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

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Defusing Heated Arguments with Defiant Teenagers

At some point, you as a parent have probably been involved in a knock-down, drag-out argument with your defiant teenager. Each of you is convinced the other is wrong. Neither of you will back down. You've tried everything to get through to your son or daughter (e.g., ironclad logic, negotiating, yelling louder and longer), but neither side will budge. So, what can parents do when they find themselves in frequent verbal fights with their out-of-control teenagers?

Here are 15 parenting tips to help resolve heated arguments with defiant teens:

1. Ask your teen if she would be willing to summarize your position. If she can't, or she hasn't heard it yet, ask if she would be willing to listen to what you have to say now.

2. Don't try to force your teen into admitting they he is wrong. That's the kind of tactic that keeps the argument burning. Genuine agreement will come, when and if it comes. It can't be forced.

3. Enlist the help of a mediator (e.g., a family therapist, a wise grandparent). Consider bringing in a neutral third party to help resolve angry feelings and to help everyone feel heard.

4. Even if you are right, keep your cool. Never debate on what you think is right and your teen thinks is wrong. Recognize there is a gap between your reality and her perception of things.

5. Find out what your teen wants you to hear. You don't have to agree with it. A lot or arguments go on painfully and without progress because each side is trying to be heard – but neither side is listening. By listening, you break that deadlock.

6. Identify points where you and your teen already agree. After listening and confirming understanding, some arguments dissolve right then, because there was no actual disagreement.

7. If parts of what your teen has said have moved you to change your mind, now is a good time to say so. If he has enlightened you or corrected an error of yours, thank him!

8. If at any time during an argument you feel as if your safety is being threatened in any way, or that there is no way a resolution will be found, simply remove yourself from the situation. It is better to stay safe than to win an argument or try to calm a violent, irrational teenager down.

9. If you feel as though you are not getting anywhere, saying something such as, "I really feel we should both calm down and approach this when we have had time to think" …or, "I care about this issue, but I don't want to speak out of anger, so I think it is best that I go to the other room" is a good way to leave things for now.

10. Teen’s higher reasoning abilities shut down when they're angry. If either you or your teen is hot with anger, take an hour of quiet to cool-off.

11. Phrase your requests in a way that avoids blaming or shaming your teen for misunderstanding you. You can do this by wording it so you are the one responsible for communicating your point, rather than making your teen responsible for understanding you (e.g., "I'd like to make sure that I've gotten my point across" …rather than, "I'd like to make sure you haven't misunderstood").

12. Be sure to put the point where you disagree into words. Many disputes go on unproductively because neither side even knows what the squabble is about! When you put the disagreement into words, either you will both agree very quickly on what the disagreement is, or you won't. If the latter, you open up an opportunity to hear something important that you haven't heard yet.

13. State your needs and boundaries clearly. Avoid insulting your teen or telling her how unreasonable she is being. Instead, stick to statements where you are clearly defining your comfort level and boundaries (e.g., "I understand you are angry, but I need you to speak to me respectfully" …or, "I know we have a disagreement here, but it is difficult for me to talk to someone who is screaming").

14. Summarize your understanding of your teen's position by stating it in your own words, and ask if your understanding is accurate (e.g., "Let's see if I understand you correctly. Are you saying ...?"). By moving from establishing which side is right to accurately understanding the other side, you neutralize the struggle to "force a verdict" and create an opportunity to correct misunderstanding. If you do understand correctly, your teen now sees this.

15. Validate your teen’s concerns and empathize with how he feels. Teens often become aggravated when they feel they are not being heard. Statements like, "I understand you are feeling annoyed" …or, "I know we both want to resolve this problem" …can go a long way to help avoid heated arguments.

On a final note, if all else fails, ask yourself these questions: “What’s more important – winning this argument, or keeping the peace?” “What are we really arguing about?” “Will it even matter tomorrow?” This is called "self-checking." As parents who may be on the verge of over-reacting, sometimes we have to get inside ourselves to keep a level head.

