Dealing with Difficult Teens

Do you feel your teenager is too aggressive or angry?

Do you feel your teenager is too aggressive or angry? Do you worry about how are they going to survive? Sometimes we are holding on to parental strategies that are not working anymore because we were taught them and we believe they have helped us. I won’t deny it has been helpful because only you know your own experience. However, for those who see that the strategies they practice, aren’t working for them, I would challenge you to consider that you might still be using the same strategies when your teens were school aged and younger. You haven’t really thought about how to transition to thinking developmentally about your teenager’s needs and that teen life is a real “Rite of Passage” developmental experience. A rite of passage is usually a ceremony and marks the transition from one phase of life to another. It is often used to describe the turbulent transition from adolescence to adulthood. It also refers to any of life’s transitions. Parents are also transitioning, which may sometimes contribute to the conflict in the parent – teen relationship.

Developmentally, your teen’s intention may be appropriate as it relates to what they might be trying to accomplish such as:

  • Independent thinking
  • Problem solving by testing everything you taught them about survival in this world to see if your teachings were correct
  • More autonomy to see what they can handle
  • Establishing a successful peer network

The problem is they are not going about this the right or safe way; therefore, they CONTINUE to need direction, discipline and support. The bottom line is they are trying to be adults and they are not fully prepared or ready! As a parent, you have to accept that fact, transition to how you relate to them because you cannot continue to restrain their life, and treat them the same way you did when they were not teens. Parents, you have to transition with them to help them be prepared and successfully transition well into young adulthood.

If you can relate to any of the following symptoms regarding your troubled teen, please consider the strategies below. Remember, you MUST be consistent!

  • Your teen complains and are in constant arguments with parents and/or siblings;
  • You restrict your teen’s freedom and physical activity and they rebel against this and do what they want to do anyway;
  • Your teens complain about the excessive guilt trips they feel you put on them;
  • You threaten to abandon your teen and put them out the house because he/she is too difficult to handle;
  • They don’t come home on time and stay out all night and you don’t know where they are;
  • Your teen appears to be intense and on-edge frequently;
  • Consistently remind them that your job is to teach them how to keep themselves safe above all and they must follow your example to do that for themselves. Tell them you need to see if they can demonstrate COMPETENCE with these skills to show you they can survive without your direction. Then, you will be able to give them more responsibility and leverage.
  • Help your teen to develop and practice coping skills (i.e. deep breathing, exercise, family walks, etc.). Practice these skills with them.
  • Take some time and talk to your teen about his or her behavior. This demonstrates how you respect how they feel, think and behave! Teens will challenge you because they are challenging HOW YOU RAISED THEM and they need to figure out for themselves the right and wrong in that. They need and want to make up their own minds about what they believe, what works for them and if your methods really work. That’s why IT IS SSSSOOO IMPORTANT TO TAKE QUALITY TIME AND LISTEN TO THEM TELL YOU WHAT THEY THINK THEY KNOW, WHAT THEY LEARNED AND HOW THEY ARE APPLYING THE KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM YOU DID OR DID NOT GIVE THEM.
  • Ask them how their behavior helps them to accomplish or solve the presenting problem. Validate them in the ways they appropriately share their problem solving strategies and also let them know where and when it is not working. Clarify any distorted ideas or messages they present in their understanding.
  • Ask them what they think they can substitute or replace other problem solving strategies that might get the positive attention or response they are looking for. Let them know what you are willing to negotiate to help them accomplish the positive outcome they are hoping to gain.
  • Model appropriate behavior and look for teachable moments to educate them by your example, as well as set limits and boundaries. Have them practice the solutions and reward their accomplishments to reinforce position attention for appropriate behavior so you can get more of the same.
  • You need to figure out ways to keep them busy doing responsible things. Yes, we know there’s a limit to school and community resources that are affordable like recreation and carpentry, etc.; however, WHAT ABOUT VOLUNTEER SERVICES like mural arts program, working in community gardens, helping seniors at day centers, at hospitals like the old candy strip volunteers, assisting at youth programs, at your community religious institution, etc. You can expose them to areas of interest so they can decide what they want to be when they become adults. Make it a chant or ritual to say to them as frequent as possible, “As your parent, my job is to prepare you to be a responsible citizen so you can contribute to the development of self, family and community.” Pay attention to what they do well, praise and encourage it so they can know they please you. THAT BUILDS SELF ESTEEM AND CONFIDENCE KNOWING THEY HAVE GOOD SOCIAL SKILLS, LIKABILITY AND GOOD MORALS!
  • I would be remiss if I didn’t say seek counseling; such as, family counseling, individual counseling for your teen and for you! Coaching, mentorship and support groups are a plus too!
  • You MUST create, set up and use your village, your team, your blood and/or fictional family to participate in guiding them and being a safe support that your teen can turn to when they don’t turn to you! You cannot raise a troubled teen alone! You need support! Your troubled teen needs support! This strategy is not an option, it is necessary!

All of these strategies will demonstrate to your troubled teen that you care and they are worth the time as well as the effort you put in them. Don’t get discouraged when you try something that doesn’t work right away or at all. You have to stick with a plan, be consistent and use your supports to encourage you! You are not an island! You are not alone! Model to your troubled teen how you use your supports. You are teaching them how to problem solve when you do this. Especially when the going gets rough, your example will stick with them and they won’t be able to say they weren’t exposed to problem solving skills. They pay more attention to what you do than what you say, so don’t give up on yourself and your teen!

Cynthia Chestnut is an Approved Supervisor and Clinical Fellow for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She has Ph.D. in Couple and Family Therapy, Post graduate MFT specializing in Couple and Sex Therapy, and over 20 years of leadership responsibility in human relations, personal growth and professional development. Contact Dr. Chestnut at or twitter @DrCChestnut.

(As published on EXPERT OPINION)