Most people are so excited to have kids. Dreams, visions, and awesome feelings run through our mind and body as we see into the future and fantasize about those amazing experiences. But if we are honest, we also have worries and concerns about what kind of parent we’ll be and whether we can handle the responsibility and task of raising that little baby into a mature adult. We hear about the terrible 2’s, then some childhood and school ups and downs, but then come those teen years. What a rollercoaster of change, celebrations, defeats, letdowns, explorations, and growth.
Teenagerdom is when that little human interacts more often and in a deeper way with the outside world, while increasingly realizing they have real power and a lot more options than you let them know about or gave them access to. Even though some make wise decisions, they all, just like we did, make mistakes. A small percentage, unfortunately, make a lot of mistakes while refusing to take any direction from you, their parent, and are openly defiant and reject the guidance or “control” you try to exert over them like you could when they were a kid. The rebellious teen disregards any authority. They’ve placed themselves on the throne of their life, answering to no one and believing they are the ultimate authority, both in power and knowledge of what their needs are and how to get them met.
The joy of raising that little kid gives way to sadness, frustration, anger, hurt, impotence, and hopelessness. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. Let me give you 12 tips to help dealing with your rebellious teen that have worked for so many parents in this same situation.
- Realize you have no power or control over anyone, including your teen.
No matter how rebellious your teen is, contrary to popular belief, you can never make your teen, or anyone else for that matter, do anything. You can’t make them eat their peas, do their homework, get a job, wake up in time to get the bus, go to bed on time, or love you. You can threaten or bribe them, giving you a false sense you have power over their mind and you can make them make certain decisions or choices, but you really can’t make them do anything. Just relax, this really is good news, because it is the reality. The sooner you embrace it, the freer you are to do what you are supposed to do.
- The only person you have control over is yourself.
On the flip side, sometimes we feel others control us, or make us choose to do something we don’t necessarily want, but it isn’t them controlling us either. The bottom line is, we all make and are responsible for our own decisions, and God doesn’t let us pass the buck for our sins to someone else. So if we can’t control others, why do we waste so much time trying to control them? Instead, you need to invest that time and effort into controlling the only person you have control over, YOU! Gaining control over yourself and your decisions in some specific ways and areas I’ll describe, will allow healing and will positively impact your rebellious teen’s journey at the same time.
- Influence over your teen is what you really have.
What we often mistake for power is actually influence. When you threaten or bribe your child, you are trying to influence them by tipping the decision scale in their head to the choice you want them to pick. When others have “forced” you into a certain decision, they only exerted their influence to alter your lenses to see the situation more clearly (when helpful guidance was given) or brainwash you to their side (when poor advice was given). Remember, as parents, you can’t ever force your teen to do anything, but you always have tremendous influence on your teen.
Now the next question isn’t, ‘Will I influence or not?’ because as a parent, you are always an influence. The question is, ‘What kind of influence will I be, a Godly one or a negative one?’ Up to this point, if your child is rebellious, you haven’t properly influenced or you’ve been a negative influence on their life. But as their parent, especially if you are their biological parent, you have a unique position to positively influence the decisions your teen makes, no matter how resistant they seem.
- Influencing their decision-making is the best strategy.
My goal as a parent then, is to give them the best chance at achieving their God-given potential by helping them be an independent, Godly decision-maker. My role is to exert my influence on them so they reach that goal. The skills I teach them, so they can be a good decision-maker on their own, even when I am not around, are basic, but not often taught. Read more about what Dr. Benzio has to say about how to positively influence your teen’s decision-making.
- Use their skills to determine privileges.
Let your child know that you love them, but just because they ask for something doesn’t mean you will give it to them. If they are 12 and want the keys to the car, saying they are a great video game driver and an expert on their bike, the loving response from you is NO! Not because you are mean or a tyrant, but because they don’t have the skills necessary and will endanger themselves and others. Giving privileges before skills are in place is a setup for failure. So let them know the skills you need to see in place before you grant privileges. Skills like obeying authority, resisting temptation, having patience, accepting consequences, delaying gratification by doing chores or homework, meeting deadlines or being on time, respecting other people’s feelings, being able to think through and discuss tough topics, working as a team on a project, managing their money, following basic rules; you get it. When they have skills, and have shown them after time, you can give them more privileges that use and match those skills.
- Tie skills and privileges back into their decision-making process.
