by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics”
Being a teenager means to suffer from the disease of defiance. For some, it is merely refusing to do the dishes or taking out the trash. For others, it is refusing to do their homework or chronically cutting school. Some teens go as far as threating violence against their parents, cursing at them, throwing objects or punching holes in the wall. With these kids parents often convey a message of hopelessness and despair.
The good news is that there is hope for even the most challenging of situations. I have worked with some of the most aggressive and defiant teens and seen firsthand, remarkable changes in behavior. It is challenging but can be done by implementing some basic techniques.
The first suggestion I have for parents is to not be afraid of conflict with their kids, but also do not provoke it. Parents often tell me that this feels like they are catering to their kids or that they are losing control. At times this may be the feeling, however, it is showing your teen that the only way you respond is by having appropriate conversations and ways of communicating. Put simply, do not engage in any conversation when your teen is escalated. Up to the point that you leave the house for a walk or go to another part of the house. This shows the teen that you are serious about what you will tolerate. This obviously works for the aggressive and verbally defiant teen.
For the more subtle acts of defiance I encourage parents to implement a unique consequence structure. This approach starts with a family meeting to list out all possible transgressions and naming the accompanying consequences. Let the kids participate and have input on what is reasonable or not. Many parents find it surprising that their kids are often more harsh and creative then they are as parents.
If the first approach does not lead to compliance then I encourage parents to take an incentive based approach where all of the child’s privileges are taken away in order to set a baseline. Each day the child has an opportunity to earn them back. If the requirements are not met, then the child has only himself to blame for not earning them. This can also help to teach teens the importance of taking responsibility, follow through, and work ethic as it translates to a real life “get what you earn,” mentality. In my experience, over time kids internalize the lessons and the system can fall away without jeopardizing the progress that has been made.
I encourage any parent to understand the function of your teen’s defiance. Is it a way to avoid an undesirable task, or a response to having their control or autonomy threatened. When the function of the defiance is understood it generally leads to presenting teens with choices of when and how to accomplish tasks rather than simply being told to do it.
Above all others, remember that human beings thrive when they are acknowledged for positive behavior, so quite simply ignoring the negative and praise the positive as a way to reinforce what is desired. Ask yourself what type of boss do you respond best to; micromanager, or an encourager? Remember, your teens are no different.