How Parents Can Reason With a Terrible Teen
Parents run into difficult situations all of the time when raising kids. But when you’re raising a teenager who is out of control — let’s call them a terrible teen — that takes the stress level into the stratosphere.
In fact, a terrible teen has all kinds of thoughts running through his or her mind. Things like: “My parents don’t understand me, and they don’t care.” “I want to hang out with my friends, not be with my stupid family.” “Why do I have to do homework? It doesn't matter.”
Dealing with a terrible teen is a constant struggle for parents. With the help of experts and personal experiences, we have a number of scenarios that may help parents cope with their offspring.
Typical Teen or Troubled Teen?
What to consider: Parents need to see the signs of whether their teen is acting normal or acting out.
The teenage years can be daunting for kids and parents alike, but what should we consider typical teen behavior and not-so-typical troubled teen behavior? According to HelpGuide, a normal teenager can still be tough on parents. They don’t want to be seen by you and everything you say gets the slam of the door or roll of the eyes. This is considered typical teenage behavior.
However, a troubled teen has issues well beyond the average teenager. He or she starts to show at-risk behaviors that lead to drinking, drug use, violence, skipping school, self-harming or other criminal acts. They may show mental health issues that lead to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Unfortunately, parents must see the red flags and find out if their teen is just being normal or if there is something underlying that needs to be addressed.
Focus on the Good Times
What to consider: Talking about the good times with family members will remind your terrible teen that things were not always bad.
With so much negativity in the air, perhaps reminiscing about better times might settle things a little bit. You can talk about that great trip the family took or maybe a funny moment to show that, at some point, you and your teen had some good moments that should be rekindled and cherished.
Your teen is hurting, and so are you. Instead of dwelling on the pain of the present, tensions can lessen if everyone buries their hatchets and shows that there was a time when the family was getting along great. Maybe some positive feelings can bring everyone just a little bit closer and make it easier to find a compromise between parents and teen.
Teen Behavior Is Not Deliberate
What to consider: Teenagers are not in control of their emotions, as their brains are still developing.
So, you might be under the impression that your teen is dreaming up ways to get under your skin, but that’s not true. According to Alan Kazdin, sterling professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, your teenager has little control over the bad attitude. There are biological and psychological changes they are going through that need to be taken into consideration.
Also, Kazdin says the brain changes in a teenager are extensive, such as being more impulsive, taking risks and being influenced by peers. It is important for parents to understand that the things a teenager is saying cannot be turned on or off because the teen’s brain is still developing. And knowing that can help with positive communication.
Try to Be Reasonable With Your Teen
What to consider: Parents need to be the ones who bring calm to the conversation.
As things get more heated, probably the last thing a parent wants to hear is to try to reason with your teenager. Yet, for cooler heads to prevail, that’s exactly what needs to happen. It’s true that this tactic may not work. Kazdin points out that reason rarely persuades anybody to do things we know we should.
However, also according to Kazdin, being reasonable with your teen demonstrates for them a way of thinking, handling conflict and solving problems. And it can have a long-lasting effect on your teen. In addition, the stress level between you and your teen will drop, and when all is well, it is important for you to give your teen a hug and say those three magic words: “I love you.”
Punishment Is Not Going to Work
What to consider: Parents need to be careful how they decide to punish their teenager.
The majority of parents have used punishment to handle a troubled teen. Punishment can range from just a simple timeout to full-blown restriction, or even physical contact. But is this the right answer? Could this actually make things worse?
To begin with, there need to be rules put forth by a parent. Let’s say your teen gets a speeding ticket. One good punishment is for that teen to work off the cost of the fine. Let’s say your teen refuses to do homework. Perhaps the teacher can help here by keeping him or her after school to finish the assignment.
Yet, dealing with a terrible teen brings in a different dynamic. The way Kazdin sees it when it comes to facing off with an out-of-control teen, punishment will only drive a teen to isolate even more, causing less time to spend with the family. Kazdin warns that this will decrease the chances of a positive influence.