So when they are in a situation and you are helping them assess options and the pros and cons of those options, this is where skills and privileges come in. Tell them “if you choose this good option, that shows me your “_____” skill is increasing, which increases my trust in you and you are more likely to get “____” privilege soon if you show me you can keep it up this good decision-making for a certain time period.” You also say, “but if you choose this unhealthy/wrong option, that shows me you still have a ways to go in acquiring “____” skills and you will not only reap these natural consequences for your action, but I won’t be able to trust you in “______” skills to give you “_____” privileges you desire.
- Relationship is more important than obedience.
A simple equation: Rules – (or without) Relationship = Rebellion
God would love to have both our obedience and relationship, but if He could only have one, it would be relationship, as He shows us in the story of the Prodigal Son. Unfortunately, we often give our child the message that obedience and compliance is all we want and deviating from the standard is upsetting and we don’t love them anymore. We need to re-affirm our love and desire to be alongside them in their journey and to help them in healthy ways. God loves but doesn’t condone our sinful behavior.
A relationship built with our teen is the bridge we need for all the influence to safely pass from our heart to theirs. Without it, our influence will have a very difficult time getting to them. Successful teachers and coaches build relationships and influence happens. Building relationship is easy when a child is making good decisions, but building and maintaining relationship when they are making wrong decisions is tricky as you need to focus on your heart and the ultimate goal. And never be afraid to regularly tell your kid you love them, but back it up with compassionate, but not enabling, interactions.
- Be aware of traps that undermine your influence.
Influence is about leadership. You want to lead your teen down a healthy and fulfilling path. Influence also needs the bridge of relationship. So traps like your own dishonesty, hypocrisy, lack of competence, and lack of communication skills, goals, interest, honor, respect, and dignity undermine relationship and trust, and block your positive influence. Read more about these traps.
- Help teens manage their emotions, not the other way around.
Most wrong decisions come from our inability to handle uncomfortable emotions or feelings. Emotions are a great warning system, letting us know when something is not right or a problem is brewing. Emotions are a terrible decision-making system, though, as they can lead to knee-jerk and impulsive choices to relieve the emotion, but not solve the underlying problem. Rebellious teens have many uncomfortable emotions and have trouble tolerating soothing them, and thus react before they think. Role model healthy emotion management and soothing, and help them see their feelings are assets and not faults or attackers trying to steal their joy or autonomy.
- Get coaching.
Living with a rebellious teen is complex, draining, hurtful, and discombobulating. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get some help. Being on the front lines of this war, you need healing, so get a therapist to process and heal. Second, getting some skills to more fully understand what you do and don’t have control over and how to control your life and your influence better will be a fruitful investment for you and the rest of your loved ones.
- Don’t set a premature finish line.
Your teen didn’t get this way overnight and won’t change overnight. In fact, they’ve gotten used to the present set of rules, and will probably fight you changing them, even though the changes are for the better. As parents, it is easy to think, “It’s over,” “I lost them,” “They’ll hate me forever,” “They’ll never be happy,” “They’ll die early,” and many more. God is about amazing comebacks and this is only the first quarter, or the opening act of the play that is your child’s life. Sure, we would have liked a better opening, but the game isn’t over. Follow the above tips and keep praying for them, watch the changes that occur over time as you stay connected to them in a loving way, keep showing them they are worth fighting for, and as the relational bridge gets stronger, so will your influence.
Rebellious teens have decided to write and live their life by their own instruction manual. But inside, they realize their decisions are not getting them closer to their goals, and they are actually drifting farther from their goals. It’s hard for them to admit they are wrong, especially when they’re trying to show themselves, you, and the world they are ready to be an adult. Your focus is to gently come alongside and apply the above tips to maximize your influence and correct what is undermining your influence. Love on them, show you care, build that relational bridge, and help them analyze their decisions as I discussed in Tips 4 and 5 above.
If you need help in finding the professional outpatient coaching or even a residential rehab or treatment situation, we have many options around the country to help your teen build his confidence and skills, renew his mind, and transform his life to achieve his God-given potential.
Our free and confidential Care Guides are available 24/7 at 1-844-Life-Change (1-844-543-3242) to turn your rebellious teen’s energy toward healthy living.
Influencing your teen’s decision-making is the best strategy.
The best way to accomplish this goal is to help them:
- set healthy and fulfilling short and long term goals – especially relationally, spiritually, and psychologically, but also, financial, legal, academic, work, etc.
