I stood my ground by modeling good fighting behavior. I let my kids know that their fights with me were practice for their fights with the world.

Please note: I did not scratch or claw my kids. The human parent-teen fights I’m advocating in this article are non-physical fights designed to leave no injury, emotionally or otherwise.


But parents are not perfect. Despite our best intentions, not all of our non-physical fighting behavior will be effective, or respectful, or fair. But maybe that’s the point: not all the fights our kids will experience in adulthood will be against opponents who are effective, respectful, or fair. Some people fight dirty—with cuss words, ad hominem attacks, emotional claws, or other nastiness. And our kids themselves will not always fight fairly. For that reason, we need to show them how to apologize and how to learn from their fighting mistakes.

I reminded my kids that when they become adults, they must fend for themselves. I reminded them that parents generally have no legal duty of support once a child turns eighteen years old. I wanted them to realize that children must grow up, adults must grow old, and the old must die. Life is a cycle that every person will jump off.

I wanted my kids to know early on that their education is their business for their futures. I gave my kids early freedom to make their own education choices. I emphasized that their education choices would have repercussions for their futures.

Rather than isolating my kids in private schools or wealthy communities filled with children of the rich, we lived in diverse communities and our kids attended schools that included families from all walks of life. My kids learned the differences between poverty and sufficiency. They learned educational pathways to sufficiency. They learned to make education choices for themselves, for their own goals.

So, what’s my advice to parents about how to parent and educate their children into the teen years and beyond?

1. Realize you and your children are animals with many instincts.
2. Let your children sharpen their verbal claws by fighting against you.
3. Teach your children how to argue as adults in the world.
4. Tell your children that your financial support will reach an end point.
5. Show your children a wide variety of stations in life, from poverty, to sufficiency, to wealth.
6. Help your children learn the paths to each of those stations in life.
7. Instead of directing your teenagers’ educational paths, let them make their own education choices as much as reasonably possible.
8. Alert your children of the consequences of their various choices.
9. Push them out into the world, with love.
10. Allow them freedom to travel from station to station in life as their passions might require.

File:Lions Family Portrait Masai Mara.jpg

I thank my friends at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for their inspiration and support, both online and in person. Although my children are all grown, I’ve written this article as part of the March 2014 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop. After America wakes up later today, clicking on the graphic below will lead you to the titles, blog names, and links of other Blog Hop participants. Thank you for supporting my fellow blog hoppers by visiting their blogs.
To learn all the benefits of joining Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, visit
Tiger photo by S. Taheri, color correction by User:Howcheng. [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons.
Lion photo from
Sheep photo by Wenda Sheard.

14 Comments on “Animal Kingdom Hints for Parenting Teenagers”

  1. Jo Freitag says:

    Thank you, Wenda! These are wise words. We should be preparing our teens for becoming responsible, independent adults able to cope with the difficulties they will encounter in the world.

  2. Excellent article, Wenda! This is real information parents can use! As parents, we all need to be reminded, often, that our job is not to protect, but to prepare our kids for the real world! And you said this so well!

  3. Awesome post Wenda! And I totally agree!!

  4. susannewith4 says:

    I love the list, awesome advise.

  5. MamaChicks says:

    Great list! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that teens have to do these things in order to learn independence and self-sufficiency. So fight on, moms!

  6. Hi Wenda, DH of Suzy here. I’m sharing this with work friends who have children. Very well written and thought provoking, thanks.

  7. YellowReadis says:

    I also try to follow the not-protecting-too-much philosophy. As much as they are able to cope with. Thankyou for the reminder that this will continue as my kids get older. Loved this!

  8. Love the sharpening the verbal claws and I definitely let me kids enjoy their own education ALL of the time 😉 They are also filled with love so I am hoping I am on the right track!

  9. Jen Merrill says:

    Teach them how to fight. Never thought of it that way. Like it.

  10. ingimc says:

    I’ve spent so much time protecting, it’s hard to move into preparation mode. But it’s time, so thanks for the reminder!

  11. Jenny M. says:

    Wenda, it gives me great pleasure to finally disagree with you about something! You are looking at the wrong part of the animal kingdom. We are, alas, primates, and that means that we’re social animals in a way that most of the big cats (lions excepted) and other large top-of-the-food-chain predators are not. We also have the unusual quality of outliving our reproductive capacity, by many decades. What, in terms of evolutionary biology, could possibly be the reason for that? One explanation that’s been offered is that the presence of a grandmother has a positive influence on the survival of her grandchildren.So, yes, push them out of the nest and help them learn to survive in the world without you. Yes, the end goal of successful parenting is putting yourself out of a job. But remember that primate family connections are important, and the ability to work in groups is what makes us the planet’s most invasive primate species. And a lot of those beautiful lone hunters are living in zoos these days.

    • Wenda Sheard says:

      Agreed that family connections are important. For sure. Your description of humans as “the planets most invasive primate species” had got me thinking in all sorts of directions. Thanks for your thoughts.

  12. […] A Whole New World ~ Life with Intensity On growth and maturing. Adolescence isn’t so bad in our house. At least so […]

  13. […] Animal Kingdom Hints for Parenting Teenagers ~ Wenda Sheard, J.D. Ph.D. Thoughts on Life & Learning Once upon a time I saw a television documentary on lions. Or tigers. Or maybe bears. The species doesn't matter. What matters is that the animals in question had sharp claws and scary teeth designed for death. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s