HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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What To Do When Your Teen Shuts You Out

Is your teenager shutting you out? In other words, she won’t talk to you – and she ignores you when you try to talk to her. You know something is bothering your teen, but she’s not going to tell you what it is. She’s either mad at you or someone else – but in the meantime, you’re getting the cold shoulder.

A teenager may use the silent treatment as a way to freeze parents out, to get them to leave her alone, and to push their buttons. What most moms and dads don’t realize is that, under the surface, something else is going on.

In general, most silent treatment is an indication of poor communication skills. The teen can’t solve her own problems, and as a result, she becomes resentful toward her parent(s). Some silent treatment indicates an inability to articulate one’s feelings during parent-child conflict. These teens are sometimes referred to as “emotionally shut-down.” Silent treatment intended to inflict emotional punishment is present in the teenager who has “shutdown,” especially if she has anger management issues (e.g., "You made me angry, so now I am going to punish you").

How parents can cope when their teen is shutting them out:

1. Avoid trying to find a logical explanation for your teen’s strange behavior. Sometimes it's better to simply view it as “a teenage phase” and not take it personally.

2. Be sure NOT to use the silent treatment on your teen to “show her how it feels.” This rarely improves communication.

3. Don't blame yourself for it. The silent treatment is a poor choice of communication strategy – and that is not your choice.

4. Express how this treatment makes you feel, but do it at a time when your teen appears to be in a decent mood. When things are calm, let your teenager know that you do sincerely want to work things through, but if that's not going to happen in the near future, you may not continue "volunteering" to be frozen out (e.g., "It really hurts that you're shutting me out, and I wish you would talk to me so we could put this behind us. If this continues much longer, I'm going to need to stop waiting and just assume that you simply want to be left alone. I don't want to do that, which is why I'm telling you now.").

5. Make sure you're not simply over-reacting. Sometimes, it's not about you at all. Perhaps your teen is being quiet because she is having personal problems – but doesn’t want to confide in you. If this is the case, you shouldn't take it personally. Perhaps back off a bit and leave some space. However, withdrawing from friends can be a feature of depression, so sometimes reaching out may be exactly what your teenager needs.

6. Never make the mistake of reacting in anger to your teen’s cold shoulder. Your “reacting” gives her power over you. When your teen is angry or upset with you (or encounters a problem she can't fix), she may rely on the silent treatment as a poor attempt to get her needs met. Thus, you have to coach her by saying something like, “Ignoring me and refusing to talk won’t solve your problems.” The key is to motivate your teen to give up that broken problem-solving strategy and find an appropriate one that actually works.

7. Question your own behavior. When did the silent treatment start? What happened that day or in the days just before the behavior changed? Could you have done or said something insensitive? Try to understand what could have set-off the silence. Narrow it down to a few possibilities and try to think of ways you can work on the situation.

8. Rehearse what you're going to say in the event you want to confront your teen on the matter. You want to feel like you said what you needed to say, so plan it ahead of time. It's easy to get defensive, or to come off the wrong way if you aren't prepared. Close your eyes and imagine you're alone with your teenager and say out loud what you want to say. Listen to the way you make your statement and adjust your tone if need be.

9. Spend some time away from your teenager if needed, especially if you are feeling emotionally drained from the lack of communication. Time away from her may help her realize how important the relationship is to her, prompting her to initiate speaking to you again.

10. Stay positive. Subconsciously or consciously, the giver of the silent treatment WANTS to see you upset. So, try your best to stay out of her way and be positive (e.g., when you attempt to strike up a conversation, but all you’re met with is a cold shoulder, simply respond by going to the other room to watch some TV).

11. The silent treatment is about control.  It only works if the parent relinquishes control to the teenager who is being silent.  The more you try to get your teen to break her silence, the more you are allowing yourself to be controlled by her, and the less likely it is that she will talk.  After all, you are giving her exactly what she wants: control. She is likely to keep the silent treatment going if she knows it is bothering you, or use it again in the future when she feels the need to get revenge.

12. Try setting some serious emotional boundaries. This can be the hardest part: after you have apologized and attempted to understand what is going on, you have done your part. Now, it is up to your teenager to step up and begin communicating with you. If she does not, that is her decision. You can’t fix this without cooperation from her.

