Encouraging Your Troubled Teen

This question sounds straightforward enough. BUT, in all honesty, it can cover a multitude of issues and the answers are not an exact science. This space is intended to give you a new perspective and helpful suggestions that can be used in many situations.

First of all, you know your bundle of joy, who at this point, is a person with facets of you as well as some traits you don’t recognize in the slightest. Equally as important, you know your own parental history that lies within the equation. Some parents have dumped every ounce of money and time from early months with Little Einstein, carted their squirming child to and from every sport and extracurricular activity offered with a well-balanced set of circumstances at home.

On the other hand, some of us have struggled with traumatic life situations and relationship issues of our own, making this parenting journey a bumpy twist of trails. Life is simply not fair.

Most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle of those extremes as parents. We long to meet our child’s needs and do our best, given the stressors we face. That is why simply giving a heap of advice is something you can find anywhere.

Here, you can be real with yourself. Devote yourself to pre-intervention work. If we want to achieve a different state in any area of our lives, we first must start with an idea of where we are. Find that star on your map that describes “Where am I?”. Only you really know that. It could be different than what your spouse or partner perceives and different than you would like to admit. Describe your current relationship with your child and then list the events in life you have tackled together. Has your relationship been strained for long periods of time or perhaps recently?

Now, describe the relationship you long for with your child. What would that specifically look like? What behaviors would you see in yourself and your child? Next, define the values you hold most dear that you want to transfer to your child. For example, I may want my daughter to show responsibility, respect for authority, and demonstrate a strong work ethic so that she can be a well-rounded citizen and have a meaningful, productive career. I hope she will develop strong social skills so that she can enjoy life with friends or co-workers, and have a family of her own.

Your next step is envisioning the roadmap that will lead you and your teen to that destination. You already have a desire to constantly improve yourself or you would not waste time researching. Define the specific behaviors that interfere with those values. For example, arguing, talking back, throwing a temper tantrum when asked to take out the garbage, or refusing to do homework or set the table.

Now you can break down each behavior and line it up with your parenting goals. Let’s take arguing. You may have written that you would like your son to be able to have stimulating employment that will bring him a solid income and enjoyment in life. If your child possesses at least average intelligence, they are likely engaging in a behavior that is habitual and rewarding.

Mother and teenage daughter having an argument

What often sparks this behavior is the attention or control that engagement with you provides. Your child may even get their way when arguing because the whole business wears us flat out. Giving in is one of those things that sets us back, but is so understandable. The problem with launching into an argument with your teen is that it may not align with your goals. If you do in fact, want him to follow directions from his teachers, instructors in college and ultimately his boss; he has to learn to accept your answer, directions, or learn to discuss it appropriately and then accept your final decision.

So the first step is teaching the behavior you are looking for. Using “I” statements are helpful such as: When you respond to me by raising your voice and asking why you have to do what I have asked, I feel disrespected and you show that you have not learned a skill you will need in life. Then explain a more mature way to respond to your direction that is respectful and within your values. Next time, he argues, prompt the new response possibly saying something like: “Remember how to speak to me with respect?”

Not engaging with an argumentative teen is an effective strategy that will obviously cause a rise in the behavior at first. When you ignore, walk away, or direct your attention elsewhere, eventually it will reduce and stop. Some parents find that a good deterrent to disrespect or arguing is to implement a consequence in conjunction with ignoring. That should be something you explain in advance such as, when you show me disrespect by arguing you will lose your cell phone privileges. When the consequences exceed the reward they enjoyed from exhibiting the behavior, they will likely give up the fight. Kids do what works in order to keep balance in their lives, just as we do.

Father and son playing video games.

Other tips you can try: Keep calm. Do not go into long explanations, especially during a tantrum or your target behavior (they are not able to comprehend at that point), and wait for a state of calm to discuss the matter. Remember you and your child are not perfect and don’t have to be. Admit when you make mistakes and model the interactions you want with others in your home. Have fun! Make sure you laugh and enjoy something with your child so your connection grows stronger. The path to change is slow and sometimes uphill so give yourself credit for trying anything new and give two or three weeks of consistency before considering other options. Keep your child engaged in extracurricular activities when possible and consider volunteering in your community together. That act may hit one of your values and add a check mark in your column of respect for yourself as well.

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