Changing behaviour in teenagers

If your relationship with your son or daughter has changed or their behaviour is causing problems in your family, at school or even with the police you might be wondering how this happened. Blaming yourself or others will leave you feeling guilty, angry, powerless or all three. To truly take a first step you need to take a good, hard look at the problems and the situation before you can decide what to do next.

We’ve put together some questions for you to think about. Answer as honestly as you can. Every family will be different so this may leave you with even more questions. That’s ok, this is a time to think and understand. What you do about it will come next.

You may want to do this on your own first and then repeat the activity involving your teenager and other family members. You may discover that you share an understanding of the issues or you all may see it very differently. Either way it will help you understand and appreciate each other’s viewpoint.

What exactly is the problem?

  • Try to think back to how the problems have developed over time.
  • Do the problems you face today have a history?
  • Think about a time before the problems started?
  • When is the problem worse?
  • When is it better?

Problems rarely arrive in our lives suddenly or out of the blue. Try to think back, imagine you were describing your situation to an old friend you hadn’t seen for a while. What would you say? Or you may be able to pinpoint an event or episode that triggered the difficulties.

Most importantly, look for exceptions, times or situations where the problems seem to get better or even disappear.

What is your relationship like?

  • What has happened to your relationship with your teenager?
  • When is your relationship good or good enough to talk or spend time together?
  • What makes your relationship difficult or get worse?
  • Try to think about a time when you and your teenager had a good relationship, how was it different?
  • Do you find yourself facing difficulties alongside each other or meeting them head on in constant battles?

Your relationship with your son or daughter is key and may be suffering as a result. But small changes can make a big difference and healing this relationship is central to resolving the problems you face. Remember, as parents we don’t have to be perfect.

How does it affect your family?

  • What is the impact on your family?
  • Who is most affected?
  • Who is least affected?
  • Who has the most influence on your teenager?
  • What about the wider family - what do they think, say or do?

Think about the impact on your family dynamic as a whole, especially siblings and your partner and wider family members. How involved do they get or are they detached and removed? Everyone responds differently to family problems so what has happened to yours?

Who and what helps?

  • Why now? What has prompted you to get help right now?
  • What have you tried already?
  • What helped, how did it help?
  • What was less helpful? Can you think why?

You’ve probably tried most things. Teenagers don’t come with a handbook so taking the time to assess what helps and what doesn’t will make sure you don’t keep repeating the things that didn’t work and you can do more of the things that do.

Who else is involved?

  • Who else is already involved? School, college, your GP, police, social care?
  • What are they doing to help or support you?
  • How much do they know?
  • How much support is for you and how much is for your teenager?
  • Do you get support from family and friends?

Are you dealing with it completely alone, are too many people involved or is the balance just right? It can be hard to ask for help but getting the right support for the right problem is vitally important. It may be close friends, family or more professional help but remember: you are the parent and probably know your family better than anyone else.

What else is going on?

  • What else may be happening in your life?
  • What other concerns or worries do you have currently?
  • What concerns or worries does your teenager have currently?

Your teenager may not be the only thing you have to worry about. So what else is having an impact on family life right now or even in the past? Remember your teenager will probably have worries about their own future, school or college, friendships and relationships.

Many teenagers will also worry about their parents too, especially if they see them struggling with problems, relationships or that they are unhappy. Young people can sometimes show us with their behaviour that something is wrong or they are anxious. They may find it hard to talk about their worries or even understand it themselves at times.

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