If you are like many parents you were warned when your darling toddler was starting into some adorable defiance: “Just wait ‘til they’re teenagers!” You may have thought a problem teenager would never happen to you because you’re such an attentive, caring, thoughtful, amazing parent. You made your child good food, drove them to all their practices and lessons, got them into the school you thought was best, made sure they had good clothes and said “please” and “thank you” when appropriate.
Now you have a veritable stranger drinking all the milk and sleeping until 2pm on the weekends. “But,” you’re thinking, “that’s not the worst of it.” It’s true: there are worse things than drinking all the milk or sleeping 14 hours straight. You could be identifying violent, drug-addicted, hateful, hurtful behaviors in your teen. The other truths are you ARE an attentive, caring, thoughtful, amazing parent AND you have a problem teenager. Their poor behaviors or habits are not your fault, but the lack of an effort to find a professional trained in dealing with troubled youth could very well be your fault. It is in your hands to seek out solutions to your troubled young adult and their problems. They will not do it on their own. Your careful action in taking a step to find help is an opportunity to stand beside your troubled teen as they maneuver life into adulthood. There is almost no reason you need to white-knuckle through the teenager years as doing that will hurt you and your teen, if not others, in the process.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet to understanding the real problems behind your problem
What is the Problem…Exactly?
Question whether your teen’s behavior is the problem OR if their behavior is a
symptom of a deeper problem or issue. Perhaps you’ve identified that their problem
is the vicious, violent way they speak to you and your spouse, but upon deeper
investigation that behavior is nearly a symptom of a deeper issue—that their group
of friends is rejecting them and they feel lonely and they’re looking for someone
to punish (you). This is, of course, an extremely oversimplified example. The shift
to seeking out the truth can be a telling first step as it can unlock some important
So, figure out what the problem is, precisely.
For Whom is it a Problem?
Get real with yourself before you approach your teen with all the answers. In regards to the problem, ask yourself for whom it is a problem.
You: does it disturb your view of your child?
Your Family: does it disrupt the flow of family life you’ve established?
Your Community: is it against the law?
Your Child’s School: is the problem negatively affecting academic work?
Your Child: does it physically damage your child?
When you begin communication around the problem, it is imperative that you are clear about why their behavior is a problem. It cannot just be that it is annoying or bugs you. Every choice affects the world around us, so consider who is touched by this problem behavior and make that abundantly clear to your child.
How is the Love Going?
It is a wonder that you must work on yourself before you work on your child through a troublesome set of behaviors, but you must. Be clear with yourself that you do not accept poor behavior, but you do accept your child. Be point blank about this to your teen. Even if they don’t respond in a way that magically reverses their behavior and turns you two into the best of friends, hearing it is part of the healing. They need to hear and see consistent messages from you. It is a honing technique that allows for very little sway from the point: “I love you.” Say it and show it.
Therapy programs for troubled youth have been developed and refined not because of parents—parents have a unique role with their children. But just like there are driving instructions to teach you how to drive, swim coaches to teach swimming, art teachers to teach drawing…there are coaches and instructors to teach young people about themselves and how to behave. Consider that these qualified professionals are educated in just how to handle your teen.