No mother or father wants a defiant adolescent. Every parent wants a happy and responsible youngster who is part of a loving family. But so many adolescents have a “falling-out” with their parents. Defiant adolescent behavior is nothing new and will be around forever. But helping defiant adolescents is very much a reality. It has been done, it can be done, and you are in a position to make an unhappy youngster turn their defiant attitude/behavior into something generous and worthwhile.
So what can any parent do in this situation? Well professional help is clearly an option. You could start with counseling at your local mental health facility. Explain the situation and ask for advice. Counseling sessions with an expert may be an ideal move. But travel concerns or financial worries may force you to look at alternatives.
Here are some simple - but surprisingly effective – tips for dealing with (or rather “working with”) your defiant adolescent:
1. A defiant adolescent will often see their situation as being “them and me.” The “them” being his/her mom and dad. The issue of control or who is the boss should be downplayed. Adolescents are not kids even if they behave badly. They are young people – and working together is a far better option than a boss [the parent] ordering the youngster around.
2. Agree on a contract about behavior within and without the home. Sign the document and list the consequences if the rules are broken. Have the “punishment” fit the “crime.” Do all this by cooperation rather than dictating what will and won’t happen. Children respect fair play.
3. Allow your adolescents to say what they feel – but in a respectful way. It is important that they express emotion, but in a controlled, appropriate manner. It is valuable for them to learn these communication skills, because they will need them for other areas of life as well. Although you may not agree with a word they say about the selected subject, validate their feelings by stating, “I hear what you are saying and understand you feel very strongly about this subject. I can imagine your frustration when this does not go the way you would like it to, however I feel that this is not the appropriate decision, therefore I have decided to say ‘no’.”
4. Defiance often comes when problems surface. Don’t see a ‘problem’ as a ‘problem’. See it as a way to build cooperation. You and your youngster can solve the problem together. Work as a team! Recruit him/her as a ‘partner in problem solving’.
5. Have a clear goal. This means, you need to know where you want to get, since your interventions should be directed to this goal. Don’t try to directly go for your point because this will only trigger another escalation. You need to be subtle and “hide” your goal, because if it becomes visible during the initial phase, it will backfire. You have to slowly leak it at the end of the second phase (peak and/or plateau). Think of it as a chess game. If you start making random moves to see what happens, the other player (who has a plan or idea) will beat you in the blink of an eye. Also, since you are the authority figure, you will have some sort of leverage. Use it, but never as a threat or coercion. Use that differential of power wisely.
6. If the parent sees the conflict as a test, a chance for them to prove that they deserve respect and have authority over the youngster, then disaster awaits. You may well be making a bad situation worse. Don’t try to win!
7. If the parents are a loving couple with respect and concern for one another, the chances of a happy family are higher. Make sure that the family unit is strong and growing stronger. Then if one member (your teen son or daughter) becomes defiant, you will have a shining example of how happiness can and does work within your own family.
8. If your adolescent won't listen, break the ice with a note. Hand it to her or slip it under her door. Keep it short, simple, and from the heart. You could write something like, "I'm sorry," "You're AWESOME!" or, "Want to go out for ice cream?" If your adolescent has difficulty sharing her thoughts with you in person, suggest that she write them down. Give her a "Let's Talk" journal and ask her to write whatever is on her mind, and then invite her to share the journal with you when she's ready.
9. Laughter IS good medicine for the body, mind, and soul. Keep things light to ease tension. Add humor to your conversations, as long as you're laughing together and not at each other's expense.
10. Love is at the heart of all good relationships but respect is not far behind. Sometimes telling your adolescent you love them will not cut the ice. Aim for the time being for respect and that’s mutual respect. As a mother or father, show clearly that you respect your adolescent. Give them respect and certain freedoms and in no way mistreat them. From respect love may well recover.
11. Meals offer great opportunities for conversation. Every day, try to have at least one meal together with your adolescent. Take him out to lunch once in a while. Share something interesting you read or saw on T.V. When you say goodnight, spend a few minutes talking about how the day went for each of you.
12. One of the major reasons why you and your youngster are at odds is because you may be highlighting the differences between the two of you. Make a list of things upon which you can agree – the common ground. This is a brilliant way to start. It lays the foundation to remove the defiance and establish trust and goodwill.
13. Moms and dads often make the mistake of treating their kids as ‘property’ instead of ‘individuals’. Many parents take away their kid’s ability to express feelings appropriately by totally shutting his/her opinions out.
