​How to Deal With A Troubled Teenager

The teenage years are difficult for a number of reasons, but it really comes down to two main things at play. Consider hormonal and physical changes that happen during the teen years. This causes mood swings and confusing new feelings. Also, teenagers are facing a number of cultural, mixed messages that further alienate them from both adults and children. On one hand, they are beginning to craft their independence and in some ways are treated like adults, but in many other ways they are still treated like children. The end result can create anger, sadness, confusion, and the feeling that no one truly understands them.

It can be a difficult time for parents and teenagers alike, so let’s look at a few ways parents can make this phase easier and more successful for everyone.

 

There Is A Reason The Teen Years Are So Difficult

It’s easy to lose sight of just how difficult it is being a teenager. While on the surface, teenage rudeness may appear malicious, there is often more to it. For starters, their brains are undergoing some pretty extreme changes. Beyond that, the developing brain of a teenager works differently than an adult’s. A study at the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, showed some interesting distinctions between the teenage and adult brain:

  • Teenagers had a difficult time interpreting emotions on adults’ faces, often times confusing fear for things like surprise or even anger.
  • To make judgments and decisions, teenagers used their amygdala almost exclusively, which is the part of the brain that guides instinctual or “gut” decisions.
  • Adults correlated emotions to facial expressions much more successfully than teenagers.
  • Adults used their front cortexes much more frequently, which is the part of the brain that deals with reason and planning.

So, there is a reason why you and your teen aren’t always connecting: your brains are wired differently. While adults use reason and logic more frequently, teenagers are making more emotional, instinctual decisions. While adults are able to more accurately read nonverbal cues, teenagers are confused by them.

The end result can often be lots of miscommunications between parents and their teenage children and more emotionally volatile reactions from the teenagers. The more you as a parent can anticipate these issues and be patient with them — understanding they are largely chemical rather than personal — the more success you will have navigating your relationship with your teenager.

 

Teach And Offer Opportunities for Independence

Up until this point in your child’s life, your goal may have solely been to take care of your child. When your child enters the teenage years, the goals start to shift. You’re now preparing your child for adulthood, and that means creating a sense of independence. Your child will also start to have this goal too, and it will manifest itself as pulling away or lashing out.

It’s important to help foster a sense of independence. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Virginia concluded that coddling your teenager can lead to unbalanced relationships in early adulthood. While theoretically, fostering independence makes sense, the execution of it can be a difficult. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t micromanage your child’s decision-making: Remember, the key is to build independence. If you are rushing in to make decisions on behalf of your child, your child isn’t gaining the necessary experience to make good judgment.
  • Be a sounding board: Allow your teenager to work through decisions. By functioning in more of a supportive role, rather than an active one, you can help guide the general direction of your child’s decisions while still fostering independence and decision-making skills.
  • Encourage your child to try new things and be accepting of failure: Part of developing good judgment is by learning from your own bad judgment. There are certainly times in which you need to intervene in your child’s decisions (especially when it could be physically dangerous), but exceptions aside, try to allow your child to make mistakes and learn from them.

Learn To Communicate Without Judgment

While nearly every expert tells you to communicate with your child, rarely do they tell you how to do it right. The key is no judgment, but this tactic is extremely difficult. You want to create an environment where your child can tell you everything. That means you absolutely need to stop judging your child’s taste in music, non-revealing clothing choices, and many other things that are not directly harmful. Your parents may not have understood your personal style when you were growing up, so don’t expect to understand your child’s.

Non-judgment sounds great in theory, but how are you supposed to talk to your child when something does go wrong that you truly do disapprove of? How do you avoid judgment then?

First, focus on your language. Instead of focusing on the child, focus on the behavior. Instead of, “You messed up. You’re a bad kid,” go with something more like, “I know you. You’re a good kid. You made a bad decision, and it was dangerous.” Focusing on the behavior, not the child, keeps the child from feeling judged.

Second, avoid blaming your child for their mistakes. If your child went out drinking with friends, of course you want to set this behavior straight. But take a moment to see it from your child’s perspective. If you focus on judgment, blame, and shame, your child might go to greater lengths to conceal the behavior, making it ultimately tougher to influence.

By dealing with it directly but in a non-judgmental way, you can help your child see why the behavior was wrong but keep the line of communication open so that your child will feel comfortable approaching you about future problems.

 

Keep Improving Your Parenting Skills

Like anything in life, if you want to be great at parenting, you need to always keep learning. There are plenty of parenting resources out there that you can tap into, and there are even specific parenting books and parenting courses that can help you navigate your way through an intervention, residential treatment center, or other situations that you might need to face.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that the teenage years are just a phase. Eventually, you and your teenager will get through them and be a lot better off because of it.

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