Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Parenting Adolescents and the Tyranny of Now

A lack of immediate gratification of requests can be frustrating.

Key points

  • Adolescent insistence and resistance can both frustrate parents.
  • The power of now is when what is desired feels like it must be satisfied right away.
  • Who decides "when" something happens is increasingly at issue between parents and adolescents.
  • Youthful delay can be frustrating for parents, but it can also be functional in the adolescent's life.
Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.
Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.

In adolescence, two types of complaints become common.

Urgency: “I can’t wait!” (The parent or adolescent feels rushed by each other's demands.)

Reluctance: “I’ll do it later!” (The parent or adolescent feels frustrated by the other's delay.)

Both insistence and resistance—pressing for immediate gratification and deferring what one doesn’t want to do right away—can become increasingly expressed by both as teenage independence grows between them.

“Now” becomes more of a battleground between adolescent and parent, creating more disagreements over who controls what happens when.

The Power of Now

Adolescence can increase the power of now: insistence on it (what one urgently wants—now!) and resistance to it (what one doesn’t want to do at the moment—not right now!)

The need for “now” can be self-centered, emotionally intense, and more worth arguing about for the teenager and parent who are both investing energy in getting her or his way. Independence is at stake for the teenager; compliance is at stake for the parents.

Demand for “now” is a time management issue: when is something going to happen? Since one can’t do everything at once, activity must be scheduled out according to someone’s preference, demand, or need. Hence, the abiding questions: What needs to happen right away? What needs to happen later? And who decides?

Thus, delay of gratification and the delay of cooperation are common frustration points in the adolescent/parent relationship. For both parent and teenager, it can take more patience and persistence to get along. Each gets into more repetitive asking or nagging to wear the opposition down.

The Timing Conflict

“It’s my time and it’s my life, so I should get to decide when!” Thus, the teenager squares off against parents who assert in response: “Your life is still our responsibility, so we decide when!”

Conflicts between parent and teenager over immediacy and delay become more common in adolescence. Urgency can feel that opportunity is now or never; while delay can feel that satisfaction will never happen. Both can feel frustrating.

Now Against Later

Parental nagging and insistence often contend with youthful procrastination and avoidance—the parent repeatedly requesting, the teenager more frequently resisting. Adolescent nagging and insistence frequently contend with parental delay and denial—the young person relentlessly asking and arguing to get precious permission.

For a young person, adolescence is a gathering of self-management power, and delaying demand is one way this is done. Now, it often takes more parental supervision and pursuit to get the youthful cooperation desired. “She can wear me out with waiting, and sometimes she does!”

Yet, delay of demand is also a necessary skill. Come adolescence, the capacity to take thoughtful time before making a decision becomes critical, particularly in the company of persuasive friends. "I took a bathroom break to give myself a short time-out to think."

Functional Delay

The cultivation and protection of two protective thinking skills (both of which take some deliberate delay) are extremely important for parents to nurture in their daughter or son. Both mental skills empower the teenager to take her or his time before deciding. The skills can be hard to exercise among a group of friends all bent on acting now.

  1. Second thought: “Before emotionally deciding, I want to think this through one more time.” “Is what I feel like doing really wise?”
  2. Predictive responsibility: “I want to consider what might go wrong before deciding this.” “In choosing, how could I prevent possible harm?”

A little reflection and forethought now can often save a lot of trouble later on. “I was prepared to get myself out of this situation if things didn’t go as planned.” Delay now can sometimes save suffering later.

Chemical Influence

Parents can tell their teenagers to beware the possible effects of substance use on decision-making because it tends to encourage "in-the-moment thinking" and "emotional motivation." Under drug influence, lessons from hard-earned history and advice from better judgment can both be ignored.

Emotional preoccupation with the present moment keeps past and future considerations at bay when urgent feelings and unwise impulses are more likely to prevail. Substance use increases the tyranny of now.

Thus, a drug-free passage through adolescence is often safest because the young person has more time to soberly reflect and think before deciding.


For the parent and teenager who both want something from the other right away, it's important not to let the tyranny of now and frustration with delay rule. More than before in their relationship, it can take more patience and persistence to get what is wanted from each other—compliance for the parents and permission for the teenager—than before.

So, be persistent in asking for what is wanted and be more patient, as responses to requests often do not happen right away. In the words of one weary parent: "Now takes longer than it did before." In the words of one seasoned adolescent: "If it's worth asking for, it's worth arguing to get."

More from Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today