Updated: Aug 19
The first thing to understand when handling negative and difficult teenagers, is that you can not put out fire with fire.
So, you can maltreat or punish teenagers to good behaviour.
So, forget punishment!
Oh My!! So, what have we got left to work with?
In younger children, research has found that punishment produces politeness but not a real sense of behaviour modification because in punishment there is lack of reflection and accountability.
Now, think about this when dealing with difficult teenagers. Remember unlike younger kids, teenagers may not even be interested in being polite. So, we could be up against a hard rock and we have another thing coming!
So, what’s going to work in helping handle negative and difficult behaviour in our teenagers?
Teaching teenagers to be respectful – That is what is going to work.
I hear you say!
How do I teach my teenager to be respectful when I can hardly get over the fact that they are so difficult, negative and rude?
Here’s how to teach teenagers to be respectful.
Teaching teenagers to be respectful will take continuous, consistent effort. But I promise you it will be worth it, and you will be glad you invested the time.
For many parents even if you currently have a pleasant teenager, there will come a time when their entitled disrespectful attitude shows up, and you feel overwhelmed and at a loss. This is the perfect time to model assertive behaviour and communication to help your teen become a respectful human person.
The thing we know about behaviour is that, people, in this case teenagers don’t grow out of disrespect. Instead they learn respect, and as they practice and experience the benefits of respectful behaviour, the disrespect dissipates.
Respect is learned, relearned and practiced. It is as much about learning to respect adults as much as it is learning to respect themselves.
Your young person must learn to speak kindly to self and you and only this way will they learn to interact with all kinds of other people. You are molding them to be respectful and successful contributors to society.
By teaching them to be respectful teenagers, you are helping them understand that they will be held accountable for their behaviour in the world at large now and even when they become adults.
Being respected and valued is one of the most important developmental success factors for teenagers. However, as young people, they don’t always realise they need to be respectful in return and that is why we as parents we need to educate them about the respect - giving - receiving cycle.
Often when our teenagers are disrespectful, negative or difficult, most parents will ignore it or even go out of our way not to embarrass them, particularly in public and in the presence of friends. This however only teaches teenagers to be disrespectful especially in public where they know our hands and tongues are tied. (we can’t say or do a thing)
However, if you become a parent that addresses disrespect and nips it in the bud every time, they soon learn that you are not afraid of holding them accountable no matter where you are.
Sometimes as parents of teenagers, we can default to passive communication to make sure we don’t anger the teenagers and we start walking on eggshells when relating with them. Whilst there is no doubt we need to respect our teenagers, that respect needs to be mutual, i.e. teenagers must learn to respect in return.
Reminder – Teenagers need you as a parent first, then a friend.
If teenagers are going to learn how to be respectful, they need someone to set the standard of how to treat people. Learning to respect you as a parent and other people at home will carry over into their lives outside. As you know as a parent of teenager, most teens have their moody moments. We all do.
However, constant entitlement must be stamped and stopped for the sake of family sanity and mental wellness.
If I implement all these suggested parenting tips, how long will it take before I see a difference?
It’s hard to say for sure. But if you are consistent in implementing these 8 Keys to Handling Negative and Difficult Teenagers you should experience some notable changes in as quick as a month.
Key # 1 Establish family boundaries
Write down your family’s boundaries, do this together with your partner and teenager. If you are alone parent still write these down. If your teenager refuses to get involved, still write them down.
Writing down the boundaries makes it straight forward and clear for everyone. Once all are aware of what is expected, when it comes to carrying out the consequences this eliminates emotions and blame.
Communicate these rules clearly to your teenage and give them a rationale why you have decided this to be a safe and secure way forward.
Most teenager, when given rationale can see for themselves that you are being fair, and you have the best interest. Then make sure these consequences are applied consistently.
If you’ve been dealing with a particularly problematic teenager, one who poses challenging and sizable difficulties, it may be that this is the first time you are implementing clear boundaries or ground rules. Let them know that from this time forward, things will be different and make sure you back up your statement with action.
One of the first boundary should be that everyone in the home will be treated with respect and the lack of respect means loss of privileges and or freedoms.
Boundaries and ground rules should straightforward, fair, reasonable.
For example; “We will speak to each other kindly”
“If the way in which you speak is not kind, there will be no further engagement.”
Notice that you are not telling them what they cannot do, instead you are communicating what is expected and the consequences.
It hard for any reasonable person, even a small child to argue that being kind is not a nice thing.
Start with one thing, one boundary at a time.
Other ground rules could be included later.
At any one time, the list of boundaries should be relatively short, but crystal clear.
You and I know of course, that some of our teenagers if not all will deliberately challenge the boundaries. This is to test if we mean what we say.
Should this happen, apply your assertive communication skills to deal with the situation and this will go a long way in helping you deal with your difficult teenager.
Key # 2 Model respect and stand united
As parents of teenagers, you may find yourself disagreeing with either your partner or a co-parent. However, if the teenager is going to follow this respect rule, they are going to learn from the most influential model in their life, and that is “YOU” the parent.
Research continues to show us that parents remain the most influential factor in their teenagers’ life; well above the media and peers.
So be respectful of your teenager’s other parent and demonstrate a unified front whether you are together or not. It does your teenager a disservice to disrespect their parent in their presence or even behind their back. Kids and teenagers know and can feel what is happening behind closed doors.