14. Remember that it all comes down to a power struggle. The key is not to get engaged in it, since you’ll be playing the adolescent’s game. You need to make that struggle as subtle as you can during most of the conversation, or at least until you consider the child is ready to acknowledge the fact that there is a “chain of command” and his way is not a viable option. In the process you will gain respect, a sense that what you want is not a whim - and last but not least - you’ll look as someone approachable in his eyes, which will help in future occurrences.
15. Remember that no one wants to hear the word “no.” Your adolescent will be angry with you – and that is okay. Many moms and dads are concerned that if their adolescent is not happy with them that they are damaging the relationship. YOUR ADOLESCENT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE YOUR BEST FRIEND! It is absolutely okay for your adolescent to be upset with you when they do not get their way, or you set boundaries with them. Setting healthy boundaries for your youngster is one of the greatest acts of love. What’s important is that you have given them respect by hearing their request and taken into consideration what they have said. It is also important to understand that it is okay to say ‘yes’ sometimes. Balance is the key in most situations. It is also a good idea to explain your view to your kids (even if they still do not like the results). Telling them ‘no’ and giving the explanation, “Because I said so”, no longer works.
16. Respect each other, even your differences. When your youngster was young, she believed every word you said. But as an adolescent, she's developing her own belief system. It's normal for both of you to disagree sometimes. Instead of arguing over differences in opinion, create an environment where it's safe for both of you to express your ideas. Give each other a chance to speak. Listen without making fun of what the other says. Even in the midst of your differences, look for common ground.
17. Schedule a time when all household members are available to attend a family meeting. This meeting is mandatory so your adolescent and young kids as well must attend. Prior to the meeting, family members should think of a topic to address. It could be family finances, allowance, curfew or any family issue. During the first meeting, establish household rules for disagreements. Rules would be, no yelling, or insults, or profanity, and respect that everyone has different opinions. It is important that everyone gets the opportunity to express their opinion, but make it known that the grown-ups in the household have the final say.
18. There is a possibility that the unacceptable behavior by the adolescent is linked to the behavior of their mother or father. That’s you! Start by asking yourself a series of questions. Are you being reasonable? What is the point of view expressed by my youngster? What can I change about my life which will help my adolescent?
19. They may not show it, but adolescents love to be praised. Remember to regularly - and sincerely - point out your adolescent's strengths. Praise something she did well. Encourage your adolescent in his endeavors. You'll raise his self-esteem while opening the door to better communication.
20. Use active listening. Let him vent and be aware that you will hear things that you won’t like – but don’t get into an argument. That won’t help either. The “me vs. him” approach won’t work. Instead, listen and wait for the right moment to make your interventions, pointing out the weak points of his or her argument and redirecting the conversation continually. Timing is paramount here. The de-escalation rate will be directly tied to how timely and on the spot your interventions are.
21. We all know how to talk to our children (or think we do). But understand that ‘what we say’ and ‘what our adolescent hears’ may not be one and the same. Communication is important – but good communication is vital. Find out what language your youngster understands and talk to them in such a way that understanding is the basis of all your communicating.
22. We all know the ‘quality time’ expression, but saying it and doing it are two different things. You need to spend one-on-one quality time with your adolescent. Make it regular and positive. The more your youngster sees you care and are prepared to give your own free time to work for them, the better will be your relationship.
23. When an adolescent becomes oppositional, know that you are going to need patience – and lots of it. Usually, to de-escalate him or her, it would take you as long as a usual discussion with your girl/boyfriend or partner. That would be between an hour and a half and two hours. It follows the normal Bell curve: (a) an initial moment of increasing tension, (b) a peak, (c) a plateau where you may feel that you are getting nowhere, and (d) a decline (the de-escalation).
24. When your adolescent comes by to talk, make eye contact. Put aside what you're doing to let him know you're listening. Show you're interested by focusing on what he's saying. Ask relevant questions. When you want to initiate a conversation, watch for cues that your adolescent is being receptive. If you see that he needs peace and quiet, give him space. Look for the right moment to talk.
25. You need to take into account is that it’s going to be a chess game. You are the authority figure and that’s the main problem. Oppositional and defiant behaviors are tightly bonded to authority. When dealing with defiant teens, know that “time-outs” are only going to give them time to stay on that negative trend of thought – and this is not going to help the situation get any better. You need to talk him/her out of it. Don’t expect time itself to work magic. And if it does, there are going to be hurt feelings and resentment. In other words, as a parent, your intervention is needed.
Final thought: Don’t panic. You are not alone. And there is expert advice, much of it free, available to help you fix your situation. Work on helping – not hindering – your teen. Work on improving your own behavior and come up with some simple, written strategies (such as those found in this post).
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents Who Are At Their Wits End