Butting Heads with Your Defiant Teen: Tips for Parents

The primary goal of adolescence is to achieve independence. For this to occur, they will start pulling away from their moms and dads — especially the parent whom they're the closest to. This can come across always seeming to have different opinions than their parents, or not wanting to be around them in the same way they used to.

As adolescents mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They're forming their moral code. And moms and dads may find that teens who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves — and their opinions — strongly and rebelling against parental control.

Adolescence can be a confusing time of change for all family members. But while these years can be difficult, there's plenty you can do to nurture your adolescent and encourage responsible behavior. Use the parenting tips below to deal with the challenges of raising a difficult, defiant adolescent.

40 tips for parents with defiant teens:

1. Avoid punishing your adolescent when you're angry.

2. Avoid reprimanding your adolescent in front of his or her friends.

3. Avoid ultimatums. Your adolescent may view an ultimatum as condescending and interpret it as a challenge.

4. Be a good role model. Your actions -- even more than your words -- are critical in helping adolescents adopt good moral and ethical standards.  If teens have a good role model from early on, they will be less likely to make bad decisions in their rebellious adolescent years.

5. Be concise. Keep your rules short and to the point.

6. Be consistent when you enforce limits. Whatever disciplinary tactic you choose, relate the consequences to the broken rule and deliver them immediately. Limit punishments to a few hours or days to make them most effective.

7. Be flexible. As your adolescent demonstrates more responsibility, grant him or her more freedom. If your adolescent shows poor judgment, impose more restrictions.

8. Be prepared to explain your decisions. Your adolescent may be more likely to comply with a rule when he or she understands its purpose.

9. Be reasonable. Avoid setting rules your adolescent can't possibly follow. A chronically messy son or daughter may not be able to maintain a spotless bedroom overnight.

10. Be specific. For example, rather than telling your adolescent not to stay out late, set a specific curfew.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

11.  Choose your battles wisely. Doing themselves harm or doing something that could be permanent (e.g., smoking, getting a tattoo) -- those things matter. Purple hair, a messy room -- those don't matter. Don't nitpick.

12. Decide rules and discipline in advance with the other parent. If you have a two-parent family, it's important for both mom and dad to have their own discussion so they can come to some kind of agreement and stay on the same page. Whether you ban your teens from driving for a week or a month, whether you ground them for a day or a week, cut back on their allowance or Internet use -- whatever -- set it in advance. If the teenager says it isn't fair, then you have to agree on what is fair punishment. Then, follow through with the consequences.

13. Discuss "checking in." Give adolescents age-appropriate autonomy, especially if they behave appropriately. But you need to know where they are. That's part of responsible parenting. If it feels necessary, require them to call you during the evening to check in.

14. Don't impose penalties you're not prepared to carry out.

15. Encourage your adolescent to talk to other supportive adults (e.g., an uncle, older cousin, or grandparent) for guidance.

16. Enforce consequences. Enforcing consequences can be tough — but your adolescent needs you to be his or her parent, not a buddy. Being too lenient may send the message that you don't take your adolescent's behavior seriously, while being too harsh can cause resentment.

17. Give adolescents a game plan. For example, tell them, "If the only option is getting into a car with a drunk driver, call me -- I don't care if it's 3:00 AM in the morning." Or make sure they have cab fare. Help them figure out how to handle a potentially unsafe situation, yet save face. Brainstorm with them. Come up with a solution that feels comfortable.

18. Give teens some leeway. Giving adolescents a chance to establish their own identity, giving them more independence, is essential to helping them establish their own place in the world.

19.  If your adolescent doesn't seem interested in bonding, keep trying.

20. Keep in mind that only reprimanding your adolescent and never giving him or her any justified praise can prove demoralizing. For every time you discipline or correct your adolescent, try to compliment him or her twice.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

21. Keep the "communication door" open. Don't interrogate your teens, but act interested. Share a few tidbits about your own day, and ask about theirs. For example: How was the concert? How was the date? How was your day?

