Dealing with teenage behavior problems can be very taxing for both you and your teen. There comes a point in teenager’s lives where they need to learn to be independent from parents and act like adults. Unfortunately, they can be terrible at it. Most teenagers seem to start this by deciding to be rebellious. This comes across as arguing for no apparent reason, not taking advice, and generally having a “you can’t tell me what to do attitude”. They can also start being disrespectful and talking back as a way of trying to individuate from parents, or establish themselves as independent from you. While these behaviors are aggravating and often inappropriate, it can help to view this stage as a necessary step of budding adulthood that every child must go through to some extent.
Using the Love and Logic Approach
Dealing with teenage behavior problems can be a challenge, but I think it is important to not only address the poor behavior, but also teach and promote the positive behaviors. One of the things I often teach in my counseling practice is the Love and Logic approach to parenting.
This involves, expecting your kids to make mistakes or bad decisions, and letting them deal with reasonable consequences of their bad decisions. This can be tough because sometimes parents have to invent negative consequences. For example, if the poor choice is that they are doing things that make their parents worry or stress out, then the parent may have to name their own stress as the problem and let the teenager know they will have to do something about it.
For example, “Suzie, you neglecting to study for tests and then failing them is a problem for me because it makes me worry about your future. I think it’s probably your phone that is keeping you from studying adequately. If you can fix the problem of me worrying about your grades that would be great, but if not, I’ll have to solve my problem.” Then, if Suzie starts studying, problem solved. But if she continues to fail to study, you can take her phone away. The next part would be to say to her, “I’ll be glad to let you use your phone again as soon as I don’t have to stress out about your grades”.
Using Positive Behavioral Approaches
While this approach works quite well, it’s also only half the equation. It still involves negative consequences or punishments. However, research shows that we change out behaviors best when we feel good about the behaviors we are doing. This means rewarding positive behavior is going to get better results than punishing bad behavior.
When trying to address teenage behavior problems, then; try to teach your teenager what behaviors you are looking for, be specific, and reward them for doing them. You can do this in several ways.
First, you can simply compliment them when you notice them doing something positive on their own. Try to do this as close to the behavior occurring as possible for maximum effect.
Second, you can give them a task to do and them compliment them for doing it, compliment them for being cooperative if they did it without a fuss, and/or compliment them the results of what they did (i.e. “Look how nice the living room looks after you vacuumed?)
Other things you can do to avoid teenager behavior problems is to let you teenager overhear you bragging about their positive behaviors to other people. This can let them know you must really mean it if your talking about it to others when they are not around.
Don’t be deterred if you compliment your teenager and you get a reaction such as eye rolling from them. Just pretend you didn’t notice it because it still does the intended job. Just make sure your compliments are genuine. For example, you wouldn’t compliment a teenager on being able to tie their shoes or dress themselves (although for some you might want to compliment them for choosing an appropriate outfit).
Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan. He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults. He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more. For more information, please visit the website at www.turnaboutcounseling.com.