There are all sorts of motives for – and styles of – the silent treatment, but they all boil down to one commonality: a teen gives the silent treatment to her parents because it gives her a feeling of control over them. Maybe the best thing a parent can do in this situation is to try to find a better way for the teenager to feel like she has some control over her life.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How To Help Teens Solve Their Own Problems

Adolescents, by virtue of their “not fully-developed” brains, typically have poor problem-solving skills. As a result, they struggle in many areas of their lives. When they encounter unfamiliar complications, they may become overwhelmed and unable to resolve problems independently, which often translates into behavioral issues (e.g., back-talk, disrespect, violation of house-rules, etc.).

Teenagers encounter so many different problems during adolescence. Tough teenage challenges coupled with poor problem-solving skills often influences teens to act-out in ways they never would if they knew how to solve their dilemmas. They have social problems (e.g., the inability to get along well with certain peers), functional problems (e.g., meeting responsibilities at home or school), and emotional problems (e.g., feeling angry, sad, frustrated or helpless). Many adolescents who lack problem-solving skills will simply try to avoid the problem completely; they will ignore it in hopes that it will go away. Unfortunately, problems don’t simply disappear.

The key to effective problem-solving involves developing a variety of solutions first. Then, evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each solution before choosing which solution is most likely to be the best. Simply recognizing that there are many ways to solve the same issue can be eye opening to adolescents.

Below is a solid problem-solving strategy that you can – and should – teach your teenager. The better your teen is at solving her own problems, the less behavioral issues you will see as a parent.

Teach your teen to solve virtually any problem by using this 7-step approach:
  1. Define the problem
  2. Examine potential causes for the problem
  3. Identify some alternatives to resolve the problem
  4. Carefully select an alternative
  5. Develop a plan to implement that best alternative
  6. Carefully monitor implementation of the plan
  7. Verify if the problem has been resolved or not

We will use the following scenario throughout in order to demonstrate each step:

You have noticed a change in your daughter’s attitude and behavior recently. She seems a bit down-in-the-dumps and has had a very short fuse lately. One evening over dinner, your daughter asserts, “Nobody likes me!” This catches you off-guard, because it sounds like such an exaggeration. In your shock and dismay, you might even ask, “Why would you say such a thing? That’s simply not true!” After a little investigation on your part, your daughter reveals that a few of her ‘friends’ at school have been making fun of her (i.e., emotional bullying). These peers have been saying some very hurtful things (e.g., you’re fat, ugly, stupid). So, being the perceptive parent that you are, you help your daughter to solve her own problem…

1. Define the problem: This is often where teens struggle. They react to what they “think” the problem is (e.g., “nobody likes me”). Instead, help your teen to understand more about why she thinks there is a problem by asking her the following questions:
  • What is happening?
  • How is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • Where is it happening?
  • Why do you think it is happening?
  • With whom is it happening?

2. Examine potential causes for the problem: Help your teen look at the possible contributors to the issue at hand (e.g., are these “bullying classmates” jealous for some reason, did your daughter say or do something to “piss them off”). Your daughter can start by writing down a description of the potential cause(s) of the problem in terms of what is happening, where, when, how, with whom and why.

3. Identify some alternatives to resolve the problem: At this point, it is helpful to brainstorm for solutions to the problem. Brainstorming is simply collecting as many ideas as possible, then screening them to find the best idea. It's critical when collecting the ideas to not pass any judgment on them. Instead, just write them down as you think of them. For example, can your daughter do any of the following?
  • avoid fighting back – this inevitably makes a bad problem worse
  • report the emotional abuse to a teacher or other school staff
  • avoid drawing attention to herself (e.g., trying to act "cool" or saying outrageous things) – this makes it more satisfying for the bullies to bring her down
  • realize that if there is just one bully who has a group of friends that follow her, it's most likely they are her friends involuntarily (in this case, your daughter could try to make small talk with them when they are alone, listen to them, and be genuinely interested in what they are saying)
  • kill them with kindness (e.g., saying something nice "back to them" when they insult her)
  • avoid talking to them – talking to them will give them a chance to be mean to her
  • avoid reacting to their rude comments (e.g., ignore them, just smile and walk off)
  • avoid giving them the attention they clearly want – bullies want attention
  • simply ask the bullies why they are repeatedly making such rude comments – they may be jealous, angry, or possibly insecure

4. Carefully select an alternative: When helping your teen to select the best approach, consider: (a) which approach is the most realistic to accomplish for now (e.g., simply avoiding and ignoring the bullies), (b) which approach is the most likely to solve the problem for the long-term (e.g., recruiting the help of vigilant teachers), and (c) what is the extent of risk associated with each alternative (e.g., “killing them with kindness” might be perceived by the bullies as sarcastic).

