Teens Headed for Trouble: Turning it Around

By: Ruth S. Angaran, M.Ed.

(A note from the author: This article developed from a response to a mom in cyberspace facing this exact situation with her teenage daughter, hence I have used "she" throughout the article for clarity and consistency. The ideas and points are equally relevant for parents of teenage boys as well.)

The Beginning

Is your teenager out-of-control? Staying out all night? Not telling you where she is? Cutting school? Talking back to you in mean and hurtful ways? Hurting herself and those around her? Are you thinking of sending her to her father? Have you already called in the law, or social services out of desperation? Do you feel it is either you or her?

Oftentimes in today’s world, this teenager experienced a divorce at some point. Perhaps you have gone on to another relationship and remarried. She was deeply hurt by the divorce and her life today may be about that hurt. Divorce, remarriage, separation and other emotional stresses can have a delayed impact on a child, sometimes surfacing in aggravated rebellion during the teen years.


To turn this around will take a great deal of courage, time, and a commitment to not giving up on her, love, obviously, and patience--while at the same time devoting the same commitment to yourself and your life the way you want it.


Establishing rules for them only establishes power struggles...that she knows already that she will win. She has had enough experience now to know that she can get away with anything that she wants. Her dilemma is "I know I can win in any struggle with you, Mom, and I want to. And I don’t want to." Winning over you gives her a sense of power, and it does not get her what she really wants desperately-- a place to fit in, to feel safe and loved. A teen in rebellion does not look like she is looking for love. She looks like the devil. She looks like hate and despair.


Somehow, you must get her cooperation in a turn around. The negotiation would have to look something like peace talks in Bosnia in the beginning. So imagine what distrust and pain exist between those peoples who have been killing each other in atrocious way for years, and ask yourself, your new spouse, and your other children, "What will it take from each of us to make life civil around here, where everyone agrees not to hurt anymore?" It is important that you realize that nothing about a ‘turnaround’ can be forced or controlled. All parties must be committed to not hurting back.

And, you will slip up. Know that. You have all trained yourselves too well to respond with the hurtful statement when you have been hurt. The job in the beginning will be to get clear that everyone wants the same thing: calm, civility, respect. Then, to commit to what will happen if you make a mistake and do or say something hurtful to anyone else in the family. Suppose you have the following conversation:

"I want you to know that I really hate where our relationships is today. I hate how I feel about you, and how you seem to feel about me a lot. I know that my part in this is that I have treated you with as little respect as you have been dishing out to me, and I want more than anything to go back to the way we were...(whenever it was better). Are you interested in doing it differently around here?" AND SHUT UP. Wait for her to tell you. If she goes into one of her tirades about how much of a failure you are, or that you are not going to tell her how to live her life, etc...just wait: ask the question again, "Are you interested in talking with me about doing it differently, having a better relationship?"

Keep asking the question and keep telling her that you want a relationship that is based on mutual respect--where you can respect her and she can respect you. Tell her you want to stop talking to each other with such hate, and to talk out your problems. Tell her that you love her, and that you always will, no matter what she does. That you hate her behavior...that you could not send her away because you love her and cherish her in your life. And mean those things. You will have to keep telling her, because this is the one thing she does not believe. She looks and behaves like she believes that she is not lovable by you, and that she cannot count on you.


Having been there, and having worked with parents who have been there, I have found one of the things that is very powerful in her peer world right now is that she gets a great deal of support from her peers to talk this way--and do these things. There are many teenagers who have developed this isolated existence from their parents--and oftentimes, I have found it is around the Mom or Dad's choices to divorce and remarry. If this transition doesn't get handled so that the children KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that they still have a secure, precious position with their parent--they will start hurting--either in subtle or very overt ways. And they have so many friends who are in this same world, they get ideas and support from each other. It is hard to break--only love will break it. It took me several years with my son. And all the while, they are maturing along with all that you do.


I suggest, as well, that you read Jane Bluestein's book, "Parents, Teens and Boundaries", because it is the flip side of this equation. You must take care of yourselves in this. You will have to establish some boundaries. These are the struggle points that she does not want to win. Boundaries make her feel safe. She will scream that you are trying to control her, and what she wants from you is the security that you won’t let her run roughshod over your limits , your lines in the sand. And, as Dr. Bluestein will suggest, you must choose these very wisely...and be prepared to follow through with the consequences that you and she have discussed and accepted. These are always stated as a matter of fact, not a command that lights the power struggle fires! I love her example of the store closing hours:

"If the store respects its own boundaries and you get there after 9PM, it will probably be closed, no matter what your intention, regardless of what delayed you, and in spite of what you thought the hours were.

The store is not closed to punish you for your delay or misunderstanding. It's not closed to teach you a lesson. It's not closed to mess with your mind. It's just closed. Period."

Boundaries are not punitive or intended to teach your teen a lesson. They simply let them know what their choices are, and believe me: They want to know. And they must test them, it is written in the code of adolescent behavior!

Please know that this is only the beginning, re-establishing a damaged relationship takes time, patience and love. Most of all, if you are a parent in this situation, you need the support, caring and encouragement from other parents who have been there and succeeded in working through these very difficult times. It only takes one person, you, absolutely committed to peace, to end the war in your home.

Ruth S. Angaran, M.Ed., is a twenty-year plus veteran teacher of adolescents. She is president of For The Children, teaching Redirecting Children's Behavior to corporate employees and in the community, training instructors in RCB instruction, and training instructors in COMMON GROUND--A Course for Creating Cooperation and Mutual Respect Between Parents and Their Teens.

Article provided by: Positive Parenting

Article Comments: Leave Comment

Other Articles In: Behavior Issues