According to the American Psychological Association, parenting a teenager is the most challenging of all parental years. For parents who are rearing difficult teenagers, the entire experience could be marked by frustrations, disappointments, and feelings of hopelessness. But it isn’t only the parents who are having a hard time because a teenager’s difficult behavior suggests that he or she is going through a tough season in life as well.
Erik Erikson’s theory on Psychosocial Development suggests that adolescents are confronted by the developmental task of “Identity versus Role Confusion.” It is during this time that teenagers are trying to establish their identity and develop a sense of self. Hence, we can observe teenagers consecutively going through different phases and following multiple trends and fads.
Teenagers’ difficult and errant behavior can be attributed to the exploration of their new-found independence. They are at a struggling point in their lives where they are expected to act like adults but are continually treated as children. Going home to a family that does not understand what the teenager is going through could aggravate the already problematic behavior.
Here are five tips you can consider on how to deal with a difficult teenager:
1. Avoid getting physical. A lot of parents result to force when trying to discipline their children. Doing this will only make your child label you as an antagonist that he or she needs to get away from. This will make the struggle for independence more pronounced and uncontrollable. Contain your anger before confronting a troubling situation.
2. Avoid uttering insulting and degrading words. Teenagers are more sensitive to the labels associated with them at this time. The use of harsh language could lead them to two things: depression and rebellion. Because they bear the feeling of being unwanted and unloved, they would tend to cling to other people who could offer a sense of belongingness and acceptance. Make your words of loving correction than of destructive rebuke.
3. Impose reasonable rules and limitations. This part is a bit tricky because parents and teenagers might have clashing interpretations of what is and isn’t reasonable. Remember that your child is in a stage of discovery. Set rules that would still allow room for the exercise of independence. The most effective rules are those that have the element of compromise, so try to negotiate sensible and effective terms with your teenager.
4. Hold accountability for deviant behavior. At this point, It is very important to not let an offense go unpunished to prevent its recurrence. Sit your teenager down and make him or her understand what the penalties are for what you consider as improper behavior. In case an offense is committed regardless of the knowledge of its corresponding consequence, your teenager will feel less spiteful when he or she is held responsible for it.
5. Know who your teenager’s friends are. Peer pressure is most rampant during these years, and knowing who your adolescent spends time with will enable you to protect him or her. Being associated with the wrong crowd is something that all parents do not want for their children. Watch out for signs that merit you a reason to do an intervention.
Richard Finn is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He provides counseling and therapy services and conducts relationship seminars in Los Angeles.