Updated on January 25, 2023
How to Deal with a Troubled Teen Behavior Without “Pushing Your Teenager Away”
Parents of teenagers don’t need to be told that raising teens is like trying to find the exit to an elaborate maze. You think you have made the right decision over and over again but always find yourself facing a dead end. So, you turn around and try another path and boom! There’s that dead end again.
I know. As the parent of two teens, I’ve been lost in that maze many times. In fact, I wandered desperately through that maze for years, struggling to learn as much as I could about troubled teen behavior and how to differentiate between normal and abnormal adolescent behavior. I researched risk factors of troubled teens online, went to counseling sessions with my children, and gained deep insight into adolescent mental health issues.
Although it was the hardest six years of my life, I’m happy to tell you that all my hard work paid off. My teens are now successful young adults earning college degrees and focusing on their life goals.
Here is my advice for parents of teenagers in trouble. I sincerely hope it provides valuable guidance for you when making decisions about how to help your troubled teen.
What Could Be Troubling Your Teen?
Parents are well aware of the physical changes teens experience between the ages of 11 and 15. However, parents are often less knowledgeable about the dramatic developments affecting the adolescent brain.
Research shows that your teen’s brain is actually being reorganized to accommodate the transition to adulthood. During this transition, the area of the brain that governs impulse control, decision-making, and higher-order thinking is smaller than the area that governs reward, sensation-seeking, and gratification impulses.
Combine adolescent brain changes with the social and physical transformations taking place in a teen’s life and you are left with a child vulnerable to mental and emotional problems aggravated by peer pressure, academic pressure, and the desire to exert their independence from their parents.
Every parent has wondered at some point–is my child simply acting like a normal teen or is it something else? When is moodiness a reason for concern? Should I worry if my teen disobeys a curfew for the first time? What should I do if I suspect my teen is using drugs?
Before deciding what to do about troubled teenage behavior, parents should objectively screen themselves and their teenagers for the following risk factors:
- Do you discipline your teen consistently? Lack of discipline, excessively permissive discipline, or overly harsh discipline may confuse and alienate your child.
- Has the family experienced, or is currently experiencing, stressful events such as divorce, parental separation, the death of a close relative, or financial instability?
- Has the teen been the victim of bullying at school?
- Has your child always struggled with schoolwork?
- Does mental illness run in your family, whether it is depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia?
This is a general list of risk factors that could promote behavioral issues with your teenager. Environmental factors such as living in high-risk neighborhoods where drugs are readily available and gang activity exists are known contributors to distressed teens. Living with family members who are drug addicts, alcoholics, or offenders also increases the chance of troubled teen behavior.
5 Pieces of Advice from a Parent Who’s Been There, Tried That, and Found What Works
After carefully evaluating my parenting style, I realized I was both inconsistent and too permissive in doling out discipline to my teens. Trying to be the “cool” parent by allowing a 14-year-old to stay out until 2:00 am is a terribly misguided approach to parenting naturally rebellious adolescents.
Just as inappropriate to disciplining a younger teenager is sometimes disciplining them for disobeying you and sometimes letting them get away with staying out too late or letting them slide with Cs and Ds in school. Consistency is the key to raising a teenager who respects parental authority and boundaries.
1. Stop, Take a Deep Breath, and Reframe Your Child’s Situation
If your child acts resentful and angry frequently, doesn’t want to come to dinner with the rest of the family, or refuses to do their chores, stop yourself from raising your voice and saying something you later regret. Instead, shift your perspective from how you are viewing this situation to the perspective of your teen.
Do you know of anything that is triggering your child’s disruptive behavior? Did your teen recently break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend? Teens don’t act out unless something is driving them to act out. They are either angry about something, sad about something, confused about something, or afraid of something. The only way you will find out why your teen seems troubled is by asking them.
2. Make Sure Your Child Knows the Rules. Parents–Stick to Those Rules!
Parents who dish out discipline without rhyme or reason are making it incredibly difficult for their teens to follow the rules. For example, I never told my 14 and 16-year-old teenagers they were not allowed to hang out with 20-year-olds. When I found out they had attended a party teeming with college-aged kids, I literally had a stroke. In fact, I immediately grounded them for a week.
“You never told us we weren’t allowed to hang out with older kids”! my 16-year-old informed me.
She was right.
3. Have Date Nights with Your Teen
Whether planned or spontaneous, spending fun times with your teen by going to the movies, eating at their restaurant of choice, or enjoying a shopping spree, are some of the best ways to strengthen the bond between you and your child. This gives you a chance to steer conversations toward topics that interest your teen and can give you insight into what makes your teen “tick”.
Never force your teen to go somewhere with you that they do not want to go. You can try connecting with your teen at home by making popcorn and watching a scary movie, giving their bedroom a complete makeover (with their input), or asking them to help you set up a social media account of your own.
Struggling with Your Teenager's Behavior?
Are you struggling to find a way to help your teen's out-of-control behavior, even after trying therapy? Are you worried sick about their future?
Out-of-control behavior is frightening and discouraging for parents. Watching your teen's negative behavior lead them away from a bright future can be heartbreaking. But it doesn't have to stay that way.
Consider a residential therapeutic treatment program. It could be the key to unlocking your child's potential and teaching them the responsibility they need to live a better life.
4. Think Before You ACT
Parents are not perfect and nobody should expect them to be. We make mistakes and we learn from our mistakes. However, parents should always consider their kids before they engage in potentially questionable behavior.
From the age of two, children watch and listen to adult behavior with the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a mouse. Your child is aware of everything you say and do because they look at you and other authoritative figures as role models. They see what you do and think it is something all adults do. They hear what you say and think it is something all adults say.
Taking a moment to examine your behavior from your teen’s point of view may give you the answers you need to help your troubled teen.
5. When Was the Last Time You Told Your Child You Loved Them?
The more time you spend with your teenager, the more special moments will emerge that present the perfect time to let your child know how much you love them and want only the best for them. Sometimes, a simple “I love you” is all it takes for a child to open up to a parent about their fears, anxieties, and insecurities.
When Should a Parent Seek Professional Help?
Warning signs of a seriously troubled teen who needs crisis treatment include:
- Repeated encounters with law enforcement
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Aggressive or blatantly violent behavior
- Self-harming behavior
- Threatening others with physical harm
- Showing no empathy or remorse for hurting others
Teens with these issues may be diagnosed with severe personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. They may need inpatient treatment at an addiction recovery center for teens. They may be harboring suicidal thoughts and need immediate crisis counseling.
When my advice for parents of teenagers in trouble doesn’t help, don’t hesitate to contact experienced professionals who work with troubled teens.