The Lid and the Boiling Pot

Have you ever felt frustrated, helpless, ineffective, or downright dumb when trying to manage your adolescent child?

Some time ago, I likened the idea of parents dealing with adolescents to trying to keep a lid on a boiling pot….

Teenagers, and even some pre- and post-teens, are like boiling pots of water and we the parents are like the lids that go on the pots.

It is quite literally their job to push the limits, or, in other words, to try to throw the lid off of themselves as they boil through adolescence.

And I mean they are literally TRYING to throw us off using any means necessary. It is their time to test us and to test the greater world around them in preparation for adulthood.

They might insult us or make innuendos to test our stability.

They might be ashamed of us or tell their friends that we are stupid and we don’t understand.

They might not heed our guidance.

They might look at us or treat us with disdain.

They might not answer us at all when we talk to them and they might completely ignore us.

In other words, as the hormones rage and their cognitive abilities begin to hone in on developing a sense of fairness, idealization, and logical thinking, they will act out like boiling pots set on throwing off their lids.

It is our job to not be thrown off completely.

Trust me when I say that, your child, no matter how much he or she tells you to leave them alone, no matter how much they try to hide things from you or belittle your opinion- does NOT want you to give up on them. They WANT the lid to stay on. They NEED the lid.

Someone once told me that when he was a teenager his parents called the police on him one day and had him taken away, even though the responding police officers recommended against it; that his parents had had enough. Another man shared that his parents ultimately gave up on monitoring his drinking and staying out late. Yet another told me about how his parents told him that he was allowed to smoke marijuana since THEY did it when THEY were his age.

What these three men also ultimately concluded was that they were disappointed in their parents, and that they later faced greater challenges and consequences in their lives than they felt they would have otherwise, had things been handled differently back then. 

They felt, in sum, like they had succeeded in throwing the lid off the pot.

The point is that we will not necessarily WIN each battle with our adolescent children, but, ultimately, we can OUTLAST them.

And THAT’S our plan.

As long as you have this frame of reference, you will at least know that you are limiting the damage by realizing that the goal is not to make things nice and tidy and perfect with your teens; i.e. your kid may still experiment with drugs or alcohol or sex. BUT they probably will NOT do so to the extent they would have had you given up on them just because it seemed so impossible to win completely at the time.

Your goal is to keep your cool while they are at boiling.

Your goal is also to keep the RELATIONSHIP with them, no matter how ugly it might get (hopefully no more than average-ugly.)

Also keep in mind that, by the time your child is a teenager, or even a pre-teen, you’ve already faced at least one other period of time when they’ve tested your limits and put you through some degree of h*ll.

Remember the ‘terrible twos’?

Between the ages of 24 to 36 months of age, our children are experimenting for the first time with their independence from us on a smaller scale. 

They needed limits back then, but they also needed our unconditional love, our empathy, our support, and our guidance, as they began to become more autonomous and as they made their first conscious decisions.

We now know that how we handle these initial ‘decisions’ of theirs can greatly impact personality development later on (theirs, not ours!)

We don’t want to over- or under-react. We want balance, a cool head, AND we want to keep our role as parent, guide, and teacher to them. (Notice how I DIDN’T say ‘friend’- but that’s for another post.)

The LVAC Technique works very nicely for this by the way, but, hey, I’m biased (you can learn more about LVAC at, where LVAC= Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment.)

In some ways, the situation with your adolescent is the same as when they were in those aforementioned toddler years; only now they are bigger and can do more harm to themselves (and others) while going through this new phase.

But they’ll still need your unconditional love and empathy, and- though they probably don’t know it yet and would probably NEVER admit it if they did- they really DO need to NOT be able to throw the lid off the boiling pot.

Good luck fellow (or future) Lid,

Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.


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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s