Parenting a rebellious teen can be incredibly frustrating. You’re stuck dealing with the fallout from their behavior, and you may end up receiving criticism and condemnation from people within your own support system who blame you for your teen’s behavior. You may also feel responsible. The negative impacts that your teen’s behavior has on your own life can make it even harder for you to effectively handle your teen’s behavior, which can result in escalation on their end. How can you turn things around? Take a look at some strategies for dealing with a rebellious teenager.
Rebellion can take many forms, and some teens seem determined to try all of those forms at once. If your teen is rebelling in a number of different ways, it may be too overwhelming to try to reign them all in at once. If a teen is skipping school, refusing to clean their room, and talking back, it may be too much to expect that you can focus on all of those behaviors at once. Focus on changing the behavior that is most detrimental to your rebellious teen first.
For example, frequently cutting class is a behavior that poses more danger to your teen’s future and to their safety than failing to clean their bedroom. Don’t be afraid to pick your battles by focusing mainly on developing strategies for keeping your child in school and enforcing consequences when they fail to attend. When you have that behavior under control, you can focus on other behaviors.
Ask Your Rebellious Teen For Input
Parenting a defiant teen can feel eerily like parenting a defiant toddler. But it’s important to remember that teens are not toddlers – in fact, they’re closer to being adults who will be navigating the world on their own than they are to their toddler years. Teens usually understand when they’re doing something wrong, they’re capable of controlling their impulses, and they can be reasoned with. Instead of treating your teen as an adversary who needs to be brought into line, try treating them as an ally.
Talk to your rebellious teen about their behavior and explain how it’s negatively affecting them or the people around them. Then, instead of telling them what to do to change their behavior, ask them what they think needs to happen next.
For instance, if your teen frequently breaks curfew, you might ask them how you and they can work together to make sure that they get home by the expected time. Your teen may respond by suggesting that you push the curfew to a later time and give you some reasons why they think a later curfew is needed. Listen carefully to their reasons and see if you agree. If you don’t agree that they need a later curfew right now, you can explain why. You may decide to agree to a later curfew if they show that they can abide by the current one for some amount of time first. You and your teen could negotiate until you find a time you can both agree on.
After years of parenting, it can feel uncomfortable to give your teen input into decisions on how you handle their behavior, but if you think about it, it makes sense. In a few short years, your teen is going to be fully responsible for all their own behaviors and decisions. Compromising and negotiating with them now isn’t caving in, it’s more like letting your teen make adult decisions with training wheels. You’re preparing them to do it on their own later. And if nothing else, asking your teen for their input on the situation may surprise them into having a more productive conversation.
Catch Them Doing Good
For kids, the teen years can feel like an endless succession of missteps and mistakes. It’s normal for adolescents approaching adulthood to actively look for ways to separate themselves from their parents. Their relative lack of life experience virtually guarantees that they’ll make mistakes during this process. And being called on those mistakes, however much they may deserve it, can make teens feel defensive and act defiant, even when – maybe especially when – they know that they deserve it.
But your rebellious teen can’t be making mistakes all of the time. It’s important to notice when they’re doing well and to call that out. Maybe your teen’s room is a mess, but they took the time to help a younger sibling with their math homework. Maybe they talked back to you one night but did the dishes without being asked the next night. Maybe they came home late without calling, but they were acting as a designated driver for an inebriated friend. Your teen’s helpful and thoughtful behavior and good decisions deserve at least as much attention as the bad decisions, but when you’re frustrated, the bad things are often easier to notice than the good things.
When your teen feels that no matter what they do, they’re only going to receive negative feedback, they may stop trying to do things that deserve positive feedback. They may also feel unfairly picked upon and may act out in response. Make an effort to catch your teen doing good things and give them positive feedback for it.
Get Support When You Need It
If you don’t feel up to handling your teen’s behavior on your own, it’s important to pay attention to that feeling. With a teen whose rebellion lasts for an extended period of time or who’s behavior is wildly out of control may have issues that you simply can’t correct on your own. Seeking out help and support is not a parenting failure. As a matter of fact, acknowledging that your teen needs more than just you and making an effort to get the support they need is a great example of what parents should do for their children.
Therapy can be helpful for parents dealing with a rebellious teen. A therapist may be able to help get to the root of your teen’s behavior and give them tools to better manage their impulses and problems. Family or individual therapy can also help you and your teen learn to better manage conflict and work together as a family.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.