Ten Tips for Parenting Difficult Teenagers

Are you raising one or more of the estimated 33 million teenagers in the United States? If so, you might be riding an emotional rollercoaster—you and your teen. Have patience and perspective, and keep in mind most teenagers turn out fine. In the meantime, here are 10 tips to help struggling teenagers overcome their difficulties.

1) Look in the Mirror. When dealing with a troubled teenager, a good place for parents to start is with themselves. Are rules too harsh? Are expectations too high? Maybe there is hypocrisy between your behavior and what you expect of your children. Perhaps you’re guilty of neglecting your teen. By taking an honest inventory of where you stand and what you can improve on as a parent, you can get a better understanding of where to go. Despite your best intentions, your parenting skills might be contributing to the problem instead of fixing it.

2) Choose Your Battles. Put behavior in perspective, and you can save yourself some grief. While it’s vital to have standards, decide what is important and what isn’t. Parents are concerned about appearances but should remember that teenagers crave “fitting in.” So while you might not enjoy your boy’s long hair, if he’s behaving appropriately his appearance isn’t critical. When lines are crossed, a confrontational approach rarely works. Instead, it allows your teen to test their resolve. The best approach is a non-threatening discussion about behavior.

3) Act like an Adult. Model adult behavior with your struggling child. Show self-discipline. Don’t accuse, blame, or take offense. If you raise your voice or call them names, they will likely respond similarly. When you treat your teenager with respect, you not only set a positive example, but it’s easier to expect the same behavior in return.

4) Keep Communicating. Communication is vital in any relationship—especially with teens. Parents tend to talk to their children less as they get older, but just the opposite should be the norm. Take time to talk daily, and when possible, on a one-on-one basis. Ask your teenager questions, seek their opinions, and remember that effective communication involves active listening. When appropriate, share your opinion: Research shows that when parents clearly tell them not to, teenagers are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, or have premarital sex.

5) Discipline Effectively. If something unacceptable happens, act quickly and decisively. Some of the difficulty with enforcing rules can be lessened with a Home Rules Contract:

  • Include your teen in establishing rules and consequences for breaking them.
  • Outline the privileges allowed for obedience.
  • Put them in writing.
  • Make sure your spouse and the child involved agree to the terms.
  • Set a date for renegotiation. Revisions to the contract should be allowed, but not until a set amount of time has passed.
  • Have your teenager sign the contract.

Be sure that the consequences are logical and fair and have a strong enough deterrent. When enforcing rules, one of the hardest things for parents to maintain is consistency. Make sure you follow through on upholding rules and implementing discipline.

6) “Love” is spelled T-I-M-E. Make sure you give your teen quality, and as much as possible, quantity time. Set aside specific time to spend together. Find something you enjoy doing together. Get to know what your child’s interests are, even if it doesn’t captivate you: what movies do they like? What music do they enjoy? Taking time together allows you to be together in a non-threatening, non-heated situation. Too often the only time parents and teens interact is when they’re in an argument. By spending time together, you create connections that will help you get through the hard times.

7) Know the Parents of your Teen’s Friends. Talk to your teens regularly about their choice of friends. Get to know them and their parents. When your teen brings a new friend over, get their parent’s names and contact information and call and introduce yourself. As your children spend more time together, you can communicate with the other parent about your rules and expectations. You will soon find out which parents you can trust to watch your child and which don’t have their best interests at heart.

8) Find the Right Resources. Parents, you’re not alone. Seek out the support and advice of other parents, many of whom have dealt with or are currently dealing with struggling teens. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, and church leaders can provide sage counsel and support during tough times. You might also locate a local support group dedicated to parents of troubled teens. If you feel it’s necessary, look into a treatment center or a boarding school: such an environment might provide the support, structure, and discipline your teen needs. Make sure to do your homework if you’re considering this option. Standards of care at such facilities vary.

9) Play the Waiting Game. In some cases, problems take care of themselves. It’s human nature to rush to fix something that’s broken, but don’t overreact to certain behaviors by instituting more rules or handing down punishment. Depending on the nature of the issue, the simple passage of time could resolve the problem.

10) Don’t Give Up. Don’t ever give up on your child. Be patient. While they might seem resentful and irritated, teenagers want to be loved, especially those that are struggling. Sensing that you’re giving up might push them even further into trouble. They shouldn’t ever feel that “nobody cares about me so why does it matter?”

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