22. Let teens feel guilty. Too much is made about self-esteem. Feeling good about yourself is healthy. But people should feel bad if they have hurt someone or done something wrong. Teens need to feel bad sometimes. Guilt is a healthy emotion. When teens have done something wrong, they should feel bad ...they should feel guilty.

23. Minimize pressure. Don't pressure your adolescent to be like you were (or wish you had been) at his or her age. For example, give your adolescent some leeway when it comes to clothing and hairstyles. It's natural for adolescents to rebel and express themselves in ways that differ from their moms and dads. As you allow your adolescent some degree of self-expression, remember that you can still maintain high expectations and the kind of person he or she will become.

24. Monitor what your teens see and read. TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — teens have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they're learning from the media and who they are communicating with online.

25. On days when you're having trouble connecting with your adolescent, consider each doing your own thing in the same space. Being near each other could lead to the start of a conversation.

26. Only punish the guilty party, not other family members, when punishment is needed.

27. Prioritize rules. While it's important to consistently enforce your rules, you can occasionally make exceptions when it comes to matters such as homework habits, TV watching and bedtime. Prioritizing rules will give you and your adolescent a chance to practice negotiating and compromising. Before negotiating with your adolescent, however, consider how far you're willing to bend. Don't negotiate when it comes to restrictions imposed for your adolescent's safety (e.g., substance abuse, sexual activity, reckless driving, etc.). Make sure your adolescent knows early on that you won't tolerate tobacco, alcohol or other drug use.

28. Put rules in writing. Use this technique to counter a selective memory.

29. Put yourself in your youngster's place. Practice empathy by helping your youngster understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.

30. Regularly eating meals together may be a good way to stay connected to your adolescent. Better yet, invite your adolescent to prepare the meal with you.

31. Respect your teens' privacy. Some moms and dads feel that anything their teens do is their business. But to help your adolescent become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your youngster's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off.

32. Set a positive example. Remember, adolescents learn how to behave by watching their moms and dads. Your actions generally speak louder than your words. Set a positive example and your adolescent will likely follow your lead.

33. Show your love. One of the most important parenting skills needed for raising healthy adolescents involves positive attention. Spend time with your adolescent to remind him or her that you care. Listen to your adolescent when he or she talks, and respect your adolescent's feelings.

34. Start with trust. Let your adolescent know that you trust him or her. But, if the trust gets broken, he or she may enjoy fewer freedoms until the trust is rebuilt.

35. Talk to adolescents about risks. Whether it is drugs, driving, or premarital sex, your teens need to know the worst that could happen.

36. To encourage your adolescent to behave well, identify what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior at home, at school and elsewhere. As you establish appropriate rules, explain to your adolescent the behavior you expect as well as the consequences for complying and disobeying.

37. Use “active ignoring” during teen tantrums. Tell your adolescent that you'll talk to him or her when the whining, sulking or yelling stops. Ignore your adolescent in the meantime.

38. When imposing additional restrictions, take away a privilege or possession that's meaningful to your adolescent (e.g., computer time, a cell phone, etc.).

39. When showing disapproval, make sure you reprimand your adolescent's “behavior,” not your adolescent. Avoid using a sarcastic, demeaning or disrespectful tone.

40. When your adolescent needs a consequence for misbehavior, have him or her suggest a consequence. Your adolescent may have an easier time accepting a consequence if he or she played a role in deciding it.

Good Luck!


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Parenting Your Children After Divorce

Some moms and dads think once they are divorced and most of the decisions have been made, the worst is behind them. Unfortunately, parenting after divorce is an ongoing challenge. The success of divorced parents depends on the decisions they make, their attitude toward their situation, and their compassion for their “blameless” kids.

Divorced moms and dads are often overwhelmed by all the changes in their lives. They may be filled with guilt, blame, rage, or grief. Though they love their kids, it is often a major challenge to manage emotions and conflict with their ex-spouse in a way that helps their kids move through the changes and feel loved and secure.

