Increasing impatience and adolescence seem to go hand in hand, with one hand belonging to parents because they can grow more impatient too.

So consider parents first.

Parents can become impatient with waiting: “Will you hurry up!”

Parents can become impatient with teaching: “You’re not concentrating!”

Parents can become impatient communicating: “Pay attention to what I say!”

Parents can become impatient with mistakes: “Why can’t you do it right?”

Parents can become impatient with argument: “I don’t want to debate!”

Then there’s the adolescent.

Teenager can become impatient with delay: “I need to know right now!”

Teenager can become impatient with questions: “I’ve already told you!”

Teenager can become impatient with attention: “Leave me alone!”

Teenager can become impatient with advice: “I didn’t ask you!”

Teenager can become impatient with restraints: “You never let me!”

Although often closest of companions and “best buddies” during childhood, parent and teenager can become more of an “odd couple” during adolescence when growing incompatibilities make it harder to get along. This developmental mismatch generates more impatience with each other, so understanding the nature of impatience can help.

Impatience results when expectation of what you want a lot, and believe should happen soon or now, is delayed or denied. Impatience is always in a hurry for something to start or stop. Impatience reduces tolerance for the time something takes, creating urgency for for what is desired or against what is not.

Impatience creates pressure for satisfaction. When the pressure applied is parent against teenager or teenager against parent, friction can be created, and now impatience can become abrasive. Between parent and teenager, impatience is usually a mix of frustration and criticism that sends a message of complaint.

On one side is the parent driven by the urgencies of insisting on responsibility and desiring compliance.  On the other side is the adolescent driven by the urgencies for increasing freedom and asserting independence.

Teenager: “Stop nagging me!”

Parent: “Then do it now!”


Parent: “Stop arguing!”

Teenager; “Then let me go!”

From what I have seen, the “odd couple” that tends to have the hardest time with impatience is that combative combination of a high control parent who will not be denied and headstrong adolescent who won’t be told what to do. Now impatience can trigger a lot of confrontations unless, over time, both parties learn to become selective, choosing their battles wisely, fighting them with self-restraint, and accepting more compromise than either thought they ever would. “My mom and I are very stubborn and can really get into it. But we’re better at getting through arguments than we used to be, with practice and patience, I guess.”

For the teenager, impatience tends to become most acute around mid-adolescence (around ages 13 – 15) when puberty, peer pressure, and pulling away from parents can create high urgency of social need. “If you don’t let me go to the concert with friends, my life will be ruined!” Of course, this is an exaggeration. Here the impatience is with parents as an ever-present obstacle: "Parents are always getting in the way of what I want to do!" 

As for parents, increasingly frustrated with not getting their household requests met in a timely way, they can become frantic at being continually put off, arousing in them a maddening intolerance for delay. “If you don’t get your chores done in the next hour, we will ground you for the next month!” Of course, this is an extreme response to an ordinary occurrence. Here the impatience is with an adolescent compromise: “You can tell me what, but I’ll decide when; and when I get enough when, I’ll do what you want – partly.”

The trap for both parties is becoming caught in a Tyranny of Now from which it feels like there is no escape: “Hurry up!” “”I can’t wait!” “I must get what I want!” Urgency of impatience can create a lot of emotional intensity. Sometimes, one source of relief is not ratcheting up control, but in appealing to the Mercy of Later which can relax this jammed state of mind: “Slow down.” “Give it time.” “Wait and see.”

Parents who practice patience often seem to encourage the adolescent to act the same.

For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE,” (Wiley 2013.) More information at:

Next week’s entry: Adolescent Boredom

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