I didn’t feel particularly close to my parents growing up. It isn’t that they were bad parents. I just felt little to no connection a lot of the time… like they simply didn’t understand me. Reflecting back on my teenage years, I remember a lot of striving to discover who I am and to carve my own path. I had many teenage behavior issues. I screwed up… a lot! I more than tested the boundaries in place. Surely I can’t be the only one??? There is so much that happens in our teenage years. Looking back, I was a typical teen. Hormones fluctuate. There is pressure to figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. There is peer pressure, the pressure to fit in, the pressure to do well, and so on.
When it came to discipline, my parents typically played one of two roles: 1) The disciplinarian attempting to smack or verbally knock the behavior away or 2) The saint that attempts to guilt the heck out of the undesired behavior and does everything possible to try to convince us that certain behaviors were just downright wrong. I realize now that the role I craved my parents to take was that of the listener. Make no mistake… behavior is a way of communicating. Russel Barkley stated, “The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.” Having been a testy teenager myself and now being a teacher for 20 years and a parent to 4 children of my own, I couldn’t agree with him more!
The reality is that our teenagers, whether well-behaved or not, are expected to be ready to live on their own around the age of 18. No, they don’t have to move out, but the expectation is that a typical teen could if they needed to. It’s our job as parents to protect them, but it’s also our job to make sure they have what it takes to recover when life knocks them down. As parents, we also are to help our children learn to recover from mistakes that are made. As much as it can seem so in the moment, a mistake or bad behavior does not define who our children are. It’s all part of growing up!
Connecting with and listening to your teenager is crucial when it comes to managing behavior.
Here are some tips to help you manage teenage behavior issues:
Be Patient: Your Teen’s Brain is Not Fully Developed.
The brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 or so. Recognizing that the rational part of the brain isn’t yet fully developed and that teenagers tend to feel invincible can help to remain patient with them as parents. Consequences to actions aren’t always thought out. You may wish to say a mantra to yourself at times such as, “My child is still developing. We will get through this.”
Schedule Time to Connect
All children need to know they matter. Take your teenager out on a scheduled 1-1 outing on a regular basis. Knowing there is always time for them in your calendar is meaningful and will be remembered well into the adult years! It can be driving to and from a game and stopping for ice cream, going for a walk, going to a movie, a lunch date, the spa… any of these tell them that they matter as individuals. Check out some ways to help you reconnect with your child.
Target Behavior Rather Than the Individual When Disciplining
There are times when discipline needs to happen when dealing with teenage behavior issues. In doing so, it’s important to target the behavior and what is disliked rather than the individual. Just because the behavior is undesirable doesn’t make your child a bad teenager. There is a big difference between “You’re terrible” and “Your behavior was terrible.”
On the flip side, giving positive attention to desirable behavior is a great way to let our teens know that we don’t only notice them when they are misbehaving. It is great to see the good, too!
Listen and Take Deep Breaths
There will be times that us parents will ask our children questions and may hear answers that we don’t want to hear. In these moments, take deep breaths, thank them for sharing the information and/or for being honest, and do your best to remain calm. Conversations only take place when two people are civil. Our teens need to know they are loved even when they make mistakes. They can know we are disappointed and upset, but they also need to know that even though we may hate the behavior, it does not change the fact that we love them!
Let Them Know You’re There
Does your teen know they can call you if and when they are in trouble? I recently did an activity with grade 8 students. Only about ⅓ of them admitted that they would call their parents if in trouble. The other ⅔ of them said they knew they either wouldn’t call or weren’t sure. Yes, each child and each family is different, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a conversation with our teens and let them know we would be there for them no matter what!
Focus on What’s Right, Not on What’s Popular
Our teens know how to pull at our heartstrings when asking to do things. It is important that we make decisions based on what is right rather than what is popular with them. Sometimes the effort will be great to have them behave as we desire as their parent. It will be downright exhausting at times and parents will wonder if giving in will be easier. However, the effort needed to reinforce what is right will lessen with consistency from us. All kids do better when they know the expectations. If the expectations aren’t consistent, the behavior won’t be either.
It is so easy for our teens to isolate themselves and hide behind a bedroom door, behind a phone, in the basement playing video games, etc. Centralizing devices help to prevent this and also keeps our teens aware that there are other things happening in the home should they wish to take part.
Have a Home for Technology Each Evening
Up until our oldest turned 18, we had him hand in all devices by a certain time each night. Needless to say, this was NOT a popular decision with him. He frequently reminded us that no one else on Earth had to do that. Now that he is an adult, he understands. I can assure you that a lot happens online in the evenings. Working in the education system, I am continually amazed at the conversations, gaming, texting, bullying, etc. that takes place online in the middle of the night. There is pressure to answer these messages that are sent or these invitations to game. Schools and police are involved with online activity on a regular basis. For the protection of your child and the quality of his/her sleep, have those devices belong somewhere other than with your teen at night. I can guarantee you that, even though it may not be popular with your teenager, behavior issues will be more manageable with this rule in place. I know I’m much more pleasant myself when I’ve had my share of quality sleep! 😉
Needing the phone for an alarm clock is a common excuse. Here’s the solution: Take your teen shopping for an alarm clock. There are many options available for less than $20.
Get Outside as A Family
Nature does a great job of keeping us grounded. Going for a walk is a natural stress reliever. My kids can be fighting like cats and dogs yet somehow going out for some exercise has them calm again soon after leaving the house. Getting our teens outside with us for even 20 minutes can have great benefits.
Admit your own mistakes. Our teens need to know we are human, too. I personally screwed up a lot in my teenage years. One example of many I could share is that I nearly died of alcohol poisoning. I knew what I was doing was wrong when my friends and I raided a liquor cabinet. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway and drank WAY TOO MUCH! I woke up in the hospital with tubes coming out of my body. I thought I had been in a car accident. I had no idea why I was there. I have shared this story with my children amongst others that I’m truly not proud of. Where I knew this made a difference after sharing the story with my oldest when he was younger is that he felt comfortable calling us after having lied about what he was going to be doing and one of his friends experienced alcohol poisoning. That is something I wouldn’t have done. Calling my parents didn’t come to mind if I was worried I might get in trouble.
Have a Sense of Humor
There are times for every parent where parenting is simply overwhelming. A sense of humor is important. Schedule time to go out and vent if you need to with someone that you can laugh with. Reminisce about your own teenage behavior issues. Keeping a sense of humor can help parents get through a lot!
Take Care of Yourself
I believe the best gift parents can give to their teens is modeling the importance of self-care to them. Teaching our teens to take care of their physical, emotional, and mental well-being through modeling what this looks like to them will be invaluable as they grow. It will also help you to maintain a positive outlook on your teen’s behavior. Furthermore, you’ll be able to be there for your teen and help work through behavior much more when your own cup is full.
Dealing with Teenager Behavior Issues Summary
Our teens will try us at times with their behavior. Giving them the gifts of our time and the message that they matter and are important to us helps reduce teenage behavior issues. They will make mistakes and need to so they can learn to recover from them and pick themselves up afterward. This is a life skill that those teenage years are important for developing.
Be patient, see the unique individual within, and encourage growth. Like it or not, your teen is our future and couldn’t be more worth it!