5. Develop a plan to implement that best alternative: Help your teen to carefully answer the following questions:
  • How much time will I need to implement my proposed solution?
  • What steps should be taken to implement the best alternative to solving the problem? 
  • Who can help me resolve this problem?
  • What will the situation look like when the problem is solved?

Have your teen write down the answers to the above questions and consider this as her action plan.

6. Carefully monitor implementation of the plan: Your teen can monitor the indicators of success by asking herself the following:
  • Was the plan realistic?
  • Should more priority be placed on various aspects of the plan?
  • Should the plan be changed?
  • Am I seeing the results that I want to see?

7. Verify if the problem has been resolved or not: One of the best ways to verify if a problem has been solved or not is to ask your teen the following:
  • Have the “putdowns” aimed at you by these girls decreased in frequency?
  • What did you learn from this problem solving activity?
  • Have you been able to identify a "main" bully (i.e., the leader of the pack), and if so, have you been able to befriend some of the bully's followers?
  • What changes should be made to avoid this type of problem in the future?

True, it takes a lot of time, energy and patience to teach problem-solving skills to your teenager. As a parent, you may feel it is faster and more efficient to just take care of the problem yourself (e.g., talking to the parents of the bullies, or going to the school and yelling at the principal); however, if you do that, you will be raising a teen who can’t be depended upon to accomplish tasks, can’t function independently, doesn't know how to solve her own problems, has low self-esteem, and runs to you to fix everything.

Of course, the parent wants her or his kids to be confident, self-sufficient, happy and successful. But for that to happen, they need the opportunity to grow. This requires a mom or dad who is willing to step back and let teens experience life and all its painful challenges – and then help them to help themselves.

How To Bond With Your Emotionally-Distant Teenager

If you're like every other parent, you don't always bond with your teenager. He might create distance between you just at the times when you most long to become closer. He might be busy on the computer, the phone, with his friends, or homework. When you try to talk to him, he doesn't listen, or just leaves the room. He thinks that you are embarrassing, and you don't know how to change that.

Despite your best intentions and efforts, creating a meaningful bond with your adolescent isn't always easy. But, you're not alone. A feeling of distance between parent and teenager is a normal part of development, but you don't have to feel like you're losing your son or daughter. By putting in just a little bit of effort, you can re-bond with your adolescent. 

Here are some tips to help you bond with your emotionally-distant teenager:

1. Ask your adolescent to teach you how to produce an online photo gallery. Most young people today were raised in the digital age and are skilled when it comes to anything technological. Why not bond over lessons on how to make a digital photo gallery or a family webpage or blog?

2. Communicate the way your teen prefers (e.g., email, text message, instant message, or non-embarrassing post on his favorite social media website). It may be easier for him to discuss sensitive subjects electronically, without having to face you, even if it feels impersonal to you.

3. Create a routine that involves being in the same place at the same time. Preparing dinner together every night or at least once a week will give you both something to do together without much pressure. Any household chores or mundane task that allows you to be with each other, but that doesn't require a lot of thought or conversation, can create a comfortable zone that allows your adolescent to open up to you, even if the discussion is about random things. Teenagers tend to feel more comfortable talking to you when they don't have to look at you, such as while driving.

4. Discuss movies. Whether you're talking about a classic favorite or one of today's hottest films, sharing your taste in movies is another way to bond with your adolescent.