Things to consider when parenting children after a divorce:

1. Children need to feel understood. After a divorce, their feelings may be in turmoil. Listen to them. Don't tell them what to think. Be sure to respond specifically to what they are telling you. For example, say, “It sounds like you are feeling upset about meeting your father's new girlfriend, is that right?” As a mother or father, you don't have to have a solution for your kids’ problems – you just need to listen as they describe their problems. You can suggest they write down their feelings and share them with your ex-spouse (but only if they want to).

2. Even though it might be tempting to do so, never criticize your ex-spouse within ear-shot of your children, because it's a direct criticism of them (who are 50% of your ex-spouse).

3. Teenagers like to feel in control, and divorce turns their world upside down. Don't fall into the trap of sharing divorce details or your angry feelings about your ex-spouse with your teens. Their own anxiety and need for control causes them to be understanding of what you're going through, but you need to be the parent. Get outside help for yourself, get therapy if necessary, and maintain those boundaries. Making your older children your cohort is wrong and does damage.

4. Don’t communicate “through” your kids, which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation you and your ex-spouse couldn’t handle.  Email is an excellent tool to communicate with your ex-spouse. It allows you to specifically discuss the practicalities of parenting without detouring into negative areas and opening old wounds. If you need to speak with your ex-spouse over the phone or in person, be focused and stay on task – and most important, don't swallow the bait if he or she descends into resentment and anger. Take the high road by simply saying, “I appreciate your feelings, but I am here to discuss our child's school assignment.”

5. Alienating a youngster from the other parent is an all-too-common (and often subconscious) tactic that moms and dads may use after a divorce. Alienating is a form of brainwashing where one parent repeatedly insists, to the youngster, that certain facts and feelings exist between the other parent and the youngster until the youngster begins to agree, whether true or not. When alienated long enough, kids may resist any bond with the other parent, and that parent may sever ties with the youngster out of frustration and hopelessness. This is the worst mistake any divorced parent can commit, and it has a name: Parental Alienation Syndrome.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

6. Although going through a divorce can make a mother or father feel emotionally needy, this should not be shared with your youngster through action or word. A youngster who feels a parent’s neediness too often will begin feeling guilty or fearful of leaving the parent when it is time to spend time with the other parent. This is a huge burden to put on any boy or girl.

7. Don’t turn any of your youngster’s special occasions into an opportunity to focus on marital hostility. Let sporting events, birthdays, holidays, dance recitals, and school performances all be opportunities to focus on your son or daughter and how proud you are of him or her. Don’t, for example, discuss parenting-time issues, child-support issues, etc. If you have difficulty being civil with your ex-spouse, take turns at special events, or limit your attendance, or attend the event at opposite ends of the room so that your child can interact freely with both sides of the family without fear of chaos and drama.

8. It’s never too late to undo emotional fall-out from a nasty divorce. Kids are remarkably forgiving (at least until they reach their teenage years, when resentment can become more cemented). If you've made some mistakes, simply do the following: (a) explain in detail exactly what you've done wrong, (b) commit to changing your behavior from that moment on, and (c) apologize for your mistakes (saying you're sorry goes a long way).

9. Moms with sons – and dads with daughters – should be particularly careful that they do not put their oldest youngster into the position of “replacement spouse,” “man of the house,” “woman of the house,” or any other misplaced role. Kids need to feel like kids and feel the security of knowing their mother and father can – and will – take care of all parenting obligations.

10. Never put your son or daughter in the position of choosing between households. Most U.S. states have statues that require children to be almost adults before being capable of choosing where they want to live. Some states never allow children this choice. This is because they have a natural, healthy loyalty toward both mom AND dad. Being asked to make any choice between parents (e.g., who has custody, whose house the youngster should spend Christmas at, etc.) puts kids in the awkward position of shifting their loyalty away from one parent in favor of the other. This can leave them feeling regretful, angry and despondent.