Parental Frustration in Raising Defiant Teens

"I get so frustrated with my rebellious 13-year-old son - and often lose my temper! You can’t leave him alone for a minute without problems of some sort (won’t go into all that here though). Am I a bad mother? How can I avoid over-reacting like this? I know I'm throwing gas on the fire!!"

Most moms lose their temper with their teens from time to time. It's OK to feel angry …just don’t take it out on your son. If you feel angry with your son almost every day or have trouble controlling your temper, get some help. There's no shame in that! Start by talking to your family doctor. Also, there are groups that can help moms, too. You can join our support group here:

Parenting Defiant Children and Teens - Support Group

When you get frustrated and upset, give yourself a break (rather than getting angry, and then feeling guilty for getting angry). Everyone needs a break from being a parent once in a while. If you have another adult in your family, take turns getting away. For example, have your partner stay with your son so you can visit friends. Take turns sleeping late on the weekends. If you're a single parent, ask friends and relatives to help by running some errands for you. Maybe they could stay with your son while you go out.

Know that frustration is normal. All moms get frustrated. Teens take a lot of time and energy. Parenting is even harder when you have problems in your life (e.g., worries about your job, your bills, your relationships, problems with alcohol or drugs, etc.). To be a good mother, you have to take care of yourself!!! That means getting help for YOUR issues first ...then you can work on your son.

No mom or dad is perfect. They all make mistakes. Even very passive parents sometimes say and do things they don't mean to do (e.g., yell at their child or call him/her a "bad" name). But if you think you're having trouble controlling yourself, get help so a pattern of emotional abuse doesn't start.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Foster Self-Reliance in Overindulged Teens

Do you happen to use an “overindulgent” parenting style? If so, then you are probably experiencing a lot of behavioral problems with your teenager! What’s the connection between overindulgence and behavior problems you ask? In this post, we will answer this question in great detail…

First of all, do you notice any of the following characteristics in your teen?
  • Asks for help on a task she should be able to do on her own
  • Can be obnoxious and temperamental
  • Constantly engages in whining and complaining
  • Demands things all the time
  • Exhibits extreme clinginess or the inability to be alone
  • Fails to bounce back from normal adolescent disappointments
  • Has little concern for the welfare of others
  • Ignores or negotiates every request you make
  • Is self-centered
  • Is verbally and/or physically aggressive
  • Is very manipulative
  • Lacks motivation
  • Repeatedly asks for rewards or money for basic chores 
  • Shows little gratitude for what she has
  • Wants to control the decisions of other family members

If this sounds like your teen, then it’s safe to say that he or she is overindulged, which is a nice term for “spoiled rotten!”

What happens when you have an overindulged teenager? The result of overindulgent parenting includes the following. The teenager:
  • begins to underestimate his abilities
  • believes the rules do not apply to him
  • depends on the parent to give him what he wants, but at the same time resents being dependent, and this resentment comes out as anger and ungratefulness – and a strong desire for more material stuff and privileges
  • does not get along well with authority figures (e.g., teachers)
  • feels entitled to privileges, but not responsible for his actions
  • finds school boring
  • gets labeled ADHD by school officials and mental health professionals
  • is the one in charge rather than the parent (i.e., the tail is wagging the dog)
  • is used to not having to be responsible for anything
  • learns how to avoid unpleasant tasks or challenges instead of facing them
  • learns to manipulate others instead of how to take responsibility

Even if your teen is already well on his way to becoming overindulged, all is not lost. Your goal as a mother or father is to teach him to weather the natural frustration of not getting what he wants without feeling like his world is ending or taking it as a sign you don’t love him.

Here are 25 ways to move from overindulgence to fostering self-reliance in your teen:

1. Allow your teen to make mistakes when safety is not an issue. It’s natural to want to step in and solve problems (which you’ve been doing for years). But now is his chance to make some minor mistakes and learn from them while the stakes are lower. He will also learn valuable problem-solving skills, and develop self-resilience and self-control.

2. Announce your limits, and stick to them. Let it be known what you will and won’t shell-out money for. Even if this leads to more arguments, make your teen respect your authority by refusing to budge.

