Teen Rebellion - Dealing with a Troubled Teenager
WHERE DID MY CHILD GO AND WHO IS THIS STRANGER IN MY HOUSE?
The problem of teenage rebellion is as old as time itself. Many of us experienced it ourselves when we were growing up. If you’re a parent now, odds are that you will experience it from the other side, the side we put our parents through! I want to let you know up front what you can expect from this article and what not to expect. I'll go over some thoughts to get things into perspective and give you some ideas on approaching the problem. Some of these are intended to bring things into view from the teenager's side. You already know the view from the parent's side.
I won't claim to be an expert on the topic but sometimes the simplest advice comes from a non-expert. What I've written is based not only on life experience in general, but experience as a parent, my discussions with our now adult children, and my own years as a teenager (many years ago, in a different place and time). There is no magic formula to prevent or wash away teenage rebellion, but you can often takes steps to lessen the severity of it. I won't say always, for I know there will be those teens who, for various reasons, are just unmanageable. I don't have all the answers nor do I believe anyone does. If what I have written helps just one family, then it will have been well worth my time.
Let's get started with some basics: The unenviable tasks of self-reflection.
WHAT IS YOUR HOME LIFE LIKE?
Step back and take an honest look at your home. Is it a safe, warm, loving place where your children, of any age, can feel that they are secure from the problems of the world? Their safe haven, so to speak? Or is it a place that is cold and unfriendly? The site of physical or emotional abuse, bad influences, substance abuse, or parents who are just plain absent in their children's lives? Everyone, teenagers included, need to feel that home is where they can go and feel accepted, loved, and safe, despite what the outside world throws at them. I feel that way and I bet you do as well. Is this the type of home you have? If not, your own home can be a breeding ground for teenage rebellion.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR TEENAGER?
Is your relationship with your teen one of mutual respect? I'm talking about genuine respect, not about being the “cool mom” or “cool dad”, because that is not responsible parenting. The cool parent may think things are great during their child's teen years, as their leniency creates a “good relationship” with their teen. This is an illusion though, as the reckless behavior that the teen learns is “ok” often carries over into their adult life. The now-adult child lives out one set of poor decisions after another. The child wonders why their life is miserable and may never realize that it is due to the poor decision making process they learned as a teen, and the parent lives in sorrow over the “crisis lifestyle” of their child. OK, point made, don't be the “cool parent”, it is a recipe for disaster.
Do you have a relationship where despite periods of conflict your child can still talk to you? Can they tell you something, good or bad, and know that you will respond without harsh judgement? Do you spend time with them or only interact with them when necessary? How much time you spend talking to your teenager on a daily basis? What do you talk about? Do you do things together? Do you know their friends? Do you know their problems? How well do you really know each other right now? What example do you set by your own actions? If you're not getting good positive answers when you ask yourself these questions, or you find yourself making excuses, your basic relationship may be partly to blame for your child's teenage rebellion.
THE ISSUES FACING YOUR TEENAGER
Next, let's look at your teenager's world. Things are changing at an ever increasing pace and this is equally so for the life of a teenager. They face problems and issues today that we would have never dreamed of years ago. Things change so quickly that a person in their mid-twenties does not even know what it is like to be a teenager today.
Teenagers live in a world filled with drama over daily events that is unlike anything we have known. The slightest incident, situation, or issue is immediately transmitted by whatever technology is at hand. There are cellphones, email, texting, social networking, and many other forms of communication which I can't think of and probably don't understand anyway. Just as the world of modern media immediately sends us news of any event, no matter how far away, so travels “news” in the teenager's world. Unfortunately, just as media often puts a spin on the news they provide, the “teenage news network” suffers from the same affliction. The issues of bullying, cyber bullying, peer pressure, hostility and violence, anger, depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem, teen suicide, and many others are at all-time highs. This is the world the teenager of today lives in and all at an age when they are trying to find out who they are and where they want to go in life.
Drugs are increasingly available today and your teen may be exposed to them on a regular basis. Talk to them and find out. Ask yourself how much you know about the different drugs of abuse. Learn about what is out there and what teens are abusing.
Learn what is going on in their world and what their world is all about. Talk to them. Talk to their friends. Talk to your friends and their teens. Talk to young adults. Young adults are often more than willing to tell you everything that goes on in the teen world once they are no longer teens themselves! If you want some real insight into the teen world go on the internet to forums or social networking sites geared towards teens. You don't need to join or post, just read the posts. You'll get the teen perspective on many, many things and a somewhat scary education that will greatly help you understand the world that today's teenager lives in. One of the main causes of teenage rebellion is that the teenager truly believes that you “just don't understand”. If you don't take the time to learn about their world, then they may be right.
WHAT THEY WANT, WHAT THEY NEED
Now most teenagers won't actually tell you that they want boundaries and rules, but they do. Boundaries and rules are a sign that you care, that you love them, and that you are not an absentee parent. They need you to set reasonable rules and expectations for them. Acceptable relaxing of rules, when earned by the teenager, generates trust on both sides. Likewise, tightening of rules may be necessary when rebellion takes place. Set an early curfew! Yes, it is true that you can get in plenty of trouble and still be home by curfew. However, the later you are out the more likely it is that you will find trouble or vice versa.
When discipling we are looking for correction back to a reasonable path, not life scarring discipline. Get the whole story first. That is only fair and each of us would expect that. Remember, what you say in anger to your children may be so hurting to them that it becomes your legacy long after you have forgotten about it. Yelling will get you nowhere. The silent treatment will get you nowhere. Talk to them. Go somewhere neutral, the park, a restaurant, wherever, and talk to them. I cannot express that enough. Its not about confrontation, its about communication.
Insist on meeting their friends and never pass up the opportunity to talk to one of their friends. You will be able to develop a rapport with some of them which may help you with a crisis in the future. They may warn you if your child has started down the wrong path or if there is some other issue that needs to be addressed.
Understand that they will make mistakes. Let them make mistakes, as long as they won't have serious consequences. They don't know what adults know, because they haven't yet experienced it or lived through it. They can learn a lot through experience, especially if they've made a poor decision. Be there at that time for them and rather than criticize or judge them for doing something “stupid”, help them use it as a learning experience for future decisions. They will appreciate that you let them make their own decision and that you provided them with positive support and guidance afterwards.
Be a presence in their lives at all times, not just when discipline or correction is needed. Do things with them that are fun for both of you. Keeping a teenager busy with positive pastimes is vital. For example, share hobbies with them, or even better, you and your teen share a hobby or pastime with another parent and their teen. When you're not doing things together talk to them about their interests and hobbies.
Tell them that you love them. Do it so much that they act like it makes them sick! Praise them openly and often. Find reasons to praise them. Admit it when you are wrong. Be human. Show them respect. Teenage rebellion is just a part of growing up for many children. It is a phase, a very tough phase, for everyone. Be a parent, be there, and work through it with them. Don't try to avoid it or act like it is not there. There are many resources out there for help and guidance, just seek them out. Also, don't forget one of the greatest potential resources for advice, grandparents! They've been through it!
If this page has helped you in any way I'd love to hear from you. I wish you and your families the best during what I know are turbulent times.