Out-of-Control Teens

Some teenagers are model citizens. This article is not about them. This article is about those teens who are acting out – the ones who talk back to their parents, dosage swear at them, act aggressively when upset, have no respect for rules or curfews, do what they want when they want, engage in addictive, destructive, illegal or immoral behavior and otherwise distress their well-meaning parents terribly. It is also about those teens who are “acting in” – those with depression, eating disorders, cutting behaviors and other self-destructive patterns. All of these children frighten, worry and dismay their parents. Why do they behave this way? What can parents do about it?

Out-of-Control Parents
Many out-of-control teens trigger out-of-control behavior in their parents. Because of their intense fear, hurt and helplessness, many parents of out-of-control teens become enraged and display their own version of temper tantrum behavior. In an effort to regain control, some dole out irrational negative consequences like “life-long” loss of privileges or “life-long” grounding. Even if they manage to use more reasonable consequences, many use too many or make them too intense for the crime. The result is a very negative relationship in which the adolescent loses all motivation to please the parent or cooperate in any way. The troubled relationship actually fuels more adolescent pain and more troubled behaviors. The last thing a struggling adolescent needs is an out-of-control parent.

How to Help Troubled Teens
The first step for parents it to maintain total control over THEMSELVES. Parents should let their adolescents know that they are starting a SELF-improvement program: no more yelling, tantrumming, insulting or other disrespectful behaviors. The parent will remove all behaviors from his or her own repetoire that would be unacceptable if the teen engaged in that behavior. For instance, if the parents want the teen to stop yelling, the parent will work on removing yelling from his or her own behavior (the same applies for any other similar behavior such as, unpleasant tone of voice, nasty facial expressions, unkind words, stomping & slamming, etc.). After a month of working on his or her own behavior, the parent can begin to help the teen make similar changes using a similar technique. The teen may be inspired by the model of the parnts. The parents have shown their own willingness to help make things better and they have shown that they can be successful. The teen may be more willing to get with the program when the parents have led the way.

The self-improvement program works like this: the parents promise themselves and their child that each unacceptable parental outburst will be followed by a parental consequence. For instance, when a parent yells, he or she can immediately sit down to write a page of lines to the effect of “I can control myself even if I feel upset.” or “I speak respectfully at all times even when I am upset” and so on. After the first week or two of this consequence, the parent increases his or her lines to two sides (one full page, both sides) and after three or four weeks, to three sides, continuing to make increases until all unacceptable parental behavior stops. If it starts up again at a later date, even months or years later, the parent begins the consequence system again.

Another equally important strategy for parents is to lay the foundation for adolescent change. They can do this by practicing the 90-10 Rule. This rule states that 9 out of 10 parental communications need to feel pleasant to the child. Pleasant feeling communications include things like smiles, compliments, weather reports, gifts, treats, jokes, gentle touch (if wanted), interesting neutral conversation, acknowledgement, good quality listening, naming feelings, having pleasant interactions with other family members within earshot of the teen and so on. One out of 10 communications can be “business-oriented” such as giving instructions, making requests, setting a boundary (using discipline if necessary). When the 90-10 Rule is followed, teenagers automatically become calmer and more cooperative, less rebellious and more interested in pleasing. Their own emotional difficulties settle down a bit. They even cooperate more with discipline when it is required.

More Help for Out-of-Control Teens
Parents can be empathetic toward teens without accepting their abusive behavior. Once parents have brought their own behavior under control, they must insist that their teens work on theirs as well. They will live by the rule “I only give and accept respectful communication” (“I do not give nor do I accept disrespectful communication.”) Using quiet, respectful discipline, the parent can invite the teen to create appropriate consequences for behaving in disrespectful ways.

Troubled teens may really benefit from and appreciate other interventions. Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless treatment that can reduce anger, stress, anxiety, hurt, loneliness, despair, depression and all other painful emotions. Both parents and teens can use this form of treatment to help clear and heal the troubled feelings that prompt out-of-control behaviors. You can find more information on Bach Flower Therapy online and throughout this site.

Professional help can be of tremendous benefit to both parents and teens as well. Even if the adolescent refuses to go to therapy, parents will find that the support and strategies offered by a mental health professional can make a huge difference in their family life.

These are some of the ways we can begin to help our hurting kids. Remember that you are the adult – you must show the way. Patience and love will help a lot. Keep envisioning your troubled teen moving through and beyond these years to a very positive outcome. This optimistic picture wilil help you survive the turbulent times and do your best when it is hardest. It will counteract the anxiety that causes you to over-react or “forget” good parenting skills. The truth is that most kids turn around at some point and become very pleasant, well-adjusted adults – just like you!

Keeping Teens Safe

Teenagers sometimes scare the wits out of their parents. Because adolescents are inexperienced (too young to have enough experience to know better), they can make poor decisions. Someone who has loaned an acquaintance a thousand dollars because “he promised to pay it back tomorrow” is more cautious after that experience. Unfortunately, he may have to actually lose a thousand dollars before he learns that caution is in order. That’s why older people are so much wiser: they’ve pretty well covered every mistake in the book and of course, they now know better! The teenage sense of invincibility can also lead to compromised judgment. Someone who has already learned about his fragility through an unfortunate car accident often slows down and looks both ways before going through intersections. And the teenage quality of impulsiveness (a.k.a. enthusiasm combined with reckless abandon) is perhaps the worst offender in hasty, poorly thought-out plans that turn out badly. The aging process corrects this trait, but meanwhile, parents of teenagers can be in for quite a (scary) ride. What can parents do to help their kids minimize risk?

