Helping a belligerent teen

Dear Sharon,

We’re having trouble disciplining our teenager. She doesn’t listen to anything we say, and we don’t seem to have much recourse. She ignores her curfew and comes home whenever she wants to, and is always angry and argumentative. Punishments are impossible to implement. What should we do?

Dear Parents,

Teenagers often resist parental controls. They frequently don’t easily follow their parents’ guidance and it can be difficult for many Moms and Dads to come up with effective consequences. Angry and argumentative teenage tones are also extremely common and even the simplest communication can become tense in a home with a teen.

As parents sort through how to juggle this common problem, it can help to remember that the lives of teens are often difficult. Peer, hormonal and academic pressures usually increase at this age and teenage girls are often exposed to a media barrage of confusing information and misinformation about what a young woman should act and look like. In short it is no surprise that teens are sometimes angry or in a bad mood when they get home from the challenges and confusions that surface in the course of their days.

Sometimes when a parent is successful in setting up and enjoying some relaxed moments with their cranky teen it is more possible to talk about the difficulties in a young person’s life and sort through some solutions to curfews and other problems that are showing up at home. Arranging for this kind of time may mean hanging out in a teens room at night, joining them while watching a TV show they enjoy, listening to some music or watching a movie that a parent ordinarily wouldn’t choose, going on a shopping excursion (even one that has been done many times before), or cooking some food a teen especially liked as a younger child. If a parent and child are relaxed and remembering each others strengths rather than their weaknesses it can be easier to begin difficult conversations about such things as curfews.

When talking about controversial topics I recommend that parents stay clear and calm, remembering that teens often have to raise objections in order to “save face” and process what parents are saying. It can help to acknowledge a teens points and compromise if possible or wise to do so but ultimately parents need to set controls that make sense for themselves and their teen. There often need to be consequences that are clearly and calmly stated and them implemented if appropriate guidance is not followed.

In my experience if the relationship between parent and teen is a primarily a tense one then the solutions are much harder to find. In such cases parents need to spend even more time trying to find ways to reconnect so that the lines of communication and mutual care and respect become viable once again.

Although teens can be challenging it is also a wonderful time to be a parent as children start to spread their wings getting ready to fly. Like young birds teenagers often need to be coaxed back into their nest an important if difficult part of parenting.