5. Don’t make your teen wrong. Just because your teen wants to do things differently does not make her wrong necessarily. For example, while most moms and dads want their teenagers to go to college, maybe they not interested right now. If your teen does not want to go to college, instead of being dismayed, see if you can strike a compromise. Perhaps she can work part-time and go to school part-time. Or perhaps instead of a miscellaneous degree, she can attend a technical school. When it comes to teens, sometimes letting go a little allows them to grow a lot.

6. Encourage your adolescent to have a healthy self-esteem by telling him at least one positive thing about him each day. Ask him to name something he likes about himself or feels confident about in addition to what you named to reinforce a positive self-image.

7. Enjoy her favorite sitcom and watch it with her every week.

8. Get to know your teen’s friends by spending time with her and her closest friends. Take her and one or two of her closest friends for pedicures, shopping or attend a new class (e.g., pottery, jewelry making, cooking). Finding a common activity that you can share with your adolescent and her friends will likely earn you a few points with everyone as long (as you don't intrude or embarrass her).

9. Give your teen some responsibility. You may wonder, as a mother or father, how giving your teen some responsibility is a way to reconnect with her. If done in the right manner and not as a command or an order, giving your teen responsibility around the house shows her that you trust her. It may be something as simple as picking up her younger sister after school or going to the post office if she is newly licensed. Small gestures of responsibility give her a feeling that you view her as a young woman now. This will instill a sense of pride and gratitude to you for trusting her more and more now.

10. Give your teen some space. In any relationship, sometimes a little space is necessary. It is no good to be on top of someone else in an effort to make them see things your way or to gain control. If you take some time and step away and keep it casual, chances are more than likely your teen will seek you out if you give her the opportunity to.

11. Go to her practices, recitals or sporting events and cheer for her. She may not acknowledge your presence, though she most likely wants you there for support (as long as you aren't embarrassing her).

12. Learn how to play one of his favorite video games and play with him.

13. Make yourself available to your adolescent. Hang out in a common area of your home or establish a routine where you are clearly available at the same time every day or the same night each week so your teenager knows where to find you if - and when - she needs to talk.

14. Plan at least one outing or activity with your adolescent each month. Take turns planning the activity so he has some control over what you do. Give him a budget and time frame and allow him to choose where you go or what you do. This allows you to learn more about each other's interests and might surprise you both.

15. Share a book. If your teenager is an avid reader, as him to recommend a few books you might like, too. Read one and see what new conversations you can initiate as a result.

16. Share some music. Adolescents feel things deeply, and they often connect with their emotions through music. Ask your teenager to share a few of her favorite songs with you and keep an open mind about what you're hearing.

17. Share some of your interests with your adolescent. She might relate to you more when you let her know about a few of the mistakes you made as an adolescent. She might want to get to know “the real you” more if you begin sharing your hobbies and interests that go beyond the mother or father.

18. Take a short road trip and let your teen drive. This is perfect for the adolescent with a new driver's license. The destination could be anywhere, but venturing out to any fun spot of your adolescent's choosing would fit the bill for an afternoon of bonding. It could be as easy as regular practice sessions in the country or on city streets so that your teen can perfect her driving skills.

19. Take an interest in your adolescent and her hobbies.

20. Talk to your adolescent and go beyond simple "how was your day?" questions. Ask him how he feels about current events, or educate yourself on something he enjoys and ask him about it (avoid personal questions that will most likely cause him to shut you out).

As a mother or father, you may fear that years of being a disciplinarian has negatively affected your relationship with your teenager. Use the tips listed above to press the "reset" button and renew your bond with your adolescent.

How to Stop Over-Reacting to "Bad" Teen Behavior

Parenting out-of-control teenagers is a tough job for sure!! And it’s totally understandable when parents fly off the handle because their teens continually exhibit blatant disrespect and hatefulness. But sometimes, we as parents get stuck in a cycle of over-reacting to our teen’s “bad” behavior, which weakens our immune system and tends to make a bad problem worse.

One of the best parenting strategies we can employ is to “avoid throwing gas on the fire” by over-reacting in the heat of the moment. This one strategy alone will reduce your parental stress by at least 50%.

Do you often:
  • Assume the worst about your teenager’s behavior due to his bad “track record”?
  • Feel alarmed by your uncontrollable reactions to her rude comments and putdowns?
  • Have to apologize for your abrupt actions or words?
  • Lash out when your teen is ill-mannered?
  • Regret things you say in the heat of emotion?
  • Withdraw when parent-child arguments get emotionally overwhelming?

