My 16-year-old twins’ attitudes are a ‘full-blown problem.’ What can I do?

Dear Meghan: I’m the parent of twin 16-year-old girls. They have always been high performing in school and extracurriculars. Because of the demands on them, I have been permissive of their sometimes exaggerated personas. When they are happy, they can be very happy, but more often when they are tired, hungry or down, they can be loud, mean and rude. This is confined to our immediate family, for the most part.

Outside of modeling positive behavior and doing what I can to plan ahead with snacks, sleep, etc., I have done little to help them regulate their emotions. I do make occasional comments when I think they might be receptive and start conversations. Mostly I had hoped maturity would get them there. But it hasn’t. Seems like a full-blown problem now. Help!

— Calm in a storm

Calm in a storm: Thank you for writing in; I appreciate the courage that is required to raise the white flag and cry, “help!” Raising twins is a lot of work, period. From the jump, you are outmanned, and if you tend toward permissiveness, parenting twins can wear you down quickly. Generally speaking, rude children aren’t born, they are made, but that doesn’t make you the villain. Not having strong boundaries, consequences or expectations for your children over years and years gets you to today: a full-blown problem.

It is never too late to make changes, but I want to be honest with you: It’s not going to be easy. Once you realize that your permissiveness has created a monster (monsters), you may be tempted to course-correct and put the hammer down, but small and consistent changes are your best bet here.S

Meghan Leahy is a parenting coach and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She has given advice about toddler tantrums, teens and mental health and co-parenting.A

You need to ask yourself what support you need to make changes in your family. From reading books to joining online (paid and free) parenting groups to finding a good therapist or parenting coach, investigate why you have permitted the twins’ behavior and how to find your voice. Humans tend to overcorrect when making changes, but you can absolutely maintain your unique sensibilities while strengthening your boundaries. Establishing your authority is more about tone than action, but this can be challenging work. It will take courage to use boundaries, and it will take even more courage to weather the backlash they can bring. If you are co-parenting with someone, let them know your intentions and what you need. So often, I see parents try to make changes in a silo, and that just isn’t going to work.

Next, you are going to begin holding family meetings. I know most people think that these are for little kids, but family meetings are simply the most efficient way to communicate information. I don’t recommend you call a meeting and say, “I have raised a bunch of brats and will now no longer be catering to your bad attitudes and abuse.” Rather, you will be a bit more politic. Say: “I have noticed that you both work hard, and I am proud of you. When you come home, you are starving and very cranky. What can we do so you eat right away?” They may just stare at you because they are accustomed to you giving in, but you are going to wait, pen and paper in hand.

Family meetings work when the parent uses compassionate listening, so don’t be afraid to ask thoughtful questions and listen carefully. For instance, the twins may whine about not having food when and where they want it, but you also may realize that you have never taught them how to cook for themselves. We won’t use this information to blame or shame you or the kids; it’s just data, and you can work with them to teach them three simple meals.Share this articleShare

As you problem solve with them and assist them in their independence, be sure to also communicate new rules and expectations of them. Let them know that three nights a week, for instance, they’re responsible for feeding themselves and then make yourself scarce. On top of these new rules, set new consequences, too. For example, you will not make them dinner if they were expected to cook for themselves or won’t drive them to a friend’s house if they haven’t done their laundry. If you discuss these boundaries ahead of time, the twins won’t feel totally blindsided, but they probably still won’t be well-received (meaning, the twins may throw fits as if they are toddlers). The more you stick to what you have all decided, the faster the twins will learn that the family meetings are real.

You can also use these meetings to make it clear that while it is lovely they are skilled in their academics, part of leaving home for whatever is next is making sure they can take care of themselves. This includes, food, chores, laundry, snacks, cleaning their spaces and being a useful part of the family and community. And, by the way, everyone is allowed to have a bad day. We aren’t talking about punishing big emotions or valid upsets; you will place a boundary when the teen is verbally abusive, rude or demanding of you in a way that goes against the family values.

It has taken you 16 years to get into this pickle, so change will not happen overnight. But remember: Almost every human wants to be good needed, and competent, including your teens. It will be rocky as they test your boundaries, but with the right support, some consistency and a healthy sense of humor, you will be doing the family, the teens and the world a huge favor. Good luck.

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By Meghan LeahyMeghan is the mother of three daughters and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach. Send a question about parenting to, and it may show up in a future column. Twitter