This is applicable for stepparents and other adults living in the home. Even you should be mindful of how you treat other people out there; people that you come across in the shops in the community, even how you talk about your co-workers.
The truth is you can not model respect by displaying negative behaviour yourself, you model respect by displaying and demonstrating respect.
Key # 3 Love them anyway
Being able to love your moody moany teenager especially when they are in that unlikable and possibly unlovable state (which is sometimes very often) can seem like a big ask.
But see them for who they are and not their behaviour. Don’t give up on them. Give them second chances all the time. Put in the time and work to help them readjust whenever needed.
Remember you are molding and mentoring them to become respectful young adult and it doesn’t take one day to grow an oak tree.
You can dissipate difficult and negative behaviour in your teenager by standing firm and supportive in your love, no matter what.
Key # 4 Expect testing and push-back
One of the most common characteristics of teenagers is challenging adults. They love to push your buttons, to grumble and gripe and try to annoy you. This is usually so that you can react negatively and when you do, they have a card to pull when they are misbehaving because they feel justified. That way they can say “even you do that”.
Be mindful when they are teasing, disobeying, not listening, talking back, temper tantrums, rule-breaking, dismissing, haggling and deliberately outright provoking.
During these moments, the more reactive and upset you become, the more your teenager will know and feel they have power over you.
Don’t give them that opportunity.
Stay firm when you get push-backs, tests and outbursts.
Remember teenage years are scary and uncertain time for them. A lot of changes are happening in their body and mind and your difficult and negative teenager is mostly being influenced by haywire hormones.
What they need above all at this time is understanding and that we are positive and consistent models and mentors.
To help improve yourself as an mentor, some amazing practices such as mindfulness and journaling and recording your progress, This practice is highly effective and only takes a few of your moments, as little as 6 minutes a day.
Key # 5 Utilise assertive communication
The first rule of being assertive is to stay calm. Remember, you are the adult in this relationship. Fighting, arguing and getting emotional with your difficult teenager is not beneficial.
If you feel upset or challenged by your teenager, remove yourself from the situation. Take a walk, use positive self-talk, splash some water on your face. Make sure you are calm when you go back to address the issue.
When you do this, you are demonstrating to them how to deal with conflict in a productive instead of a destructive way.
When handling these negative and difficult teenager moments, strengthen your position as a mentor by using assertive communication skills.
Take a look here on how to model assertive communication for your teen. The seven-step process is;
1. Value yourself by letting the teenager know you will not be spoken to disrespectfully.
2. Promote equality by reminding them you do not disrespectfully speak to them.
3. Directly request what you want.
4. Keep focused on the issue, even if they keep trying to side-track you.
5. Remain open to negotiations and leaving the door open when they want to speak kindly and calmly.
6. You show them the consequences of their lack of kindness and respect.
7. Move away and praise your progress. If things didn’t go to plan, practice for the next time.
Key # 6 Show empathy
Always assess the situation and if it is a mild situation, ignore it.
Show empathy just avoid over-reacting.
Respond with a smile rather than anger. Be curious not furious about the situations that your difficult teenager is claiming to be the cause of their problem.
Stay above the behaviour and avoid telling the teenager what to do in trivial matters. Persistent unsolicited advice will be interpreted as a threat and could make turn you into the enemy which is the last thing you want.
Remind yourself that it isn’t easy being a teenager.
Although being a teenager is no excuse for negative and difficult behaviour, being mindful of the brain and body changes taking place can help you connect and relate with them in more understanding ways.
Key # 7 Give them chances to solve their problems
Many difficult teenagers are that way because they believe that adults don’t really listen. Be approachable and open for them to come to you with their problems. Listen long enough without commenting, at least until they get the problem off their chest.
Allow them to feel at ease about disclosing their worries, fears and dreams.
Before offering any solutions or inputs to help, ask for their permission. Don’t just provide unsolicited advice all you will get is nothing but resistance and this could manifest as more challenging and difficult behaviour,
Allow them to come up with constructive ideas. If they allow you, explore possible solutions together and mutually arrive at acceptable arrangements and solutions.
Don’t get caught up in blame, complaints, criticisms or disagreements about their disrespectful behaviour. Do not allow them to justify and rationalise their bad behaviour.
Ask them how they plan to rectify their challenging behaviour. When they give you an answer, agree to be their accountability partner and challenge it every time it pops up.
This way you establish that trust that teenagers really crave from their parents.
Key # 8 Follow through with consequences
When boundaries have clearly been broken, implement the consequence and no matter the resistance from your teenager, be firm and clear that all you are asking for is respect, responsibility and co-operation.
The ability to identify and assert consequences is one of the most powerful skills you can use to diminish difficult behaviour and shine a light on the negative behaviour.
It gives your teenager that push that compels them to shift from resistance to co-operation.
Although handling negative and difficult teenagers is a scary and challenging situation to deal with, if you employ the practical skills and strategies we have suggested, you can minimise defiance and enhance their co-operation. Eventually, your teenager will develop and grow to be a productive member of the society.
Please share this article with a friend that is parenting a teenager.
Cheers and happy parenting teenagers
Till next time.
P.S. Share this report with at least one parent of teenagers.
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