Find a Compromise
What to consider: Parents and teens need to meet in the middle before they can move forward.
This is a tall order for a parent to find some sort of common ground with their terrible teen, but it will definitely come with rewards. Already, terrible teenagers feel like their parents don’t understand what they're going through and that they have no freedom or parents are constantly on their case. Parents must understand that any argument on these points is only an exercise in futility.
So, Kazdin suggests that parents should find ways to compromise with their teens, such as being more flexible with hairstyle, clothing or food. Think of things that you said absolutely no to in the past but are willing to give in now. Show your teenager that you’re willing to give him or her more freedom, and this will give you some leverage on issues in which you cannot compromise.
Don’t Forget: It’s All About Making It Work
What to consider: Whatever tactics are used, parents need to find what works with their teen.
Many times parents ask themselves how much they’ve bent over backward for their teenager or why they have to be careful what they say around their teen. These are valid points. Many of the sections we’re dealing with have put the burden on the parents with attempts to reason fairly with their teen.
However, Kazdin says there is one thing you should consider — is this working? If it is, maybe you should set aside your needs for the sake of having a home that isn’t a constant battleground. Keep in mind, this is only a matter of a couple of years, and you’ll see changes in your teen when stress will decrease. Once that happens, you can start seeing relationships improving.
Understand the Teenage Brain
What to consider: Knowing how a teenager ticks could give parents a better perspective.
Sometimes, as a parent, you sit back and wonder what your teenager was thinking about [fill in the blank here]. As parents, it’s up to you to find out more about a teenager’s brain and how it’s starting to work.
At this point in life for teenagers, things aren’t all connected in the youngster’s brain. Molly Edmonds from HowStuffWorks says the teenage brain is like an entertainment center whose components haven’t been hooked up, and there are loose wires everywhere.
Indeed, this is valuable information for parents. Teens are impulsive and subject to mood swings that we don’t experience, and now you realize there are some underlying forces here. For you as a parent to understand this will make things easier to deal with a terrible teen. As Edmonds says, this “helps you to focus on the behavior rather than the person.”
Be a Role Model
What to consider: Teenagers still consider their parents as role models, and parents need to act accordingly.
Perhaps you remember the days when your child was just a toddler who looked up to you. Maybe you danced around the room and your toddler reacted with laughter, or maybe your child would love to help you fold clothes. But as they grew older, you thought you were no longer someone they looked up to. In many cases, that’s not true.
Your teen knows what you’re up to and, oftentimes, emulates you in many ways. This is important to note that if your teen is paying attention, it would be a good idea for you to live up to being a role model. So, make positive changes and become the best role model you can be for your teen.
Your Teen Is Developing Independence
What to consider: Parents need to determine when a teen’s attitude is not tolerated.
Have you noticed that sometimes when you say something, your teenager rolls their eyes? Or you ask your teen to take out the trash, and the request is basically ignored. While outright disrespect should not be acceptable, your teen is in the midst of developing independence.
In fact, according to author Daniel Wong, the power struggle has always gone the parents’ way, and teens feel powerless, so they will take whatever shots they can, such as talking back or shrugging shoulders. Parents need to pick and choose their battles. With minor disrespect, it’s best to ignore it. However, if it becomes blatant rudeness, that should not be tolerated.
Set Clear Boundaries
What to consider: Parents should not flip-flop when it comes to setting boundaries.
It is very important for parents to set boundaries for their teens. According to Wong, the absence of boundaries is one of the most common causes of disrespect coming from teenagers. What needs to happen is the parents must set boundaries for their teens and stick with them.
Also, being inconsistent can also lead to disrespect for teenagers, according to Wong. For instance, if one parent says one thing but another parent says another thing, that undermines authority and teenagers will pounce on that in a heartbeat. The boundaries must be crystal clear, and parents need to have a united front when dealing with a terrible teen.
Don’t Make It Personal
What to consider: Parents should know when they’re getting caught up in their own emotions.