11. Asking your son or daughter questions about the other parent (or time spent with the other parent) is a harmful way of putting the youngster in the middle. Moms and dads should always communicate all issues privately between themselves. Any questions or concerns about the other parent’s home or situation should be directed at that parent, not the youngster.

12. Spoiling your kids in order to divert their grief or pain is not a healthy way of dealing with their pain – or yours. If you are the one who has moved away from the original home, you may have an even larger temptation to be an over-indulgent parent since your time together will be so limited now. It feels important to make that time memorable to your youngster – and what boy or girl doesn’t love a new toy? But more than toys, your youngster needs to feel stable and safe. This can be obtained through parenting “as usual,” despite the changes in family life.

13. Treating your youngster like a “pal” and relating to him or her as a peer is a common change that occurs after some divorces. While it may be tempting to sympathize with your youngster since you have both lost something important in your lives, your losses are different. Your youngster is not a mini-adult!

14. Do not share with your son or daughter whether or not the other parent is paying child-support, how much child-support, or when the child-support doesn’t come in – no matter how tempting it may be. Any criticism of your ex-spouse will also feel like a criticism of the youngster and will erode his or her self-esteem.

15. Lastly, if several months go by and your children are still not coping well or adjusting to the new circumstance, please consider family counseling or therapy for all willing parties.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

When Your Ex-Husband Undermines Your Disciplinary Efforts

"How do I get back on track in my house when my son’s father (we are divorced) undermines my disciplinary efforts?"

There are some families in which the parents’ beliefs about changing their kid’s behavior are so different that their attempts at discipline become more of a problem than a solution. A youngster whose mom is strict but whose dad is a consistent pushover, for example, receives confusing information about what’s expected.

A parent who gives in to his kids’ every demand in the hope of satisfying them almost always finds that the opposite happens: Instead of letting up, the kids continue to push for more and more, looking for a sign of how much is too much.

A similar thing happens if the moms and dads can’t decide how to discipline and set limits on their kids. It’s healthy for kids to see how their mom and dad reach a compromise or settle a disagreement if it’s done peacefully and effectively. But if the parents can’t reach an agreement, the kids’ behavior often gets worse as they search for the reassurance of stable boundaries to their lives.

In those situations, the main issue of using discipline to teach kids appropriate behavior gets lost in the battles between the mom and dad for an illusion of control. The kids become confused and respond by continuing to act out, both to assert their own power and to figure out which rules are really important.

Realize that disagreeing with your ex about discipline is normal and inevitable. It doesn’t mean that you are incompatible as co-parents. It does mean that you are not clones of each other. Don’t let “lack of agreement” evolve into more than it is. Agree to disagree.

Unfair fighting is never a good life lesson. Witnessing moms and dads sniping, bullying, screaming or giving the cold shoulder is frightening to kids, and teaches them to avoid or to abuse disagreements. Don’t go there, no matter how tempting it is to hit below the belt.

Decide in advance (as in right now!) what’s really important in your family. I’m sure that you and your ex can agree on at least a handful of issues that you’ll always concur are important and should be handled in a certain manner. Many families consider health (e.g., wearing bicycle helmets, banning substance use, etc.), education (e.g., completing class work and homework in an appropriate manner), respect (at home, school and in the public), and honesty to be “givens.”

The bottom line is that the best disciplinary decision is made – not who made it. This is not about notches in the gun belt — it’s about giving consequences that will lower your youngster’s frequency of inappropriate behavior and raise the odds of acceptable behavior in the future, pure and simple. If you feel that your ex is working against you, try giving a preset signal that means “we need to talk.”

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Forming a united front on discipline is often more easily said than done. Here are some ideas that may help:

1. Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is – or is about to get — too heated and needs to be halted.

2. Make a commitment both to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling-off period …or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion …or write down what you’re feeling and later share it with your ex (who might better understand where you’re coming from).

3. Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in kids’ behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.

4. Create your own family “rulebook.” Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Your family, like a football team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

5. Don’t be trapped by your past. That includes both your own childhood and the style of discipline you may have used in an earlier marriage. Look for ways to explore (with your ex) your unquestioned assumptions about discipline. One good way to do that is to take a parenting class together. That does two things: It helps you realize how differently other people respond to the same situations you face as mother and father, and it gives you and your ex a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.

6. Don’t go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the kids – and then resolving them peacefully – can actually be good for them. It shows that it’s possible to disagree with someone, and that relationships don’t end just because people are quarreling with each other.

7. Remember your successes. You and your ex have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can be successful at ending arguments in front of the kids if you really want to. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your kids will be the ultimate winners.

8.    Lastly, remember that a weaker parenting plan supported by both mom AND dad is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Using Reverse Psychology as a Parenting Strategy

In order to really take advantage of “reverse psychology” as an effective parenting tool (and not have anyone catch on to it), parents really need to have a clear understanding of what it is and how it works.

Parents are using reverse psychology when they intentionally argue in favor of a decision or behavior while secretly wanting their child to endorse the opposite decision or behavior. The technique makes use of the psychological phenomenon of “reactance” (i.e., an emotional reaction in opposition to perceived restrictions on a person’s behavioral freedoms).

Reverse psychology is an important tool that parents can use to influence the decisions of their children. The technique tends to work best when parents reinforce independence with resistant teens. In order to reinforce independence in a reverse psychology format, parents argue against themselves versus the behavior they would like their teenager to engage in.

Here are some examples of “good” reverse psychology:
  • You tell your defiant teenage daughter that you can’t make her do anything that she doesn’t want to do – even if you feel you have evidence to back up your advice – and that only she can decide what’s best for her. Now you are arguing against yourself as the “person of influence” – and reverse that to say that your daughter is in the driver’s seat, free and autonomous to decide for herself. If reverse psychology works its magic, this may make your daughter argue in favor of YOUR expertise and the validity of YOUR advice.
  • Your 12-year-old son refuses to eat because he is engrossed in watching television, so you tell him that it’s “bedtime” since he’s done with “dinnertime.” This may spur some positive action from your son who is yearning to have more television time on his schedule. 
  • Your 7-year-old child hates vegetables, so you say, "I bet you can't eat all of those peas in 30 seconds." 
  • Your preschooler doesn't want to take a bath in the evening, so you say, “Okay, let's just go straight to bed then.” This will probably work, because most children would rather do almost anything than go to bed early.

 ==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

So, you’re basically trying to get your kids to do the exact opposite of what they think you really want them to do.

Here is an example of “bad” reverse psychology:
  • Your trying to get your child to put his toys away, so you say, "I'll put these away for you. You probably don't even know how to fit them all back in the box anyway." Now, even though he will probably insist that he can do it all by himself, you may have also hurt his self-esteem a bit by insinuating that he is not smart enough to put toys away. Make sense?

Reverse psychology often works well with defiant children, because many just want to do the opposite of what parents are telling them. Use reverse psychology techniques sparingly, though. Choose your words and situations carefully. Whatever reverse psychology technique is used, be sure to practice and make it believable. Having a reputation as a “manipulator” is not good.

If you haven’t used reverse psychology on your kids yet, it’s time to add it to your parenting toolbox. Kids are notorious for waiting for you to tell them something – and then doing the exact opposite. They thrive on doing the opposite of whatever they know is expected of them (which may very well be a version of reverse psychology in and of itself).

By telling your kids the opposite of what you want them to do, they may (after being slightly confused) do exactly what you want them to. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that kids are very impressionable. Only use reverse psychology in special circumstances, and avoid using it in ways that could harm your youngster’s self-esteem.