Don’t Carry Their Fear
Let’s start with what not to do. Don’t carry your child’s fear. Are you afraid when your 17-year-old daughter walks home alone through a deserted park at midnight? You and your spouse may be the only ones experiencing that fear. Ask the daughter about it and she may say, “I was totally safe. There was no one there. I do it all the time. No one ever gets attacked there.” Why doesn’t she feel afraid? Because of the three characteristics of teenagers described below:

1. She’s inexperienced (thankfully). She has never been attacked in a park or dark alley or anywhere else. She can’t relate to the idea.
2. She thinks she’s invincible. She can’t imagine anything bad happening to her. She believes she’s in control of her world and if she wants the park to be safe, then it is safe.
3. She’s impulsive. She is making a decision based on her feelings. She wants to walk through the park at midnight, so it must be fine to do so. She’s not slowing down to think, to analyze the possible dangers and to make an alternative plan.
So it’s not her fault that she makes such a poor decision. However, if YOU are the one to feel the fear and express that fear, SHE will never feel it until she learns about it the hard way. Therefore, you must be careful to minimize your reaction. The more drama you engage in, the more ridiculous your teen will think you are and the less credibility your message will carry. Don’t be loud or emotional. Don’t throw out big threats or fancy consequences. In fact, don’t use discipline at all. These strategies will derail your mission; your child will focus on your lack of rationality, your lack of understanding, and your lack of fairness. She will not focus on the issue at hand: her dangerous behavior.

Hand Over the Fear
You want your teenager to experience his or her own fear. That’s what will keep the child safe. Do you walk alone in bad areas of town at midnight? Why not? Nobody is stopping you! You decide not to do that because you are afraid. Your fear keeps you safe.

You have to help your child feel his or her own fear. You can do this by downplaying your reaction to dangerous behavior. For example, when you learn that the child has walked through an unsafe area late at night, alone, you can say, in a quiet, calm voice, something like this: “Oh. Well, I myself wouldn’t walk there alone at night—I’d be afraid for my life. But now that you’re practically an adult, you have to make those calls for yourself; I can’t follow you around to make sure you don’t do anything foolish. Of course, if you were to ask for my advice, I’d tell you not to ever walk in risky places alone in the dark, but that’s just my opinion. You really have to decide for yourself whether you’re comfortable risking your life or coming to some traumatic harm. That’s your decision.”

A speech like that one cuts the umbilical cord sharply. It says to the child: “You better use your brains better Honey because I can’t do all your thinking for you.” When teens hear words like these from their parents, they feel real fear—often for the first time in their lives. And that’s just what’s needed, in order to help them stay safe. A teenager who worries about his or her own safety can override the characteristics of inexperience, invincibility and impulsivity. Fear is a powerful motivator. When it is in the vehicle, it always takes the driver’s wheel.

It’s scary handing the wheel over to your teen, but you don’t really have a choice. The truth is that you can’t follow youngsters around and make their brains work right. The next best thing you can do is tenderly abandon them. This immediately increases their fear. If it increases yours as well, this is only temporary. You will soon see evidence that your child is taking more precautions and trying to be safer. And this is what will help reduce your fear eventually.

Parenting Your Difficult Child

The difficult child has been called by many names. Sometimes he (we’ll call him “he” in this article, but many difficult children are “she”) is called “the spirited child,” sometimes “the challenging child” and sometimes “the sensitive child.” Whatever we call this youngster, the name always points to one common denominator: this child is not easy to parent.

The difficult child has traits that make him challenging like rigidity, reactivity and anger. He may be stubborn, unreasonable, and volatile. He may be dishonest. Sometimes the difficult child is fussy about everything – food, clothes, activities. He may be so easily bored that his parents feel like they must program every minute of his day. The difficult child may be sweet as pie at school and only difficult at home or may be difficult in both locations. Occasionally, a child is only difficult at school. Often the difficult child has combustive relationships with siblings; often, he has social challenges outside of the home.

What Makes  Children Difficult?
The difficult child inherits traits that create a complex, difficult personality. Difficulty with change, anxiety, low mood, irritability, impulsivity, hyperactivity, short attention span and so on are all governed by genes. Parents don’t create a difficult child, even with poor parenting. A child with great genes will still be fairly well-adjusted even if the parents lack top notch parenting skills. A child with “difficult” genes, will still be difficult even if his parents win the award for “Parents of the Year.”

What can be Done for the Difficult Child?
Although parenting alone can’t remove the difficult nature of a child, good parenting can help a difficult child manage better and it can help him avoid being hurt by the rejection of his parents. Good parenting can help the difficult child develop a sense of inner security that will help him deal better with life’s challenges. Therefore, parents of difficult kids should really read those parenting books, join forums, take classes and so on.

Bach Flower Remedies can be very helpful in actually changing the difficult nature of a child. These harmless vibrational remedies help with individual traits. There are Bach Flower Remedies for explosive behavior, grumpy mood, jealousy, panic, depression, impulsivity and whatever other problematic trait a person has. Taking the remedies off and on over the developmental years can help ease difficult traits out of a child’s system. The term for this is epigenetic healing. A consultation with a Bach Flower Practitioner can get you started on this path. You can find more information on Bach Flower Therapy online, in books, and throughout this site.

Self-Care
Parents of difficult kids suffer greatly. Their children sometimes cause them embarrassment and shame. They provoke tremendous frustration, disappointment and hurt. Parents must be careful not to blame themselves for having a challenging child. Tending to one’s marriage, one’s social life, one’s creativity and leisure are all important. Taking good care of oneself helps one take good care of a difficult child.