How to Handle Teens When They Are Way Out of Control
Almost anyone who has raised children past a certain age realizes that they reach a point when they change. For some it is a subtle change; for others it is much more obvious. It can be a shock when your child who has been so affable and obedient suddenly begins to act completely different. Some of the most common manifestations include changing hair and dress style, staying out later than authorized, spending endless hours on the computer or the phone, arguing about your every suggestion, neglecting chores... The list could go on and on. But in this article I am writing of more extreme behavior, when the teen not only disagrees or disobeys but smashes furniture, curses you, or even hits you. A feeling of hopelessness and despair is almost inevitable when this happens, but as a parent there are ways to deal with even this type of behavior. Here are some ideas.
First of all, when a teen curses you or hits you it's natural to want to respond in kind. Don't. Don't curse them; don't hit back. That's the worst thing you can do. What you are doing then is making yourself the adversary. Usually the cursing or hitting is an emotional response. Teens' bodies and lives are changing. They are going through an inevitable metamorphosis over which they have no control. Some handle it better than others. If yours handles it badly, realize that a quick negative response on your part can damage your relationship forever. Is that really what you want? Of course it's hard to take if your child abuses you verbally; and they can do it well too, because they know you – they are aware of your weaknesses and can exploit them. But back off and think about it. In the heat of the moment you may be fed up with them and want to hurt them back and even drive them away, but there will come a time down the road when you will regret it if you do. Think in terms of healing, not hurt.
Leave Things Broken
Perhaps your teen, in an angry outburst, damages a piece of furniture, or slams a door so hard that it breaks. It's happened to us, and we didn't have the finances to repair it right away. That's all right. If you immediately call a repairman or have it replaced the message to the teen is that no matter what they do you will always make it right, and repair or replace things. Leave it there, if it is safe to do so – or don't replace it. No word needs to be said – it is a constant reminder of the incident, and may help the teen realize that there are consequences to such behavior. Let your teen be without a bedroom door or a TV set. Of course you can't neglect what would be dangerous, such as broken windows or mirrors, or open splinters of wood or metal; and I am not talking about leaving such items around indefinitely – just for a while, so that your teen realizes that when he or she breaks something it doesn't magically repair itself.
Never Lose Respect
No matter what your teen does, never lose respect for them. They may have problems – big problems. They may be into drugs; they may be alcoholics; they may be engaged in criminal behavior; they may be fighting intense peer pressure or bullying at school. You don't know unless you talk it out with them. The stickler is, they may not want to talk with you, and they may rebuff every attempt of yours to do so. Respect them nevertheless. Remember when they were first born, when they seemed perfect. Remember how you felt. Something happened since then. Something in the world out there damaged them, sullied them, tarnished them. They're not perfect anymore. Are you? Nobody is, are they? But this child is yours. This is the hand you've been dealt. They need you more now than they would if they remained as a child: willing, compliant, obedient, docile. Accept the continuing responsibility. If you always respect them no matter what, there is always hope.
Don't Change Your Standards
No matter what you have to put up with in the interim, don't compromise. Don't change your standards. Your teen may be going through a time when it seems they have thrown all decency and morality to the winds, and you may have to postpone judgment and response in the hope of avoiding an even more extreme reaction, but look for opportunities to let your teen know that though you may not be punishing them you nevertheless do not agree with their behavior. And one more very important related point: don't join them in their bad behavior in the hope it might help you bond. It won't. Don't start smoking because they smoke. Don't drink or take drugs with them. It will not lift them up to a level at which you can communicate; it will only drag you down.
There's no easy way to deal with a strong-willed, rebellious teen. Sometimes they even outdo you in physical strength, which makes it doubly difficult. But it's difficult for them too. They are going through intense physical, emotional, and social changes over which they sometimes feel they have no control. You, however, do have control, and you need to control yourself. If you can hang on a few years, no matter how impossible it seems, your teen will break through into adulthood, the storms of adolescence will pass, and the sun will shine again.