parent and teen

By Tyler Jacobson

Your teen is going to act out. How do I know? Because almost all teenagers go through a rebellious stage. In most cases, it is a perfectly healthy and necessary stage. They will learn how to be more independent, work through challenges and form an identity beyond the expectations of their parents.

The problem is when that rebellion goes too far. There is a difference between teenagers who are pushing boundaries and those who are crossing over into self-destructive behavior. For parents of the latter, it can be hard to know just what to do, but it is up to us parents to help our difficult teens.

Negative Reinforcement and When It Works

Your first reaction when your teenager begins to act out is probably to punish. It is a fair reaction, and in some cases, may be precisely what your child needs. Seeing that there are real consequences to their actions teaches personal responsibility and may curb future bad behavior.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always effective. Many factors can be behind the choices your child is making. For instance, it could be the simple fact that their brain is still developing. Or there might be a stressful situation at home or school. Maybe trauma in their past is impacting their decision-making skills. They may even be struggling with depression or other burgeoning mental illnesses, which might be a lifelong battle for your teen.

When these factors are present, negative reinforcement can have the opposite effect. So what do you do?

Positive Reinforcement and Open Communication

Some experts recommend that instead of using consequences and punishment to manage difficult teens, you instead provide positive benefits and rewards for the good things they do. For instance, don’t berate them for failing English. Praise them for doing well on their math exam.

Does that mean you ignore the F on their exam? Of course not. But by acknowledging the positive first, you are showing them that you recognize their triumphs and not only their struggles. From there you can make a plan together on how to fix the English grade.

Professional Intervention For Teens

Sadly, we all know that there are cases where neither tactic will work. Some of the parents reading this right now have tried both to no avail. That is when professional intervention may be necessary, especially if mental illness, illegal activities or drug abuse are present.

That could include getting their school involved, a therapist, a psychologist/psychiatrist combo or even a therapeutic boarding school or inpatient program.

What matters is that you love your teenager and show them that you will do whatever is needed to keep them on the right track. Even if the road isn’t an easy one to follow.

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