Parents are human beings who have emotions and feelings like everyone else. Teenagers know this, and they try to push their buttons any chance they can get. The classic get-under-your-skin tactic used by teens is they tell their parents that they hate them. For some, that is a stab to the heart.
Don’t fall into that trap, parents. Do not ever make this fight personal. You love your teen, and you’ll be there for him or her no matter what. Focus on that rather than the negative stuff coming out of your teen’s mouth. Instead, Adam Price, Ph.D., recommends that you “give it some time and approach [them] later when a productive conversation is more likely to happen."
Avoid Unnecessary Arguments
What to consider: Parents should recognize the back-and-forth arguing and take a step back.
Dealing with a terrible teenager as a parent can easily lead to petty arguments. This should be avoided. Picture it now: You ask your teen to clean up their room, and they do not respond. The ball is rolling, and you get angry and threaten restriction. Now, your teen is upset and yells that they hate you. Then, you yell back that if they don’t get it done, it’s two weeks! Are you getting the point?
So, all that was accomplished was two sides locking heads and getting nowhere fast. Some good advice by Robert Taibbi, a licensed clinical social worker, is to realize your teen is struggling, that they can’t win, and the parent needs to be quiet when the argument escalates. Your teen will try to drag you back into the argument, but resist that temptation. Continue to listen, but once things settle down, have a reasonable talk with your teen to make things better.
Some Things Can Be Left Unsaid
What to consider: Parents need to be aware of the trigger phrases coming from their teen.
Here is another trap for parents set by your teenager. This is what Wong calls the “you are” and “you should” statements. They lead to what we’re trying to avoid in the first place … arguments. The teen says “you are mean” and the parent says “you should get off your phone and do your homework,” and then we’re off and running.
This doesn’t do anyone any good. According to Wong, you should use statements like “when you ignore my request or shout at me, I feel disrespected.” That could resonate with your teen who also feels disrespected. Now, you have a springboard toward a normal conversation.
Watch for Mood Swings
What to consider: If a teen’s mood swings become more frequent and out of control, further measures may be in store.
One of the big frustrations for parents is enduring their teenagers’ mood swings. Parents don’t know what to expect from their teens. Mood swings seem to come out of left field, and parents don’t know how to cope with this. Suddenly, there is anger and shouting, and then it gives way to depression for teens.
In some cases, this could be normal teenage behavior driven by hormonal fluctuations. But dramatic mood swings can become more frequent and can cause impairment. In that case, parents are urged to have their teen evaluated by a mental health professional to see if a mood disorder is taking place.
Experimenting With Alcohol and Drugs
What to consider: Pay attention to see if your teenager is showing signs of potential drug and alcohol abuse.
One of the most important issues dealing with a terrible teenager is whether they are starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol. According to the University of Michigan Health, teens turn to drugs and alcohol because they want to fit in with their friends, they like the way it makes them feel, and they believe it makes them more grown-up.
So, it’s important for parents to see the signs. Some of them may include problems in school like a drop in grades or skipping class. If their eyes are red and they’re overly tired, those are clear signs of marijuana use. Maybe your teen is hanging out with new friends who can care less about school.
Those are just some signs that can lead to terrible teen behavior. Talk to your teen about what’s going on. Encourage positive discussion between you and your teen and don’t be a harsh judge, or you may drive your teen further away from the family. If you’re unsure of what to do, consult a professional to see what is the best course.
An Emphasis on Friends
What to consider: Showing disrespect toward the parents can be a sign that friends are more important than parents.
Hanging out with the wrong crowd can lead to terrible teen behavior. Your teen is at a point where friends play a big part in his or her lives, and friends could have a big influence over what choices are made. Not all friends are bad influences; some friendships could even be the beginning of a lifelong bond.
However, the wrong crowd can also play a part in your teen’s bad behavior. HelpGuide reports that red flags include a sudden change in a peer group (especially if it encourages bad behavior), refusing to comply with reasonable rules and lying. That’s just the beginning.
