Coping with disruptive teenagers

Being a parent to teenagers can be a challenging, worrying and sometimes distressing time. While teenagers are pushing against the system in their search for independence, as parents, you can feel rejected, criticised and confused. The home can become a battleground with constant power battles and high emotion. Here, our family counsellors share their top tips on how to cope with parenting difficult teens.  

Why teenagers become disruptive

The average teenager's body is changing at an alarming rate, as hormones shift and surge and their body, brain and emotions feel as if they are on a permanent rollercoaster. 

The psychological goal of adolescence is to become independent from parents and establish their own identity and place within society. This involves building their own friendships and controlling their own emotional responses. They are learning to make their own decisions and moral choices based on consequences and conscience which usually involves risk taking, to a greater or lesser extent.  As a parent, it can be such a balancing act to allow your teenager to take some risks, and not be over-protective but, at the same time, to ensure that they're not putting their lives in any kind of serious harm.  

It is an exciting time for teenagers as they start to develop their own beliefs and plans for the future, but it can be also a very scary and challenging time when things don't go as they hope and emotions such as anxiety or anger can overwhelm. It's time when the support and encouragement of parents is essential to their successful transition into adulthood, even if, as a parent, you too are feeling worried about your child and sad that they are starting to become more independent and less reliant on you.  

Tips for coping with disruptive teenagers

Stay positive  

Things can change. Don’t assume the worst or your teenager will too. Look for signs of positive change and notice when things go well, even for a short time. Try to be an encouraging voice in their lives and reassure that they can have a positive future even if things are difficult now. 

Like who they are  

Try to separate the behaviour from the person. Remember all their good qualities and try not to be overpowered by what you don’t like about their behaviour right now. Your teenager may be behaving badly but that doesn’t make them a bad person. 

Be there  

Contrary to how it may seem at times, your teenagers do want to talk to you. But you need to let it be in their time and at their pace. Listen to their ideas, don’t interrupt or try to tell them what to do. Giving advice as to what you did when you were a teenager or how things were for you may not be helpful.  Society has changed significantly and the pressures that you faced will not be the same ones that they are facing now.   

Be reassuring 

A lot of teenagers are scared by the feelings they're experiencing and the new wave of responsibilities that they have to take on. They need lots of reassurance that they're not going mad and they will cope and that you will be there for them whenever they need you.  

Be consistent  

Try to set clear and consistent boundaries which also respect their boundaries to help them to foster their own sense of security whilst in inner turmoil. Be ready to discuss the rationale behind your behaviour and your rules. Remember that they're learning from you how to be and think like an adult. 

Be approving  

Research confirms that young people have a higher sense of self-esteem in early adolescence if they think that they have the approval and support from their families. 

Be patient  

While teenagers are trying to find the right balance of behaviours and independence, they often swing too far in the opposite direction. But in time, the pendulum will swing back and settle in a more comfortable position. 

Be gentle  

Even though your teenager may act as though they're indestructible, their emotions are still very fragile - so handle with care.  Try not to lose your temper with them, even if you are feeling provoked by what's happened and if you do, apologise and explain why. 

Be loving  

Remember that although your child may seem to be pushing you away, they still need your love and your consistency.  

Be honest  

Sometimes you will feel stressed and emotional yourself. Don't be afraid of letting your teenager know how you feel and why but try and keep it calm. Let them why you're concerned for their safety, if that's an issue. When you show that you get upset and emotional, you're showing them that it's ok not to be perfect and it's ok not to have all the answers.  Trust your gut feelings : if you think that they need some external help for whatever reason, then try to find the right source of support for them, or you and them together, if that's more appropriate.  

Be supported  

Don’t be alone. Especially when times are tough, talk it through with someone who won’t judge or criticise you. Find a friend, family member or counsellor who will offer support and encouragement. Take time out to vent any frustrations rather than bottling things up and letting rip at home. 

Forgive and forget  

Not always easy but be prepared to manage the conflict and arguments, repair your relationship with your teenager and move on. If you don’t find a way to let go of past disagreements and resentments, they won’t either. Small disagreements can build into huge arguments leaving you both wondering what happened.  Always try and keep the lines of communication open even if they want to shut their door on you, at times.   

Be hopeful 

This is just one stage in their lives. It is normal for teenagers to drift away from and even reject their parents. But it's also normal for them to come back and develop a meaningful relationship that will last the rest of your lives. 

How we can help

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