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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, criticized and confused.


The home can become a battleground with constant power battles and high emotion. Here, our family counselors share their top tips on how to cope with parenting difficult teens. 


Understanding teenagers


The average teenager's body is changing at an alarming rate, as hormones shift and surge, the body, brain and emotions are on a permanent roller-coaster.


The extremes of emotion that teens go through are also partly due to hormones. Boys are coming to terms with large quantities of testosterone surging through their bodies while girls have to cope with the mood swings that accompany estrogen.


Teenage psychology


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. Making their own decisions and moral choices based on consequences and conscience rather than fear of punishment. Developing their own beliefs and plans for the future.


It is an exciting time for teenagers, but also a very scary and challenging one. A time when the support and encouragement of parents is essential to their successful transition into adulthood.


Tips for coping


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

  • Like who they are - try to separate the behavior from the person. Remember all their good qualities and try not to be overpowered by what you don’t like about their behavior 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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 behavior and your rules. Remember that they're learning from you how to be and think like an adult.

  • Be approving - research confirms that both males and females have higher 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 behaviors 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.

  • Be loving - remember that although your child may seem to be pushing you away, they still need your love. 

  • Be honest - sometimes you will feel stressed and emotional yourself. Don't be afraid of letting your teenager know how you feel. Each time you do, you're showing them that it's ok not to be perfect and it's ok not to have all the answers.

  • Be supported - don’t be alone. Especially when times are tough, talk it through with someone who won’t judge or criticize you. Find a friend, family member or counselor 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 so easy. But be prepared to manage the conflict and arguments, repair your relationship with your teen and move on. If you don’t find a way to let go of past resentments they won’t either. Small disagreements soon build into huge arguments leaving you both wondering what happened.

  • Be hopeful - this is only a phase. 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.

Courtesy of Relate