If you answered “yes” to the questions above, you may be struggling with severe parental stress. Here are a few tips to help you (a) stay calm, and (b) “respond” to bad teen behavior rather than “react”:

1. A quiet heart can lead parents to the best solutions to any parent-child conflict. When you are facing the problem of how to deal with your teen’s rudeness or criticism, you’ll handle the situation better by moving into your heart. Don’t impulsively shoot from the mouth. Pick your favorite method for “centering” (e.g., leaving the room for a short time-out) before you respond to what your teen has said or done.

2. Identify patterns in your over-reactions. If you find yourself continually revisiting a powerful emotional or behavior reaction, there is probably a historical component that needs to be addressed. 

3. If your teen has legitimate concerns, but has voiced them in a rather hateful manner or at the wrong time, respond briefly and sincerely, offering to resolve the issue with him later (e.g., “I see you are upset. I’d like to talk with you about that after dinner.”).

4. Instead of allowing your precious time and energy to be sapped by your teen’s disrespectful behavior, free yourself by forgiving, letting go, and moving on. Don’t hold on to bitterness or blame. Treat her with respect, model the appropriate behavior yourself, and you might just spur a change of heart in her.

5. Pay attention to how your body feels. A pounding heart, a headache, or tense muscles can all be signs that you’re in danger of being hijacked by intense feelings. Becoming more aware of physical cues helps you to stay ahead of your responses. Noticing how your body feels under stress activates both sides of your brain, allowing you to reflect on the parent-child issue instead of just reacting to it.

6. Pull away from heated arguments and look at it without ego (as if you were observing someone else’s life). Is it possible you are being overly-sensitive, or has your teenager treated you like a doormat without good reason?  A clear sense of which it is will help you find the best solution to the current parent-child conflict.

7. Some teens criticize as a way of “projecting” their own issues on to parents or taking the focus off their own shortcomings. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about this. Continually dwelling on your teen’s childish behavior or holding a grudge will only keep you stuck in resentment.

8. Sometimes what your offensive teen directs at you is not about you at all. Teenagers who are complaining all the time may simply be struggling with an internal battle that is spilling over into their parent’s life. When teens nag or grumble, they may actually be trying to tell their parents that they are hurting inside. So, the next time your teen offends you, consider the possibility that the insult is not about you.

9. Take care of yourself. Lack of sleep, going too long without food, and lack of recreational activities can leave your mind and body vulnerable to exaggerated responses.  For many parents, it’s easy to let their own basic self-care take a back seat to the noble cause of taking care of their children. Ironically, it is your children who are most likely to end up on the receiving end of your exaggerated responses. Prioritizing your own self-care will help minimize this.

10. The children in our lives are often our mirrors. They reflect back the impact of our words and actions. A smart-alecky teen’s words – though spiteful – can awaken us to an aspect of our own behavior we may have refused to own-up to. Although blame can be hard to take, you may benefit from it by looking for the nugget of truth embedded in the painful circumstance.

11. Watch for all-or-nothing words like “always” and “never” as clues that you’re heading toward a meltdown (“You NEVER do what I ask you to do” …or “I’m so tired of ALWAYS having to tell you to ____”).

12. When you feel like flying off the handle, take a deep breath. Deep breathing slows down your fight-or-flight response and allows you to choose a more thoughtful and productive response.

13. When your mouthy teen comes flying at you, rather than playing the role of victim and seeing yourself as the target, stay on target. Don’t let his insults distract you from your goals as a parent. Consider it background noise, and don’t let it distract you.

14. When your teen is demanding, you may stuff your emotions below the surface to avoid a confrontation. But your emotions warn you when something is wrong. By ignoring your feelings, you create a larger problem to deal with later. By accepting the messages they bring, you’ll be able to deal more effectively with parent-child conflict from the start.

15. You get to choose what you will tolerate as a parent. If your teen is chipping away at your self-esteem by constantly belittling you, you owe it to yourself to create boundaries and to tell her how you feel when that happens. Decide on a specific action you will take if your teenager continues to bombard you with insults and putdowns.

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