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Parenting Rebellious Teens

Sixteen-year-olds look completely different from the way they looked at twelve. Even more striking is the difference in their personalities. Parental influence has declined by roughly half, due to more influences from peers, media, hormones, boyfriend/girlfriend, and the huge internal need to feel grown-up by acting different from you.

Yet parents do not adjust their expectations so much. They still expect similar compliance with similar rules compared to what worked at age 12. And these parents who expect obedience are very frustrated with their 16-year-olds, which only adds to the teens’ motivation to rebel.

So with rebellious teens, there’s a power struggle—both of you want to lead. So let them win these battles, and you win the war. You win the war by choosing the lessons to teach (honesty, courtesy, health, safety, responsibility, respect for authority, impulse control, emotional health, studying in school, etc.).

They win the battles by choosing how they learn. You choose the intended destination, and they choose which road they take to get there. Be sure your language reflects that you are following their lead, giving them exactly what their behavior has asked for.

They can learn the easy way or the hard way, now or later, from reward or punishment, from their successes or their failures, from others’ experiences or just from their own, they choose. They know how they can learn best—honestly, they do.

Try this: “If you’re ready to (go out with [person], go to [event], stay out until [time], talk on the phone with [person],etc.), you’ll show me ahead of time by the way you (communicate with me, make your curfews this week, let me get to know [person], check in with me by phone this week, etc.).

When a privilege isn’t earned, and you need to say no, don’t say, “I told you” or “I warned you”, but merely “If it meant that much to you, you would have showed me you were ready.” And here’s the key—believe it.

Otherwise they’ll see the worry and guilt on your face, and keep turning up the protest volume until you crack. As they wail, you calmly say, “I know you’re mad at yourself. I would be too. That’s what you learn from. Your actions this week speak louder than your words right now.”

In this approach, last minute requests are a problem. In general they should be handled on how the teen’s recent behavior has showed his or her trustworthiness on the issues involved, noton the intensity of their demands, or if they could have foreseen it, on the urgency of the situation.

When they’re angry and you’re calm, the stress is where it belongs, motivating your child’s behavior change. Your job is not to calm them down, or to be liked, just to earn their respect and your own, and to give them the motivation they have chosen to pursue the goal you have chosen.

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About Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD

Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD is a psychologist life coach with offices in Louisville and Shelbyville, KY, 502 633 2860.