In my previous blog post, Do You Have an Out of Control Teen?, I stated that the essential questions you need to worry about when questioning your teen’s behavior are:
- Are your teen’s actions morally wrong?
- Are your teen’s actions self-destructive?
- Are they harming anybody outside of themselves?
- Are there any real consequences that could adversely affect their life and/or future?
If you can answer a solid yes to any of those questions, then I’m glad you’re reading this.
First, let’s clarify a few things, “out of control” is a popular phrase among parenting “experts” and high school guidance counselors. However, “out of control” is not an adequate description of what your teen is going through or doing.
If they’re hurting themselves or somebody else, if they are self-sabotaging themselves, it is not only because they are in pain, are angry, or are frustrated, but also because they feel that they lack the language, security, or opportunity to express it.
This is one of the truths that stare us in the face every day despite our best efforts to ignore it: Healthy, well-balanced individuals don’t hurt themselves or other people.
If your teen is doing either of those things, then they have a problem.
As the person who is responsible to help guide your teen, you need to be active in helping them address these problems. You are already taking a great step, by reading this article and being open to the solutions presented here.
Let’s internalize what is going on with our teen, right now.
Think back on a time when you were angry.
- What were you angry about?
- Did someone say something insensitive to you?
- Were you late for an event because you couldn’t find your keys?
I guarantee that every single incident of anger and pain you’ve ever had is due to life feeling wrong or unfair. And the anger came from feeling like you were powerless to fix that unfairness or right that wrong.
- What happened when you didn’t address your anger?
- Did you walk around in a bad mood all day?
- Snap at your spouse?
- Drive angry?
- Devour an entire cheesecake by yourself?
- Did you do these things because you felt like you didn’t have any control over your situation?
You felt angry and you made poor choices because you felt you were unable to deal with what made you angry.
Why would your teen behave any differently?
The only difference between the two of you is that, you, as a parent, have had a small lifetime to learn how to manage your feelings and resolve your problems, whereas your child is just beginning to learn how.
As people, we try to forget painful experiences.
Yet, in order to empathize with your teen, you’re going to need to recall what it was like when you were first learning how to manage and properly acknowledge your emotions. You need to step into the shoes of your teen’s reality, and think about what would have helped you in those types of situations.
They need the benefit of your experience, without the harshness of judgement or criticism.
You need to give your children the tools and the safety to communicate with you when they’re angry about something and don’t know what to do.
If you open a conversation by condemning and shouting about whatever it is they’ve recently done, your teen will most likely shut you out.
The resulting “conversation” (if there is one) will be a lengthy monologue, you-to-them, instead of actually addressing the root of the problem.
When someone talks to you in this manner, do you actually listen or absorb anything being said?
I didn’t think so.
Well your teen is even more unlikely to listen to a lengthy lecture on their behavior, if this is the way you approach the subject
[For some additional guidance on talking to your teen, and how to know if you’re giving them the most effective and fulfilling attention, please read my article How to Talk to Your Teen.]
Also, if you’re angry about something your child has done and you yell at them for it, ask:
- Why are you yelling?
- You’re angry, right?
- Why are you angry?
Because something is wrong, and you feel powerless to fix it.
Begin to identify behavior that your child is mirroring—remember, you are their greatest teacher, mentor, and example. You cannot solve a problem by doing the same thing that your teen is!
A teenager who is making poor choices is bound to attract the attention of a guardian, parent, or mentor who cares about them.
So the first question you need to ask is: How much positive attention am I giving to my teen? How often do I see them and get to talk to them, outside of when I discipline them? Are they acting out to get my attention?
Have I given them positive reinforcement to encourage them to act appropriately and help them guide and develop their decision making skills?
If the answers to these questions are yes, the next question is:
Why wouldn’t they come to me and say “Mom, Dad, I feel like you aren’t paying attention to me, I don’t feel like we’re very close, and there are times where I’m not sure if I can trust you to listen to what I have to say without judging me.”
I’m paraphrasing of course.
The point is that your teen doesn’t feel like communicating with you directly was an option, or they feel as if it wouldn’t help them reach the goal they have. Why is that?
If you’re only interacting with them when they do something you don’t like, guess what? They’re likely going to resent you.
If they can’t directly express the anger they feel towards you, they might start acting “out of control”.
This situation may not apply to you directly. Maybe you feel like for the most part you have a great relationship with your kid. But this could apply to other people in their lives, such as teachers, acquaintances, siblings, or friends. It baffles you why your kid is great to you, but horrible around these other people.
If that’s the case, you need to bring it back to basics. What could cause that trigger? How can I help my teen deal with a lack of trust or acceptance from someone else?
How can I help them to build their self esteem, so that they are strong enough to act courteously even if the other person is detestable to them? I have several articles that you can read right now to help you with guiding your teen’s development and problem resolving skills (and in fact, my 4 Weeks to Connect With Your Teen program that you can purchase to aid you in these tasks).
When you’re young, every single problem can feel like an unclimbable mountain, every moment of distress is the end of the world.
You have to teach your teen and show him/her how to deal with these negative feelings before they start controlling them.
It is essential for your teen’s success (and a fulfilled relationship with them) that you help your teen learn the art of responding, rather than reacting, to situations and people.
This is truly empowering your teen to take control of their lives, and accomplish anything they put hard work into.
The first step in this journey is always, always, always communication.
Allowing them the space to share, not you communicating what the problem is. Every problem and every crisis is big inside of our heads. It’s only when we talk about it, when we spell it out, that we can find our answers.
It is your job, as a parent, to help your kids navigate the waters of learning and discovery.
And remember, this is the greatest journey of both your lives! Enjoy it, and celebrate the great milestones of their development and your relationship!
Need to talk to someone about your teen? Take a moment to speak with me personally on a 100% FREE Personal Discovery Session. I’ve spent over 20 years mentoring parents and teens, so take this opportunity to join me today!
Debra Beck is a devoted mother, sought-after presenter, author, and has spent over 20 years working with teens and their parents. She’s helped thousands of teen girls develop their self-esteem through her blog, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and mother-daughter retreats.
Her award-winning book My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself was revised and updated for re-release in September 2011 with Beaufort Books.