3. Don’t FORCE your opinion on your teenager. Parents sometimes don’t trust what they have taught their teens. Did you ever plant some tulips? What happens if you yank the bulbs out every day to see if they’re growing? No tulips! Give the truths that you have poured into your teen’s heart and mind some time and space to take root and grow.

4. Don’t lose your temper. Staying calm helps you and your teen. Plus, it models the behavior you expect from him.

5. Encourage your teen to fully express himself. He is trying to discover who he is and is not (an important undertaking during adolescence) Accept that he may not like the things you do or have the same opinions, and get to know him as a person in his own right.

6. Establish ground rules for safety. As your teen tries out new behaviors and methods of self-expression, and gains new skills (e.g., driving, cooking, dating, etc.), she will still need limits to keep her safe. Negotiate rules when you can to give her a sense of ownership, but make sure she knows safety is a priority and is not negotiable.

7. Follow through with consequences consistently so that your teenager learns to accept responsibility for his own actions.

8. Foster a good work ethic. Even preteens can wash a car or help mix pancake batter.

9. Have your teen participate regularly in household chores (e.g., vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, etc.). Also, teach him how to do his own laundry and care for his clothes.

10. Have your teen participate in making meals regularly.

11. Help your teen to discover his world. As he tries to figure out where he fits in, give him opportunities to try new activities and sports and to meet new people. He may end up discovering a lifelong career path in the process.

12. Hold your teen accountable. For example, if he continually oversleeps and misses the bus, charge him gas money to drive him to school. Now is the time for him to learn that his actions matter in the bigger world and affect others as well as himself.

13. Intentionally teach your teen how to work through conflicts with her peers. Simply preparing your teen with some practical conflict-resolution skills will help foster self-reliance and confidence.

14. Let natural consequences be your friend. For example, instead of nagging your teen to get a summer job so she can afford all the activities she wants to do – don’t. If she doesn’t follow through, she’ll just have to skip some of those activities.

15. Remind your teen you will always be there for him. As he spreads his wings, make sure you let him know you will be nearby whenever he needs you. This safety net will make it possible for him to have the confidence he needs to fly into his future.

16. Set shopping parameters. For example, if you’re out to a store with your teen and she wants a new pair of jeans, tell her she can have it—if she pays for it with her allowance money.

17. Talk openly and honestly about sex.

18. Teach your adolescents about Internet safety.

19. Teach your teen how to use an assignment pad to keep track of homework.

20. Teach your teen life skills. Your teen should be starting to learn how to manage money and drive safely in various situations. Increase her responsibilities as she gets closer to college age so she is ready to fully take care of herself when it’s time to move out and be fully independent.

21. Teach your teen to check the tire pressure and oil in the car he drives.

22. Teach your teen to think independently about commercials and advertisements aimed at teens.

23. Teaching your teen to monitor his own TV time and video game time.

24. Understand that making decisions for your teen can be destructive to his independence. Decision-making is a skill that only comes with practice. It isn’t something that’s magically conferred on a teenager when he turns 18. Letting him make choices means that he will probably do some things wrong and make poor choices, but he will learn from those, too.

25. Use praise. When you notice your teen is making a real effort to act differently, let him know that you notice.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Quick Tips for Regaining Control of Your Out-of-Control Teenager

The adolescent years are notoriously difficult to navigate, which can create a nightmare for moms and dads whose teenagers are out-of-control. Whether your son or daughter is lying, stealing, doing drugs, or acting defiantly – you CAN resolve these issues with the proper strategies. 

Here are some quick tips on how to regain control:

1. First of all, YOU have to take care of YOU. Dealing with out-of-control teenage behaviors is very stressful. Build in some time for social support and recreation each week so that you can recharge your batteries and feel refreshed and motivated to continue on.

2. Come up with a plan on how you will hold your teenager accountable. What will you do if he does not meet your expectations?  How will you respond? In the heat of the moment, it’s most effective to state your expectations – and then walk away. Then after things have calmed down, do some “problem solving” and give a consequence if the situation calls for it.

