Coping with Teenagers

Coping with Teenagers isn’t always easy. Often my clients bring their parenting distress into the counselling space. Counselling allows them the chance to unpack where they feel they are going wrong and what they could be doing better. Most of all it allows them the space to express difficult emotions that sit just below the surface of their anger and frustration. This clears the way for a calmer approach which leads to healthier outcomes.

Raising teenagers is hard work. Coping with Teenagers, It’s demanding, exhausting and often a thankless task. Many parents are at a loss as to know how to approach their children, what to say and in many cases they are just as overwhelmed as their angst-ridden teenagers.

As a start it may be useful to consider that distance and anger are often the only way your teen knows how to communicate when things get intense — which is of course what drives more conflict. This aggressive behaviour is their way of shifting from dependant child to independent adult. But it can be a difficult and painful process.

So what strategies can parents employ to remain calm, be supportive and work towards mutually satisfying outcomes whilst fostering self-agency and confidence? It’s a big ask so don’t expect miracles overnight but with consistency, practice and unconditional support things improve.

Be the Parent Not the Child

Your role is to be the grown-up here, not the child. But what exactly does this mean? Start by reflecting on what expectations you carry in respect of your relationship with your child? Do you need something from them in order to make you feel OK as a parent? Is this validation, approval, co-operation, respect, friendship or just good behaviour? If you need any of these things from your child then you already weaken your parenting position. Your child is not here to solve your problems.

Think about what happens when you need something and don’t get it? Do you try harder to make it happen? Do you yell, threaten or shut down to get your way? If you practise these tactics on your teens expect a painful outcome as they will become more insolent or the opposite, passively agreeable – neither of which is a good outcome.

So if your teen is being excessively difficult, that’s their problem. Your problem is to decide how to engage and respond to that behaviour. You can work this out by understanding your limits, how much can you handle, what are your triggers and when is it time to step away. How good are you at managing your emotions, and do you feel confident to lead an amicable discussion? Understanding your role in this dynamic helps to relieve much of the tension and allows for more clarity.

From here set boundaries around working towards resolving the matter. It’s helpful if you treat your teen like an adult and not a small child. If we are looking for adult behaviour then we need to give them respect, civility and the opportunity to be heard.

The Power of Role Models

As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. This powerful quote talks about taking responsibility for oneself and for the outcomes that follow. ‘do as I say, not as I do’ is the opposite and just about the worst parenting mantra you could adopt. Which stance do you take?

Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, young children and teenagers all mirror and learn from the attitudes and behaviours of their primary carers. So if you see something you can’t tolerate in your child, take a mirror, hold it up and ask the difficult question – has your child learnt this behaviour from you?

Owning your part is difficult but critical to better relationships. It’s not helpful to just blame your teen for their wrongdoings, mistakes and insolent behaviour. Understanding the root cause of the difficult behaviour, and your role in the situation goes a long way towards repairing any damage. Apologising for your behaviour and mistakes is also an essential ingredient in this equation

Try a Different Approach

A different approach can break the cycle of arguments and recriminations, so consider doing the opposite of what you would normally do. It helps to set your intention beforehand and go in armed with a plan. Being firm but fair is a good start, knowing when to walk away, committing to only dealing with the issue at hand, no blaming or shaming statements, don’t get personal and commit to a mature approach with your words, tone of voice and actions.

If you always take a strict, authoritarian position flip it around and do the opposite. Sit down, let your child speak without interruption and take a more even-handed approach to the situation. If you are overly emotional try to contain your emotions in order to remain calm and clear. Whilst it’s hurtful when teenagers say cruel things, remind yourself that what is said is in the heat of the moment is usually is not a true reflection of the relationship.

A Supportive Stance

Try to start from a place of compassion and understanding. Put yourself in your child’s shoes in order to deeply understand what is going on for them. Empathy will always achieve greater gains than anger – even if it doesn’t seem so immediately. An empathetic approach will help you let go of anger and create a safer emotional place for both of you.

Acknowledging and validating your teen’s experience and dilemmas is crucial to working together. You cannot get to a place of discussion without at first acknowledging that what is going on for your teen is legitimate. Recognising your teen as a unique individual with different values, beliefs and experiences from you will help to shift the energy from conflict to one of openness.

On the other hand, sometimes saying nothing can be a form of support. Often teens need to act out as an expression of the changes they are experiencing within themselves and their peers. Not everything needs to be dealt with so pick your battles, give your teen some space and resolve to deal with heated matters at appropriate times.

Be Curious and Foster Independence

Ask your teen for their ideas on what can work to solve the matter at hand. Come from a place of collaboration and let them see you believe in their abilities to think clearly and find workable solutions. Allow them to demonstrate their resilience. Being the fixer will only diminish your teen, and send the message that you don’t’ trust them or believe in their capacities to cope. Try to open up a conversation to explore their situation and uncover the underlying reasons for their hostile or rude behaviour. Encourage your child to express their emotions and demonstrate that vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness.

Life is difficult and messy. It’s full of ups and downs, and the sooner teens learn this the sooner they can begin to find their own way through the maze of life’s challenging experiences. Having faith in their decisions and letting them follow through on these decisions enables them to trust in themselves. When they end up distressed and taking their pain out on you, don’t recriminate instead enquire about what they can learn and how they can do things differently in the future. Put responsibility for their life in their hands.

Hold onto the big picture

Never forget that this is one moment in the huge tapestry of your teen’s life. It will pass so be careful how you tread, as resentments from past experiences will often turn up in the present. Do your best not to say or do things you will regret later. You want to strengthen the bonds that bind you. Looking at the big picture instead of the miniature of everyday life can also ease stressful feelings.

Teenagers are designed to rebel and challenge; it is how they find their own way in the world. They can only do this when the proverbial ‘apron strings’ are cut. So, if you want to encourage your teen to seek and discover then allow them to explore, make mistakes and act out. Allow them their rite of passage and let go of the need for gratitude and compliance.

Nothing will change without awareness and an intention to do things differently. As parents we are not powerless, but have a range of choices as to how we engage and cope when our teens are transitioning to adulthood.

If you’re struggling to engage your child or find you’re not coping with their behaviours then you may want to consider talking to a counsellor at the Melbourne Counselling Centre. Working with a counsellor can help you make significant changes that can lead to improved relationships, a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression and the ability to manage difficult and overwhelming emotions. Click here to book a session.