As a result, you may need to do more than attempt a civil conversation with your teen. You should consider consulting with a professional to see what can be done to get your teen back on a positive track.
Find a Connection With Your Troubled Teen
What to consider: Seeking to bond with your troubled teen can be tough but well worth the effort.
Dealing with a troubled teen is bad enough, much less trying to find a connection. Yet, this is something a parent must do. Shutting each other off, going to each other’s corners and ignoring the problem are the worst things that can happen.
Even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface, your teen still wants your love and approval. Given that knowledge, make attempts to sit down with your teen and just have an old-fashioned discussion on what’s going on with your teen’s life. Take the stress out of the discussion and just go with it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out that you have more influence over your teen than you thought.
Manage Your Own Anger
What to consider: If parents feel like their blood is boiling, take a step back and cool down.
We’ve been talking quite a bit about how to deal with a terrible teen’s anger, but what about the anger of the parents? They are not immune from shouting at their terrible teens, but it's very important for parents to get a grip on their anger the best they can. According to Laura Markham, Ph.D., “The most important thing to remember about anger is not to act while you're angry.”
You think you need to make a quick response or a snap judgment to what your teen is saying, but that’s the anger talking. Instead, Markham suggests you commit to no hitting, swearing, calling names or determining the punishment. A quick response is not necessary since the teen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
Reduce Screen Time
What to consider: Monitor your teen as to how much time is spent on the internet, and set some rules.
Terrible teens often use the internet as a way to escape from conflict in the household. They would rather play games instead of doing their homework or getting some needed rest. Perhaps they would rather text friends instead of having family time.
Thanks to the pandemic, we are more reliant on the internet. For your teen, a lot of more emphasis on schoolwork is done online. Nevertheless, constant use of screen time isn’t going to solve the friction between you and your teen.
So, set boundaries as to how much screen time is allowed, and make sure, if homework is due online, that it's getting done. You can give him or her some playtime online, but make sure it’s not at the expense of family time and school performance.
What to consider: Living a more active life will help your teenager deal with negative issues.
It’s clear that a troubled teenager is having self-esteem issues. One way to deal with that is to encourage your teen to exercise. HelpGuide recommends that just a little exercise can help a teen in many ways, such as easing depression, boosting energy and mood, relieving stress and improving self-esteem.
Now, the problem is getting your teen to exercise. Perhaps playing video games is all your teen wants to do. You can use this to your advantage by encouraging your teen to play games based on activities or “exergames” in which your teen needs to stand up and move around. Such activities can include simulating skateboarding, playing soccer or dancing.
Thus, when this type of exercise becomes a routine, your teen can go outside and do these activities for real. Instead of dreading each day, your teen might actually have a better outlook on life.
What to consider: Teenagers are at the stage of their lives where healthy eating is paramount.
Good eating habits can help your terrible teen in so many ways. Your teen’s body is changing, and it’s very important that he or she establishes healthy eating habits. Research has shown that teens can cope much better with stress as well as manage their emotions with healthy eating.
Typically, a teen will respond better to an eating schedule that includes meals and snacks. However, there are those times when a teen will turn to sweets away from home, and that will be a challenge for parents to monitor. Still, if your teen is home for family meals, an occasional sweet is a good reward, and you’re rewarded with a healthy teen.
Don’t Forget About the Importance of Sleep
What to consider: Parents should see the signs of whether their teen is actually getting enough rest.
When your teen shuts his or her door for the night, does that mean your teen is getting the proper sleep? Maybe, maybe not. If your teen is sleep deprived, a lot of problems will surface, including stress, being irritable, weight issues, memory, concentration and other problems.
In fact, a typical teen should be getting from eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. If not, the parent needs to pull the plug on TVs, computers and devices since the light from those devices will keep the brain alert when it should be resting. A good suggestion at bedtime from HelpGuide is for the teen to listen to light music or even audiobooks.
Dealing With Divorce
What to consider: Kids often have a rough time dealing with divorce, so parents need to ease their concerns and communicate.