3. Don’t over-negotiate. If you over-negotiate with an adolescent that is trying to be the boss, you're giving her the message that she's your equal. Soon she’ll start bargaining with you in order to behave appropriately.

4. Expect setbacks. Change is a slow process. Be patient and take one day at a time. Things will get better, but your teenager will still make mistakes along the way – it’s the way he learns. Start with a fresh slate each day and stay positive.

5. Expect your adolescent to react strongly to the new structure you impose as soon as you establish it. Adolescents do not give up power easily.

6. Find a support group for moms and dads of troubled adolescents. Listening to the struggles and solutions of other parents will make you feel less alone and will give you strength to face challenging situations at home.

7. Find out everything you can about your adolescent. Adolescents are experts at hiding what they don't want you to know about, and many times moms and dads are experts at turning the other way and ignoring unacceptable behaviors in hopes that they will get better on their own. Although checking up on your adolescent may feel like spying, and snooping through his backpack may feel like an invasion of his privacy, it is your job as a mother or father to know what your adolescent is up to so that you can protect him. Talk to his teachers, friends and siblings to get another perspective on your teen. Have regular discussions with him about his life. Listen carefully – without interruption – to what he says, and try to understand what he is feeling. Remember that adolescents feel things much more intensely than grown-ups. Don't discount strong feelings simply because they don't make sense to you.

8. If everyone understands what the rules are, the chances of your teenager following those rules increase. Thus, write up a behavior contract with your adolescent. If something is written down on paper, it becomes more real. The contract should clearly define what she has to do in certain key areas. If she complies with the contract, she will be rewarded (be sure to outline what those rewards will be). If she does NOT comply with the contract, she will receive appropriate consequences (be sure to outline what those consequences will be).

9. If the problems seem too big for you to handle, seek support elsewhere. This is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of resourcefulness, commitment to change, and a good way to add another tool to your parenting toolbox.

10. If you have more than one teenager in the house and want to regain control over ALL of them, you will need to first regain control of the “dominant” teen. Even though his siblings may be acting out as well, your “alpha teen” is causing the imbalance in authority; thus, he is the one you have to manage initially. Of course, you have to hold your other teens accountable for their poor choices, but your main priority should be to address the behavior of the dominant teen (e.g., give him consequences that he can't undermine, then be firm and follow through with them).

11. If your teen is severely out-of-control, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional to rule out disorders such as ADHD, depression or anxiety. These disorders and others like them can prevent your adolescent from reaching his full potential and leave him feeling frustrated, stressed-out and unable to live a happy life. Medication to control these disorders can make an enormous difference in your adolescent's attitude and general well-being, and may put an end to any related behavioral problems.

12. Know that lectures and speeches aren’t effective. Instead, have conversations that are focused on what your teenager’s responsibilities are, and how she can meet them.

13. Know the difference between motivating your adolescent with a “reward system” versus “bargaining.” When you’re bargaining with her, she’s often wearing you down until you give in (e.g., you may end up saying, “Okay, as long as you don’t drink any alcohol, you can go to that party”). On the other hand, when you're rewarding her, it's clear that you're the one with the authority giving out the reward.

14. Know what your expectations are and write them down for future reference. Also, make sure you are able to communicate your expectations in clear terms. 

15. Moms and dads need to partner together and come up with a game plan that outlines how they will deal with their adolescent as a team. Develop a plan that you are both comfortable with. Have a “parent’s-meeting” and get clear about your unified message before presenting it to your teenager. The mother and father that can't get on the same page about how to hold their adolescent accountable will end up creating a vacuum in power (which their out-of-control adolescent will only be too happy to fill).

16. Parenting classes and therapists in your local area can be a big help if you are struggling to regain control of your teen’s behavior.

17. Refrain from making excuses for your teen’s attitude and be honest with yourself regarding her behavior. It's easier to overlook a few lies or turn the other way when you know your adolescent is engaging in risky behavior than it is to confront her and meet challenges head on. But without your strict guidance and intervention, these behaviors will only get worse.

18. Remember that your journey toward more effective parenting will start with just one step.

19. Reward positive behavior in your teenager whenever you see it (e.g., “Hey, I noticed you put your dirty laundry in the clothes hamper – great job!”).

