Teens and trouble: think they go together like bread and butter? Well, you may be wrong. While teenagers do tend towards “risk-seeking” behavior, and seem to enjoy pushing boundaries – and parents' buttons – troublesome behavior can be anything but typical.
According to Neil Bernstein, a clinical psychologist and author of How to Keep Your Teen Out of Trouble and What To Do If You Can't, moodiness, self-absorption, and obsession with peer approval are all run of the teenage mill. However, if you notice your teenager getting out of control, experimenting with drugs, or abusing alcohol, it may be time for a wake-up call – for both of you. Don't expect lightening to strike some sense into your teen. Although parents may feel that they are being pushed away during the teen years, it's your responsibility to firmly push back. Here's how to get things moving in a positive direction:
- Set limits. “Parents need to set limits, and the younger the children are, the easier it will be,” says Bernstein. Make sure you stick to what you say. Once teens know that you mean business, they'll stop trying to undermine your authority.
- Be reasonable. Let them know what the bottom line is, but explain your reasons for making it so. “Once they're teens, you can't just say 'because I said so' – they won't listen,” Bernstein says. By creating unreasonable rules and restrictions, you'll be telling your teen that you aren't prepared to approach them rationally – and they'll respond in kind.
- Negotiate. There's nothing wrong with a little give and take, and teens will appreciate playing a part in the process. Make sure to match your rules with sound reasoning, and let your teen know that with maturity comes increased freedom. Think of your teenager's privileges in terms of a ladder: as they get older and prove that they can be responsible, move their curfew up a rung, give them increased phone or Internet privileges, or let them choose what limits they would like to negotiate. If they prove themselves irresponsible, move their privileges down a rung, and let them know exactly why.
- Communicate. According to Bernstein, communication is the number one thing that parents need to do better. Although the idea of a heart-to-heart with your teen may sound like the stuff of fantasy, parents can talk to their teen if they do it right. Bernstein recommends approaching teens “at the right time,” and not when they're angry, busy, or tired. “Start on a positive note,” he suggests. Try making a joke or telling him you're proud of what he's doing right. In other words, don't start with “We need to talk, young man!”
For most teens, pushing the boundaries is a normal sign of growing up and growing out of childhood limitations. If your teen's behavior is way out of control, however, don't think you need to handle it all yourself. Contact your school counselor who can give you advice, observe your child at school, and connect you with further resources.