Parenting The Troubled Teen

Teenager Looking Upset

When a teen we know is troubled and/or out of control, it’s easy to become reactive. The teen is an unpleasant person to be around. As a parent, teacher or family friend, it is tempting to avoid interacting with them or to become combative (and assert our authority) in return.

Even if we approach things in a proactive way, we may end up focusing mainly on behavior and consequences. However, a more balanced approach may be more effective. Attention is needed on behavior issues, but think also in terms of building and maintaining a relationship with this teen. Be the first to restore good feelings between you. The teen may not respond at first, but you may provide a bridge for them to cross—a lifeline.

As a therapist who has experience working with troubled teens, here are a few coping strategies that I have found to be helpful for many.

  1. Have rituals. Family customs provide connection and therefore predictability and a sense of belonging. Teens may seem disinterested, but established routines cement the feeling that they belong to something bigger than themselves. Family dinners, weekly game night, vacationing each year, apple picking each fall are examples of these.
  2. Have fun together one-on-one with your teen. Focused attention may be the greatest need of teenagers. Find what you both enjoy doing together. Be proactive and put it on the calendar.
  3. Have family meetings and allow your teen’s input. Keep family meetings short and light. Avoid lectures or shouting matches. Focus on solutions rather than blaming.
  4. Be a good role model. Controlling your own temper and computer time may make a greater impact than words. Apologize when you blow it. Seek help from a pastor, support group or therapist if you are struggling with the demands of life.
  5. Include supportive people in your teen’s life. Consider extended family, church family and close friends as part of your family. Grandparents are usually great at giving a teen time, patience, acceptance and unconditional love. Also, a coach, teacher or youth pastor may be a mentor to your teen.
  6. Be the parent, not their buddy. Looking for your teen’s approval or needing their friendship can tempt you to avoid conflict and not be firm when your teen needs you to be.
  7. Keep a positive attitude. Don’t become obsessed with their troubling behavior. Look for their positive intentions even when they disappoint you. Focus on what your teen does right.
  8. Find ways that your teen would enjoy helping others. A teen can experience increased self-esteem from volunteering at places like an animal shelter, a nursing home, homeless shelter, or in the church nursery.
  9. Take care of yourself, your spouse, your marriage, and your other children. Try not to let this one family member monopolize all the family’s energy and attention.
  10. Find something meaningful to hold onto. Many use their faith. Others may use art, inspirational quotes or family photographs to help ground them when life feels chaotic.

As overwhelming as parenting a troubled teen may be, there is hope. At Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers, we specialize in counseling teens and their families. We offer individual counseling, family counseling and group counseling. We have groups just for teens: Social Skills, Self-Injury, Self-Control, Self-Esteem, Motivation, Depression, Anxiety and the Teen E.D.G.E. group (Exploring, Discovering, Goal-Setting, Excelling) that may be a good fit for your teen. Please contact Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers at 248-244-8644 to set up an appointment.

by Melanie Bonello, MA, LPC