Coping with Strong-Willed, Out-of-Control Teens: Self-Preservation Skills for Parents

Is your teenager acting-out in difficult ways? Are you at your wit's end?!

Parenting strong-willed, out-of-control adolescents is tough work. It takes creativity, determination, and patience! It's an extremely difficult phase to go through, but you’re not alone. For too many moms and dads, major conflict is an everyday occurrence.

When this is the case, the teen usually has a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), or at the very least exhibits many ODD traits. Parents can either choose to continue "business as usual" (which will only enrage and distance their teen further), or they can learn how to deal constructively with strong-willed behavior. Here’s how…

How to cope with strong-willed, out-of-control teens:

1. Often times, your best resource is silence (it really is golden in cases such as this). Strong-willed teens do not listen to reason. They can't (and even if they could, they wouldn't). When your teen tries to push your buttons – shut your mouth and go about your business.

2. Avoid picking up strong-willed traits. If you aren't careful, you could find yourself adopting much of your out-of-control teen’s behavior, even if you aren't voluntarily trying.

3. Detach from the situation as much as possible. Staying calm in the heat of the moment is paramount to your personal preservation. Spitting angry words and reacting with extreme emotions (screaming, crying, etc.) will only influence your teen to be even more stubborn and defiant.

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

4. Don’t “call out” your stubborn teen. Bluntly stating the problem will not improve your relationship with him or her. Instead of reaching a reconciliation, your teen will likely just become more oppositional. Recognize that you can't handle this like you would any other personal conflict – it's a unique circumstance.

5. For the parent who has another adult in the house (e.g., spouse, partner, other family member), avoid getting cornered. When possible, avoid one-on-one arguments with your strong-willed teen. In other words, when he is pissed and you see him coming to corner you, demand that another adult (or adults) be brought in. This will sometimes thwart your teen’s plans to berate you. Bullies rarely stand up to a crowd.

6. When tempers flare, forget about trying to engage your strong-willed teen in any kind of reasonable conversation. It will never happen, at least not with you. Remember what happened in the course of the last 100 times you tried to have a civilized discussion about the status of your relationship with your teen. Chances are, every such attempt ended in you being blamed for everything. Decide now to quit banging your head against a brick wall.

7. Always remember that anything you say or do while angry will be used against you – over and over again. Strong-willed teens tend to have amazing memories, and they will not hesitate to use a nearly endless laundry list of complaints from the past against you. A year from now, you could be hearing about the angry response you had today. Strong-willed, out-of-control teens will seize anything that provides them the opportunity to lay blame like it was gold.

8. If your teen’s verbal attacks have little basis in raw fact, try to simply dismiss them. You can't possibly be as bad as she would like you to believe you are. However, don’t defend yourself out loud. It will only provoke her into another outburst and increase her manipulative behavior.

9. If your teenager is getting on your last nerve, take a time-out. Remember, he just wants to get a rise out of you. So show your teen that he has no effect. Count to 10 silently if you need to, and then state your views with confidence. Look your teen in the eye. If he is still being unreasonable and stubborn, then just ignore him. He will eventually back down when he notices that his attempts at “button-pushing” are failing.

10. Sometimes the healthiest way to deal with a strong-willed teen is to remove her from your environment. Do not torture yourself by exposing yourself to verbal abuse. Simply leave the room. Remember that you can’t "fix" this teenager. Remove yourself from the situation and treat it with indifference when possible.

11. Prepare for the fact that your teen will probably blame YOU for being “strong-willed.” You are going to be accused of much – or all – of this behavior yourself. If your teen gets a look at this article, to him it will look like an article about you. Prepare yourself for the fact that your teen’s flaws and failings will always be attributed to you.

12. Prepare to set some serious boundaries. Understand that eventually, you may have to create a separation between yourself and your strong-willed teen. Maintaining a relationship with a chronically abusive teenager is, literally, impossible. When enough is enough, he may just have to go live with his dad, or get a job and find an apartment (if he is older).

13. Protect your self-esteem. If you have regular dealings with a teenager who tries to portray you as the source of all evil, you need to take active steps to maintain a positive self-esteem. Focus on the people who validate you. Also, realize that your strong-willed teen is hurting you on purpose to improve her own self-esteem.

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

14. Recognize that you will never convince your strong-willed teen that he has any responsibility for the parent-child conflict between the two of you. He doesn’t recognize (or if he did, wouldn't try to improve) his flaws for a very logical reason: He doesn't have any flaws (in his mind)! Understand and manage this mindset without casting blame and without giving in to anger. It's far easier said than done, and you will slip from time to time. But as time goes on, you'll get better at coping with this teen’s behavioral issues.

15. Avoid getting defensive. Understand that you can’t “beat” a strong-willed, out-of-control teenager. She is called “strong-willed” for a reason. In her mind, you are the source of all wrongdoing, and nothing you can do or say is going to make her consider your side of the story. Your opinion is of no consequence, because you are already guilty – no matter what!

16. Understand that it's not you – it's your teen. If you accept responsibility for your own faults and resolve to improve yourself, it's probably not you. This mindset can be surprisingly difficult, considering that the strong-willed teen has complete mastery of shifting the blame. Remember, strong-willed teens "can do no wrong." Chances are, the more often your teen blames you, the more he himself is actually at fault. However, keep in mind that this should NOT to be used as a way to blame your teen. Blaming is what strong-willed teens do – and they do it well. Instead, you are only facing the facts (for your own sake).

Raising strong-willed, out-of-control teens is tricky business. It’s important for them to have enough freedom to make their own mistakes, but they still need plenty of guidance to help them learn from those mistakes. Provide your oppositional teen with clear and consistent boundaries that will focus on teaching peace and levelheadedness – not resentment and retaliation. Lead by example!


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

How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

"I have taken the quiz and surprisingly found that I was a severely over indulgent parent. This angers me because I didn't think...