All too often, parents go through a divorce, and the ones who are stuck in the middle are the kids. How youngsters relate to a divorce can run the gambit. For instance, a terrible teen can lash out at parents and be driven even more by friends who are bad influences.
Indeed, this is not a healthy situation for the kids. What parents need to do is sit the kids down and tell them this is not their fault. Tell your kids that you love them and will always be involved in their lives; mom and dad just won’t be together. Have a healthy discussion, and come away knowing that the parents’ special bond with the kids still remains, and if they have any questions or problems, please speak up. Communication is the most important thing for kids when their parents divorce, and that can ease the pain somewhat.
Single Parents Should Seek Help
What to consider: Don’t change the rules with your teenager just because you are now a single parent.
Now, the question is how do you deal with a terrible teenager as a single parent. One thing is how involved the other parent is, such as seeing kids after school or on weekends, or is there even another parent? A single parent could feel like an island all by itself, and a terrible teen is there to pounce on the fact that the single parent is in a vulnerable place.
The one thing a single parent should understand is if you’ve been giving sound guidance before the divorce, stick to it. If the teen becomes more rebellious, exercise the rules and give out punishment consistent with what you’ve been doing in the past. Also, single parents should seek out help, maybe from a professional or even a friend, to help them get through these tough times and become even stronger than before.
Remember the Other Children
What to consider: Parents should make a concerted effort to spend time with the other kids to prevent bitter feelings.
Let’s face it, those terrible teens can suck the life out of you. And all the while, standing in the background are your other kids.
Although not intentional, your other kids will resent the fact that the parents are focusing on the terrible teen. Parents need to avoid this situation, or things will get worse around the household. Communicate to your other children that you love them, and you will always be there for them. Make sure you talk about things like how school was or if they have any problems of their own. It’s a lot to cover, but no one ever said being a parent is a picnic.
Praise Good Behavior
What to consider: When your teen does something good, parents need to seize the opportunity for positive reinforcement.
As a parent, you have dwelled so much on the negative that that’s all you expect from your terrible teen. But, according to an article in Middle Earth, when a positive moment presents itself, giving your teen a compliment or just a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
However, make sure you don’t fall back into a negative trap, jumping on his or her back for doing something wrong. If you come on strong with your teen for something gone wrong, your teen will wonder whether or not they should try at all. Instead, your encouraging words can be a big boost for a troubled teen, and continuing to praise good behavior will reinforce a positive relationship.
What to consider: When a parent acts like a mentor, a teen can get solutions on how to get out of a bad spot.
It’s difficult for teens to try to solve their problems on their own. They will give it their best effort, but sometimes, they just can't get the right answer, which can lead to frustration and anger.
This is where a parent needs to step in and be a teacher. The best advice from Middle Earth is to wait until things calm down and review with your teen how to solve this problem differently the next time. Allow your teen to capitalize on your life experience to help with his or her difficulties.
Furthermore, acting out means there is probably an underlying problem. For instance, classwork is getting tough, and the teen will automatically shut down and not do the homework. Help your teen develop new skills to help them solve their problems. Your teen will appreciate it.
Focus on One Behavior
What to consider: A terrible teen can hit parents from different directions, but parents must not try to solve everything at once.
There might be times when your troubled teen acts defiantly in all kinds of ways. Trying to address all of these acts at once can be brutal for parents, so just take it one problem at a time.
Parents need to try and focus on the specific areas that really bother them first and go from there in an effort to reach the right solutions.
This Won’t Last Forever
What to consider: The turmoil between parents and the terrible teen is only temporary and should end when he or she enters adulthood.
It might seem like an eternity fighting with a terrible teen, but both parents and teen need to know that the pain and suffering they are feeling now should go away — eventually.
Take it from an article appearing on HelpGuide that with love and support and the possibility of professional help, this situation will not last forever. Your teen can overcome whatever problems are taking place and, with some guidance that we’ve already mentioned, your terrible teen will blossom into a happy, well-balanced young adult.