Ten Tips for Dealing With an Acting Out Teenager
Whether they’re 3 years old or 13 years old, kids are always going to test the limits. What exactly can they get away with at home? At school? With friends? It doesn’t mean they’re a bad kid, but it’s a learning process for them to figure out. Know that this is normal. There are times, though, where it’s gone too far and as a parent you may feel like you don’t have control of the situation. It can be scary to see your kid acting out, regardless of their age. Once they reach those teen years, though, they’re more aware and have more control, thus it’s more difficult to manage.
If you’ve been in this situation and are thinking to yourself, “where is this behavior going?” You are not alone. Here at Mindwell we treat people of all ages and can help you understand and manage your teen’s behavior. Here are our top 10 tips for dealing with an acting out teenager.
Understanding the teen years. This is the time when they start to separate from their parents and become more independent. They want to hang out with their friends more. They want to fit in. This transition can be difficult. It’s also the time when parents start to feel needed less and it can be hard to let go of that. Because of this, it leaves opportunity for butting heads. And know that this is okay. It can also be helpful to talk to a therapist about behaviors that are typical vs. atypical for teenagers. For example, while experimenting with substances is typical, abusing them and missing school frequently as a result is not.
Pick your battles. Teens sometimes want to shock their parents. Whether it’s to see what/if there are consequences for their behavior, to elicit a response, or they’re trying to figure out what they can get away with, this behavior is typical. If they want to dye their hair pink or wear a crazy outfit, it’s better to allow them to experiment with temporary things that won’t harm them. These things might even help them figure out who they are, and can function as an “effective” form of rebellion. The behaviors to address in a more serious manner would be abuse of drugs, tobacco or alcohol, or risky behaviors that are putting their lives or others in danger.
Set clear expectations. Kids might not always agree with their parents' expectations but they usually understand it comes from a loving place. It’s important to set appropriate expectations (good grades, acceptable behavior, etc) and clearly communicate them. Without these expectations, your teen might feel like you don't care about them or might feel lost and unsure of how to behave or how you will react. The more specific your expectations, the more likely your teen is to understand them.
Use “pull ups”. One of James Lehman’s ways of dealing with acting out teens is to be specific with instructions in the first place, in order to avoid a fight later (known as “pull ups”). For example, asking your kid to rinse the dishes before they put them in the dishwater, instead of yelling at them later for the dishes still being dirty. It's being proactive. You might think it's obvious but it's never safe to assume. When kids do something wrong, they don’t respond well when parents say things like “I told you so” or “I warned you about this." So being positive and “pulling them up” is key.
Be a role model. This seems like an obvious one, but it’s not always easy to practice what you preach. We want our kids to be kind to one another but we get caught up in the moment sometimes. We're only human and don’t always display perfect behavior. That’s okay. But make an effort to be more aware of your own behavior, especially in front of your children. And if you make a mistake, this can be an opportunity to learn and to teach your child that all humans are fallible.
Stop blaming yourself. If you take responsibility for your child’s behavior, it doesn’t give them the opportunity to do so. It is their actions, not yours. So, it’s essential to put them in a position where they take responsibility for their behavior. Just like us, teens need to learn from their behavior and mistakes.
Don’t take it personally. It’s easy to feel like your teen’s acting out behavior is a direct response to something you did. For example, if you get mad at them because they don’t want to hang out with you, it’s not personal. It’s them wanting their space. Your response to their behavior is crucial. So do your best to separate their actions from your feelings. If you need additional support during these times, reach out to your support system or consider seeking professional help if desired.
Try not to overreact. Going along with not taking it personally, not overacting is just as important. Your teen may want to get a reaction out of you, and if you overreact that can be exactly what they were looking for. Take a moment, a few deep breaths, before responding to their behavior. Discuss it with your partner before taking any action. Talking things out in a calm manner gets you way further than an explosive argument.
Put yourself in their place. We were all teenagers once. Do you remember what it’s like? Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Empathy is a powerful quality. Like not taking things personally – try to figure out why they are acting out. Are they being bullied at school? Struggling with grades? There’s a lot going on in those teen brains and we don’t always recognize it. Once you identify the cause of the behavior, it makes it that much easier to deal with it head on and perhaps address it with them from an empathic place.
Respect their privacy. There’s a fine line between monitoring what your kids are doing versus knowing their every move. They need to feel trusted. Of course at some point in their life they will hide something from you that you don’t like. That’s okay. It’s part of growing up and dealing with those teen years. Allowing them to have privacy gives them less of a reason to hide things from you. It shows a healthy amount of trust in the parent / child relationship.
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