Dealing with a difficult teenager by Dr. Nivedita Rawal
The eye rolls. The angry outbursts. The demands for things to stay cool due to peer pressures. Surging and raging emotions. The tantrums.
I am often asked how to deal with these. How do you enforce compliance, discipline, responsibility and focus in a 14 year old? Tension escalates when the child’s performance is sliding at school.
This loving and incredibly talented child with so much potential is now exploding with defiance and rebellion.
A teenage mind is a force to reckon with. There are no rules or consequences. Their instincts are about thrills, risks, dares, fun and the spotlight for attention is how it is.
The adult world is fraught with too much intensity, too many boundaries and too many dos and don’t’s and yes perceived threats.
Parents, out of an instinctive need to guide, and steer the child in a particular direction take on the role of a rescuing parent, a critical parent or directive parent.
Typically these approaches envince a response from the child that is avoidant in behaviour, rebellious or at worst, retaliatory.
So the child reports to me that mom or dad just nags too much, orders around too much, shouts all the time or doesn’t listen. So its better to just avoid, not talk much and stay in the room.
On closer examination you will see that what is happening is that a vicious cycle of Persecutor – Victim- Rescuer is played out in their communication script:
Lets role play a scenario:
Mom: ‘Why are you on facebook all the time while doing your homework’?
Child: ‘Why do you keep scolding me all the time? All my friends do it too and its not like I don’t finish my homework! You talk on the phone while cooking!’
Mom: ‘That’s not the same thing! Don’t answer back. Rules that apply to me don’t apply to you and studies is different, you need to concentrate’.
Child: ‘Its okay for you to talk to your friends while you are on the treadmill. I can’t even do anything without being scolded all the time. You are always angry with me’.
Mom: ‘It isn’t like that darling. I only want what is best for you and you cant use these sort of excuses. While studying, you should only focus on your studies and not do anything else. You are so intelligent and talented. You know I am saying this only for your good. Its not a good habit to be distracted while studying’.
This is followed by eye rolling and door banging.
The above conversation is a script co-created by child and mother putting one or the other into persecutor-victim-rescuer role.
By now I think many of you can identify with these similar patterns of behaviours and conversations.
So how does one get into a more productive style of communication in the hope of getting the child to see what is important here?
The first thing I tell parents is to first ask what is the message they want to convey here.
Clearly the message they want to convey here is ‘focus without distraction’.
Then I ask parents how many bad habits or weaknesses they are able to get rid of because they are told its bad for them.
I enjoy the varied responses I get from a laughter, a stare or even anger.
I have never been told by a single parent that they don’t have a single bad habit or weakness.
Habits are hard to break. We might stop these habits under the perception of a threat or consequences to those actions. It may be temporarily be stopped or given up due to fear or carried on in secret.
So what am I saying here? Am I saying that the child’s habits should be ignored because habits are hard to break?
What I am highlighting is that a habit rarely goes away because of a threat perception, intimidation or coercion. How often has a smoker quit due to these tactics?
However, when we become mindful, encouraged to leave the habbit, support the decision to quit the habbit and find ways to modify, moderate, alter or substitute the behaviour, we have a better chance of getting rid of that behaviour.
A simple example is the habit of having biscuits with tea. If one is on a weight loss program, I ask the client to switch to having a vegetable juice instead, interestingly often enough, the craving for the biscuit is gone! The alkaline taste of vegetable juices somehow does not sync with biscuits in the brain. Most clients drop the tea-biscuit habbit when they switch over to fresh juice.
So what have we done here to alter a behaviour? We have addressed the contextual triggers.
As you can see, for each individual the triggers, contexts and solutions are unique.
And so is it with your child. Navigating around their triggers, contexts and collaborating on solutions for the important issues is where you want to go with the child.
In this case, we collaborated on the solution that for the weaker subjects such as maths and geography the teenager child would not concurrently go onto facebook. We were able to rationalize with the child that since there is an issue with her grades for these subjects, that we need to address this.
We then used open ended questioning technique to ask the child what she feels about her grades in these subjects and how her performance can be improved.
In support and appreciation of this effort, her mother could reward her with the latest edition of a story book or a treat and encouraging her efforts.
However the important message was certainly communicated that excellence is about single-focussed concentration.
Parents also need to be cognizant of the fact that the child also had something of value to teach. Parents do need to live by example.
Coaching, collaborating and solution exploration is a better approach.
Nivedita skype consults worldwide. She is a renowned therapist and holistic clinician. To peruse her credentials, please refer to her bio page.
Skype id: nivedita.rawal
Mobile no. +852 64187549