No matter when or how you decide to use reverse psychology, know that there is a major difference between psychology and manipulation. Using reverse psychology every once in a while is okay (so long as no one is going to be injured by it). If you take it too far, or use it too often, you will quickly become known as a manipulator. Remember that once tarnished, your reputation is something you can never get back. Also, if you are dealing with compliant kids (as opposed to resistant ones), it may be better to ignore reverse psychology altogether and just be direct.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

House Rules for Children with Oppositional Defiant Behavior

There are hundreds of ways to present and describe house rules, but there are only a few core issues. In dealing with defiant child behavior, providing a lot of structure is paramount. Putting this structure in the form of a detailed “house rules” list will be your key to successful behavior modification.

When drafting your list, be sure to use the child’s first name rather than the word “you” (e.g., “Michael is expected to …..” rather than “YOU are expected to …..”). Also, use the word “will” rather than “may” (e.g., “Parents will specify a time for …..” rather than “Parents may specify a time for …..”).

The following are rules that moms and dads should consider for children with oppositional defiant behavior:

1. Michael is expected to be a self-manager. As his parents, we will become involved at the appropriate level of need, become more involved as necessary, and help Michael when he appears to need help. Michael’s behavior determines whether or not we need to make decisions for him and give him more directions.

2. Michael is not an adult yet, and has no authority over his parents. That means he has some choices and some freedom, but only those that his parents give him. We have a responsibility to raise Michael the best we know how.

3. Michael is to follow directions and requests made by his parents. We will discuss the matter and explain our reasons, but we are not required to explain or justify our decisions.

4. Michael has a legal “right” to adequate food, shelter, education, health care, clothing and protection from abuse. Michael’s parents are not required to give him anything else. However, we will provide Michael with some luxuries, but they will be considered “privileges” – not rights – and must be earned.

5. Michael must ask for permission at least 24 hours in advance in order to go out at night, participate in unscheduled activities, or stay over at a friend’s house. Parents will usually give permission, but we will say ‘no’ if a 24-hour notice is not given.

6. Michael is required to come to dinner and family meetings on time and wait until excused from the meeting or meal.

7. Michael will be required to discuss inappropriate behavior when this is pointed out by his parents. He will talk with us to resolve problems and misunderstandings as they arise.

8. Michael will do assigned house chores to earn privileges. Also, we will give him some extra chores that are paid, but he will not be paid for work that is not completed on time or as specified.

9. Michael will eat regular, nutritious and balanced meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Failure to eat properly is unhealthy and self-harming.

10. Michael will get up for school or work on time. Parents will specify a time and will help him get up if he is late or not on time.

11. Michael will not carry, hold or use drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Also, he will not ride in a car with anyone using - or under the influence of - drugs or alcohol.

12. Michael will not use physical force, spit, break, or throw anything to get what he wants or to hurt someone.

13. Michael will not take or use things that belong to others without permission. He will return all borrowed items as agreed – and in the condition he found it.

14. Homework will be completed on time and turned in to teachers. Parents will designate when and what must be done if Michael fails to manage this responsibility.

15. Hygiene will be daily and at an appropriate time. Parents will designate what must be done and will become more directive if Michael fails to manage this responsibility.

16. No friends will be allowed in the house without permission or unless a parent is present who gives permission. We can designate who can come into the house without permission during appropriate times.

17. The internet will not be used except for school, educational-related activities, and for e-mail to known friends and family. We will have access to the computer and will monitor all e-mail and internet use.

18. There will be no phone calls after 10:00 pm or before 8:00 am.

19. There will be no use of profanity, cruel, sarcastic or insulting remarks.

20. There will be no use of the car or outside activities (e.g., sports, parties, etc.) if the average grade in any class during a semester is lower than a "C". Also, Michael must maintain a "B" average to use a car.

21. There will be no visitors in the house after 9:30 pm without 24-hour notice and a parent’s permission. Also, Michael will be home at a designated time.

Failure to comply with the above rules will result in loss of privileges and/or grounding. Depending on the severity of the violation, privileges will be withheld anywhere from 1 to 7 days.

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