A Parent’s Survival Guide to Raising Self-Driven Kids

Written by Scott Schimmel

I have three kids, elementary school aged and younger. Being a parent is amazing—itbrings meaning to every part of my life. But, it’s so freaking hard, and gets harder every day. Each child is different, with different needs and unique personalities, challenges and strengths. As a family, our life is noisy, busy and stressful. There are constant demands, deadlines and decisions to make. There are sacred, beautiful moments throughout each day––but, there are many evenings when my wife and I collapse on the sofa wondering how we’re going to survive the next day.

And, the reality is that we’re just getting started.

I can only imagine the overwhelming stress in our future––that someday we will have three teenagers at one time in one house. An older parent once told me the physical demands of having younger children (diapers, baths, putting on their clothes, making meals, etc) is replaced with equally exhausting emotional demands as they grow older (wondering where they are, anxious about their choices, curious about who their friends are, pained as their hearts break). 

Every day I have the privilege of spending time in deep, honest conversation with high school students. Helping guide them to explore their deeper, authentic selves, where they’ve come from, who they are and where they’re going. I’ve learned that, in many ways, children are a product of their environment and culture. Helping students explore their past and understand their family narratives is useful knowledge as emerging adults connect the dots and become aware of who they really are and where they’re headed in life. 

While listening to students’ stories about their parents, I hear a lot of appreciation and gratitude, but it’s often coupled with a sense of annoyance. It has made me realize something very clearly:

Being a teenager is hard, but parenting a teenager is even harder. 

Most parents think they know their children really well, but their kids would disagree. Often students share that their parents judge them by certain instances and situations resulting in assumptions that aren’t accurate—like assuming their child is lazy because he’s watching a Netflix marathon rather than studying. As misunderstanding blooms, labels and angst emerge, distance is created and communication begins to break down, conversations become one-way exercises in futility:

“How was your day?”


“What did you do?”


“What did you learn today?”


“What’s wrong?”


Conversations between parents and their children can change, easily shifting from meaningful to antagonistic, and as a result the relationship gap widens. 

What’s a parent to do? How can you change the cycle of irritation and create new patterns of communication that help you truly know your child? 

Here are six conversation starters to get to know your high school student better:

1. What’s working well, and what’s not working for you considering how our family 


2. If you could pick one thing for me to stop doing, what would it be?

3. If there was one thing that you wish I would do more of, what would it be?

4. What’s something you wish I knew about you?

5. What do you wish our family did more of together, or less of?

6. What’s something that you’re good at that you don’t think I’m aware of?