Defiant Teens and Manipulative Behaviors

Defiant teens know how to push their parents' buttons. Instinctively, they come with an arsenal of tools to get what they want, avoid getting into trouble, or cause their moms and dads to blow a fuse out of frustration. This is called manipulative behavior. There are smart ways to counteract the manipulation. Below are some important suggestions on what you can do if you have a defiant, manipulative teen.

How to Deal with Manipulative Behavior:

1. Agree on strategies to deal with your adolescent's manipulative behavior with your spouse/partner. For example, if you tell your adolescent that she can't go out on a Friday night until she finishes her homework, it will be useless unless your spouse/partner tells her the same thing. If an adolescent does not get her way with one parent, she may go to the weaker parent to get what she wants.

2. Be consistent. Learn to say “no” with some strength behind it when you mean it. If your “no” often becomes a “yes” because your teenager has been successful at wearing you down, a pattern of emotional blackmail can result. Your teenager has learned that being relentless works. So say “no,” state your reason, make it short and to the point, and walk away.

3. Be honest with your teenager about her manipulative behaviors. Have a frank and upfront discussion about how you understand what she is trying to do and how it makes you feel. Expect her to deny ever doing any of the things you say she is doing. However, continue to explain that you don't care for the way she is manipulating you and she must stop immediately.

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

4. Claim your bottom line. Manipulative behaviors are designed to throw you off balance and create self-doubt. Knowing your own bottom line as a mother or father will help you when your teen comes at you with her resourceful ways to make you unsure of yourself and lose your center. Hold on to your parenting principles. Be careful not to let your teen’s emotions drive you. Listen to her feelings so she knows you care, but stick to the rules you've established.

5. Display a sense of confidence. Manipulative teens mostly target those parents whom they think to be low on self-esteem and having a less amount of self-confidence. Don’t portray yourself as a parent who is naive and can’t stand up for his or her parenting principles. Walk tall with your head high and show that you feel really confident about your parenting decisions.

6. Do not allow your adolescent to bully you to get his way. Speak to him in a firm voice (e.g., "Are you trying to bully me?"). Asking him this question lets him know that his behavior is inappropriate and that you will not put up with it.

7. Don’t get drawn into lengthy discussions. If your teenager is asking you for something you have some flexibility on, go ahead and listen to her argument as long as she’s being respectful. If it seems reasonable to you, you can decide to change your “no” to a “yes.” However, if you don’t change your mind, only discuss it with her up to a certain point. Stop giving her your counterpoints and disengage. You’ll know when it’s time for you to stop when you feel like your buttons are being pushed. Pay attention to this and swiftly end the conversation and disengage. Don’t say another word. Walk into another room or out of the house. Engaging at all, in any way, will only add fuel to the fire.

8. Don’t try to explain yourself after you’ve said “no.” Once you’ve said “no,” any attempt on your part to justify it will not matter. All your teenager is listening for is whether or not your decision still stands. If you continue the conversation, all it will be about is her trying to get you to change your “no” to a “yes.” So, don’t get hooked into trying to get your teenager to “understand” and be “okay “with your decision. As far as she’s concerned, any “no” is totally unfair. You will get nowhere trying to make your “no” acceptable.

9. Understand that a defiant teen is a work in progress. She might need to learn better ways to manage herself in life, but she is not bad or malicious. Her intentions are not to “hurt you” or make your life miserable; however, if you believe that's her intention, then you will see her that way. Believing in your teen will help her see herself with all the goodness that is in her and with all her best intentions.

10. Have realistic expectations. It’s unlikely that your “no” will be followed by your teenager saying, “Okay, fine.” Manipulation will probably follow instead. So, be prepared for it. It’s what defiant teens do. And as difficult as it is to say “no” (because of what you know will follow), it’s also extremely important to learn to say it and stick with it.

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

11. Identify what kind of manipulative behavior your teen is trying to use. Manipulative behavior is all about control. Most teenage “manipulators” try to make the parent do things for them by getting the parent to feel a sense of guilt or sympathy. So, learn to identify this. Instinctively, defiant teens develop tactics to get what they want -- and avoid what they don’t want. These tactics work when they trigger a reaction in the parent. So, pay attention to your triggers. For example, your teenager might try to emotionally blackmail you by acting depressed until she gets what she wants. This will be a trigger for you if you believe your job is to keep your teenager happy.

Start by asking yourself if your job is to make her happy, or to help her prepare for adulthood. If it's the latter, then you can answer with, “I'm sorry you're upset, but you're still grounded this evening.” Another common manipulation involves anger (e.g., "That’s not fair!!!"). Don’t take statements like this to heart (e.g., “I know you think this isn’t fair, but you do need to shut the computer down now."). Some teens will play the victim-role and say things such as, “All my friends can stay out past 11:00." Don’t take the bait. Separate out the emotional content from what your teenager is trying to get. Hear her feelings about being the “only one” who can't stay out late, but stand strong on your curfew time.

12. Know what triggers your negative reactions. Your teen may display a certain tone of voice, a certain look, an attitude or certain actions that may upset you and get you to react. Manipulative behaviors therefore might set you off. If you prepare for them by knowing your buttons, they will be less likely to get pushed. (Here’s an example: You have a strong need for approval from your teenager, so hearing her say “I hate you” is a trigger for you. You want to “keep the peace,” so instinctively, you let her off the hook so she won’t be unhappy with you.) Recognizing your triggers will help you plan and prepare for how not to let your teenager push your buttons.

13. Listen before you speak. When your teenager asks for what he wants, listen. Give his requests the consideration they deserve. That does not mean always saying yes, but it does mean giving them some honest thought. If your teenager knows he can come to you directly, he will be less likely to try to get what he wants indirectly.

14. Realize that manipulative behavior is normal behavior in defiant teens. It’s important to realize that your teenager’s attempt to get you to change your mind and say “yes” is normal.  When you realize he’s not doing it because of some terrible pathology inside of him, it will help you relax and deal with the behavior. Rather than reacting with panic or worry, if you’ve thought things through and are comfortable with your decision, just stick to your guns. Caving in to your teenager’s demands in order to steer clear of his tirades will only teach him that manipulation works.

15. Some teens use lying to get what they want from parents. These lies can be either blatant, or subtle "white lies." But no matter the form, lying can be an effective way to manipulate you if you’re not careful. It's really hard to deal with children who lie. You may get burned a time or two before you see that you are being misled big time. Once you have caught your child in a lie, refuse to accept anything she says as true. Withhold your trust and explain to her that the lies must stop now, and she will have to prove herself to earn your trust again.

16. Take care of yourself. Be in charge of your own emotional health. Don’t give in to your teen’s manipulations so that you can feel calmer. If you need him to be happy or to validate you, then you might inadvertently give in to your teen so that you can feel good. But each time you justify his behavior and let him off the hook so that you feel better, he learns that these behaviors are effective and he grows to depend on them. Instead, learn to tolerate him being upset, which will in turn help him to tolerate his uncomfortable emotions. Managing your own calm will free your teen up to learn how to manage his life and get his needs met without resorting to manipulative behaviors.


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

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