- see the situation as clear as possible (see the truth or reality as age appropriately as possible)
- manage their emotions so they can see the situation more clearly
- understand their options
- figure out the pros and cons of each option using a Biblical value system
- pick the option to achieve their goals
This is best taught by:
- Me as the parent role-modeling this process by talking out loud while I am going through a decision or situation right in real time
- Taking my child or teen through these steps in real time while they go through a situation
- After a situation, going through these steps to help them see when they did it well and when they made a mistake, and the ripples of each decision in achieving their goals
Where my influence is inserted into the decision-making.
As you teach your teen decision-making skills and help them process situations, adversity, opportunity, and temptations, you have several opportunities to exert your influence:
- Use your experience to help paint all aspects of their present situation
- Use your experience to help them see all their options
- Use your experience to help them uncover the subtle rewards and consequences they might be blind to, but you are able to bring to light
- You can add rewards and/or consequences to the different options.
- Example: I can’t make you come home at curfew, but if you do, you can still use our car, and if you don’t, you cannot use our car anymore
- Rewards/Consequences can be monetary, privileges/restrictions, relational (trust), or psychological (your self-esteem will grow, confidence will suffer, ability to be more patient or delay gratification will be impacted)
Bottom line: I am trying to shift them from me-centered thinking that all teens, and most adults are guilty of, to having a bigger picture and ultimately a Godly viewpoint of each situation/adversity/opportunity so their decisions will help them achieve their goals.
- Dishonesty – sometimes it is past or present direct dishonesty with your teen, but more often it is dishonesty they see you exhibit with others while they are watching. Example – they hear you call in sick but you really aren’t. You tell white lies to friends in front of your teen who knows the truth. They won’t know if you are honest or lying to them.
- Hypocrisy – Pretending to be something you aren’t, especially pretending to be something better than you are or doing the very thing you preach against. Like gossiping, flying off the handle, hiding the truth, resisting temptation, etc.
- Lack of competence – this can cover many areas including conflict resolution, spending, listening, communicating, staying calm, emotion management, decision-making, empathy, or addiction as well as evidence of lack competence or functioning in other life areas. Children will follow someone who cares for them and they think are more competent in areas they aren’t.
- Poor Listener – your teen wants to know you are hearing them, thus knowing what is going on with them inside. You need to listen to what they say, but also be interpreting what they are trying to tell you by their actions. You can’t devise a strategy to lead them if you don’t know where they are to reach them.
- Poor Communication – this involves not just hearing and then clearly and calmly presenting what you heard, but instead presenting your influential views and content. Be proactive and engaging, while letting them know the bridge is always open for them to connect with you. Your kids also observe how you communicate with others to get an idea of whether they can approach you and have a positive interaction.
- Lack of Transparency and Vulnerability – Your teen wants to know you are real and not a robot. That you have feelings similar to them so you can empathize with them.
- Ambiguous Goals and Pathway – Children need clear expectations and goals. I am not talking about career goals like, you are going to be a doctor or rich or a pop star. But no drinking, no swearing, wearing your seat belt, doing chores on Saturday, only sleeping in till 9 in the summer, getting a job when you turn 14 unless in other activities, going to church Youth Group, and other healthy behaviors in their control.
- Me-Centered Mentality – Instead of being self-focused and seeing others as existing to meet my needs, good parent/leaders are other-centered, seeing their purpose to serve those they lead. Having a servant mentality, they create a safe environment to meet their kids’ needs and help them develop the psychological skills to mature and follow God’s path for them to achieve their God-given potential and fulfillment.
- Lacking Enthusiasm – If you are not enthused and excited about your life, your child questions your skills, competency, motives, and engagement with them and wonders why they would ever want you to speak into their life.
- Lack of Interest – If you are caught up in many other aspects of life and aren’t that involved, your child will doubt your desire for relationship (that bridge we need). You teen also thinks you don’t know much about their life and assumes they are just an accessory at best, or more likely a hindrance to your life.
- Lack of Honor, Respect, Dignity – The bottom line is, all these obstacles represent a lack of respecting, honoring, and showing dignity to your teen. Even though that is not our intention, we sometimes let the Merry-Go-Round of Life spin out of control and the above actions give this terrible message to our teen. Their response is to treat you with the same disrespect, dishonor, and lack of dignity.