Parenting is never easy, but parenting a troubled teen can be particularly challenging. Whether your troubled teen is dealing with drug or alcohol problems, grief, an emotional disorder or something else, trying to understand can be a powerful tool. One of the ways to try to gain an understanding of your troubled teen is to understand how their thinking is developing at this time in their life. Once you have a better understanding of how your troubled teen’s thinking is changing and developing, you will be more equipped to deal with the product of that thinking.
As your children become teenagers, they begin to think more like adults, which is both good and bad news. During the teen years, teenagers begin thinking about thinking. Teens are able to consider possibilities as well as realities. This ability lets them analyze their own thinking and refine it. It also lets them question other people and institutions, which can be more of an obstacle for troubled teens. Many adults have a hard time watching teens question wise adults and traditions, but it’s an important development in their thinking. As teens move toward becoming adults, they need to think about what they believe. If they test, challenge and explore those beliefs before they make decisions and commitments, they are more likely to have long lasting, more sensible ideas. Teens are more likely to become adults that hold the same values of their parents, and are more likely to hold those values as their own if they have tested them and thought them through.
Parents of teens, especially parents of troubled teens, have the difficult job of encouraging their teens to this kind of questioning and fostering independence while helping them remain respectful and safe. Parents should listen respectfully to the ideas of their teens. Asking questions and offering opinions is fine, but being criticizing or belittling is not helpful. Teens do better when parents monitor their activities, and wise parents keep track of the friends, hobbies and activities of their teens. When your teen announces they are going out, invite them to tell you about what they are doing, where they are going and who they will be with. There will be times when you need to tell your teen that you don’t feel good about what they are planning to do. Troubled teens will often resist, but stay calm and ask them what else they could be doing. When they still object, tell them “I can see that you really want to do that. Since you aren’t able to, what else could you do?”
Setting limits with teens is necessary. Encourage your teens to work with you to set family rules and policies and talk with them about what they think should be enforced. Teaching is better than attacking. When troubled teens act rude or say insensitive things, try to help them find the better ways of acting. Teens may act as if they don’t care, but gentle messages of compassion have an impact. Be involved in positive ways with your teens. Just doing things with your teens can strengthen that relationship. Find out some of the things your teen is excited about and how you can support the healthy ones. Look for the times your teen is making good decisions and commend them.
You will often hear people talking about kids becoming teens as a time of conflict and frustration, and a time to be worried about. These types of negative stereotypes of the teenage years, and teens, are not accurate and are not helpful. Thinking about teens like this can actually make things worse than they need to be. Parenting a troubled teen is often stressful, but learning why your troubled teen is behaving like they are, will be a valuable part of helping them and you. In this post, we’ll talk about a few things that will help make life less stressful for troubled teens and their parents.
Remember to be patient. During this time, teens begin to look like adults, they start expecting more freedom, but they are still learning. Often teens will do things that seem stupid to adults, possibly even looking extremely confident while they do them. Teens are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. It is important to show the same patience to our teens as we want people to show us when we are learning. Staying involved with your teen is important, but allowing them to take increasing control of their lives is important also. It is helpful to monitor teens in a respectful manner, teens want to be respected just like adults. Asking your teens about their plans with genuine interest will often result in teens discussing those plans with their parents. If you know what your teen’s plans are, and have concerns, it allows you as parents to discuss the possibilities with them.
Some stress should be expected. Being a teen is not easy. Teens often feel self-conscious, while appearing confident, and are particularly stressed when things are changing (e.g. the family is moving or they are graduating). During these times, teens can be specifically anxious or tense and there may be more bickering. When there is a disagreement, let go of your feelings of frustration. Don’t dwell on disagreements, most teens get over them fairly quickly, as adults we need to be careful to not drag our emotions along behind us.
Try to remember your experience as a teen. Remembering what feelings and situations you were experiencing can help give you a better understanding of what teens are going through. Think about the things your parents did that helped you, and what was not helpful for you. While remembering your experience as a teen can give you insight, avoid comparing your teen with yourself as a teen, or with others. Questions like “Why can’t you be more like…?” are never helpful, and remember that each child is a unique combination of talents.
As the parent of a troubled teen, you can learn perhaps the most important life lesson from the world of therapy. Research has found that the most critical factor in a successful outcome is what is known as the “therapeutic alliance.” The therapeutic alliance is essentially a complicated way of saying that the relationship between the therapist and client is the most important part of the situation. As parents, it’s critical to learn that your teen will accomplish more in life if you create strong relationships or “therapeutic alliances” at home. Parents that have these types of relationships with their teens will have greater influence and a more fulfilling experience, due to the bonds that are developed.
When forming these alliances with your teens, be a friendly, warm person. Offer them sincere compliments, give hugs and smile when you see them. Also listen to your teen without judging or offering unwarranted advice. Try to deeply understand what they are sharing with you, and ask for further information then restate what you heard. Talk about the things that are interesting or important to them and their life. You can bring up current events or ask them their opinion on a subject that requires them to express their own values and beliefs.
In parenting your troubled teen, take some time to grow your relationship, the payoffs are well worth the effort and remember that even if you only succeed once every few tries, you’re probably still doing well.
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