20. Lastly, when attempting to address behavioral issues, simply focus on your top 3 concerns. What behavioral problems are causing the most chaos in your home? Choose the 3 most problematic concerns and write them down. Your list might look something like this: “(1) refuses to do homework, (2) picks on his younger brother, and (3) slams his bedroom door really hard when he’s mad.” Then rank your top 3 concerns in order of priority. The top issue on the list is where you put your main focus for now. The other 2 issues can wait until you have more time and energy. Working on just one thing is enough for now. Keep it simple.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Get Your Teen to WANT to Listen to You

The biggest challenge when parenting an adolescent is how to get her to listen to you and your advice. You want to protect her from bad decisions and choices. But now that she’s “all grown up” (in her mind), she “knows it all” and does not listen to you. She has transformed from a kid that followed your lead and had everything done for her to a teen that makes her own choices and decisions.

As most parents may have already figured out, you can't make your teenager change if he doesn't want to. No amount of pleading, forcing, or discipline will work. In fact, the more you persist, the more he will rebel. So, instead of “How can I get my teen to listen to me?” …the question should really be “How can I get my teenager to WANT to listen to me?” The answer is to examine the quality of the attachment between you and your teenager. A weak parent-child bond translates to having a deaf teen.

How to get your teen to WANT to listen to you:

1. As a parent, you have to “pretend” that your teen hears you when you speak. If you know he has no hearing problems and doesn’t have headphones on, then assume he can hear you. Look at him and state the rules in a clear, calm manner. For example, “In order to go to the movies with your friends this coming Friday night, you need to be back home by 8:00 PM tonight. I know you really want to see that movie, so be sure to be home by 8:00.” If your teen claims he didn’t hear you (after he returns home at midnight), rather than arguing about his listening skills, state the following: “You knew the rules. You didn’t make it home by 8:00 PM, so no movie this weekend. We can try this again next week. If you meet your curfew, you can go to the movies with your friends next Friday.” Don’t get pulled into a power struggle. If he tries to push your buttons, simply leave the room.

2. Be as consistent as possible. Disciplining your teen’s poor choices one week – and then letting it slide the next – sends a mixed message. Maybe you were too tired to care if she didn’t do her homework. So, then what your adolescent thinks is “When dad has had a long day, I can skip doing homework.” For rules to be effective, they must be enforced dependably.

3. If you are hesitant to implement some “tough love” with your teen for her poor behavioral choices, you also guarantee that she will NOT listen to you. If an adolescent feels that she can do as she pleases without any significant consequences, you can bet that she will do just that. Sure, be compassionate and show unconditional love, but do not be afraid to show your adolescent that her poor choices ALWAYS have associated consequences.

4. Pick your battles carefully. Coming home at midnight may be more risky to your adolescent than not cleaning up his room when asked. Of course, don't ignore blatant disregard for a rule (no matter how small), but at the same time, don't lose your cool over a dirty bedroom. Loss of computer privileges until his bedroom is picked up is a more appropriate response than the loss of the computer for an entire week.

5. Often times, an adolescent fails to listen to her parents because she thinks they only want to spoil her fun. The "Because I said so" comment may work for younger children, but in the teenage years, those are “fighting words” that will only sow seeds of rebellion. So, don’t bark-out commands. Instead, open the doors of communication and explain how choices have consequences. For instance, if your adolescent wants to attend a party where alcohol will probably be available, don’t just say "NO WAY!" Instead, explain how such situations pose serious risks.

6. When your teenager challenges your rules, keep the conversation focused on your expectations, not on your adolescent’s ideas about fairness. If you have to “defend” your rules, it gives your teen the impression that the rules are negotiable. Rather than arguing about your rules, simply state the facts (e.g., “I know you don’t like the rules, and you prefer to ignore me. But the truth is this: You don’t have to like the rules, you just have to find a way to follow them.”).

7. When your teenager ignores you or pretends not to hear, remember that it is a “control issue.” She wants to be “in charge” now that she is “all grown up.” Even if you're annoyed, keep our cool. You don’t have to attend every “war-of-wills party” you’re invited to. Sometimes it best to ignore that fact that she ignored you.

8. If you truly want your adolescent to listen to you, you need to listen to his problems and concerns too. Listen without judgment, asking questions and taking a genuine interest in his life. Allow him to openly share any objections he has about the issues at hand, and respond in a way that shows you really understand his concerns. This isn’t to say that you should compromise on the house rules necessarily, but you can be sympathetic to your adolescent's frustrations. If he says that a rule isn’t fair, ask him to elaborate. Be open to the idea that some rules may need to be adjusted in order for them to appear fair. For example, maybe an 11:00 PM curfew on Saturday nights isn’t fair because he wants to attend a movie with friends that doesn’t start until 10:00 PM. He would have to miss the ending of the movie to be home on time. Maybe he could have an 11:30 PM curfew (just on some Saturday nights).

9. Offer rewards, not just consequences. For example, for feeding the dogs all week, he can have an extra 30 minutes on his curfew. For taking his little brother to baseball practice, he can borrow the car Friday night. Rewards are incentives to “Listen to my advice and rules.”

10. Pick the right time to talk to your teen about “the rules.” For example, starting this conversation while your adolescent is engrossed in a video game may make the conversation feel like a penalty of sorts …or when your adolescent has just come home from school, he may have other things on his mind and may not be able to focus on the “You need to listen to me” conversation. Make an appointment. For example, take him out to dinner, wait until the evening meal, or wait until bedtime when you have both had a chance to wind down.

11. If you want your adolescent to be open to communication and willing to listen, don’t treat him as a subordinate. Instead, treat him as a contributing and valuable member of the family. Let him take part in important family decisions. Listen to his opinions. Support his goals. Take time to remind him that he is loved unconditionally. The more he feels respected and valued, the more willing he will be to listen to your advice.

12. Lastly, write the rules down and post them somewhere prominent. If your rules are written, there is little room for misinterpretation. Sit down with your adolescent and have her read the rules aloud to you. This gives her a chance to ask questions and make comments. Revisions to the rules (the first draft anyway) may need to take place as well.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

"Social Networking" Issues with Teens: Tips for Parents

Social networking sites play an important role in the lives of many teens. Over 60% of 13-17 year olds have at least one profile on a social networking site, many spending more than 2 hours per day on these sites.

Social networking sites can present opportunities to teenagers who participate with them, but like any activity, there are also associated risks. Thus, it is important for moms and dads to help their teens use these sites wisely.

Some potential benefits are: (a) developing and expressing individual identity; (b) developing new social contacts with peers with similar interests; (c) sharing content of self-expression (e.g., art work, music, political views, etc.); and (d) staying connected to friends.

Online social networking can involve new risks such as: (a) vulnerability to predatory adults; (b) sharing too much information; (c) sharing photos or videos that the teenager may later regret; (d) risk of identity theft; (e) reduced amount of time for physical activity; (f) exposure to large amounts of commercial advertisements which may not be age appropriate; and (g) cyber-bullying.

If your teen is thinking about using social networking sites, there are many ways to help him or her use them safely and appropriately. Discuss freely with your teen, and guide him or her by suggesting the following:
  • “Talk to your friend’s parents before considering meeting anyone face to face you have met online to make sure this friend is legitimate.”
  • “Post only information you are comfortable with everyone seeing.” 
  • “Keep your full name, address, telephone number, social security number and bank or credit card number to yourself.”
  • “Keep control of your information by restricting access to your page.”

Teens need support and education to develop the skills needed to understand the risks and opportunities of social networking sites, so talk to your teen before he or she signs up for an account. Things to consider include: (a) the limits on time allowed on these sites that may occur if their usage interferes with family time or external social activities; (b) the monitoring you will do on their internet usage; and (c) the rules in your household regarding social networking sites.

Social networking sites are a widely accepted part of many teens’ lives. However, if you feel that your teenager is spending too much time on these sites or is involved in inappropriate behaviors while using these them, you as the parent will need to set some serious boundaries.

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