After all the love they’ve given their children, most parents hope to receive love in return. Considering all the sacrifices they’ve made, they also hope for appreciation and respect. When their teenage children instead treat them with moodiness, detachment, and contempt, it’s incredibly hurtful.
Teenage rebellion can also be really scary. Parents worry that, if their children have too much freedom, they might hurt themselves or suffer long-term consequences. They fear their children aren’t ready for the level of independence they seem to be insisting on.
Parenting mistakes to avoid when dealing with a rebellious teenager
Are you dealing with teenage attitude and defiance? If so, you should know you’re not alone. It’s completely natural for teens to crave more independence as they develop into adults (a process psychologists call individuation). All parents must navigate teenage rebellion at some point—but few have ever been taught how to respond to teenage attitude effectively.
To help you survive this difficult time, we’ve compiled a list of typical parenting mistakes to avoid and suggested more effective alternatives:
Common mistake: fighting fire with fire
When someone attacks us, our knee-jerk reaction is to attack them back. So, when your teen starts shouting, name-calling, and slamming doors, you may be tempted to do the same. You probably also feel compelled to win arguments with your child, especially since you’re the one with all the life experience.
Unfortunately, none of these strategies is likely to help. Teens thrive on conflict during individuation because it makes them feel more independent. By participating in a prolonged power struggle with your teen, you only play into their hands and risk losing any respect they still have for you. You could also seriously damage your relationship with them if you say something you later regret. Additionally, fighting fire with fire leads to escalating and worsening the situation at hand.
Instead of stooping to childish arguing or name-calling, behave like the adult you are. Adults act wisely and treat others with respect even when feeling emotional. They take responsibility for their actions and their lives. By keeping to the high ground, you model good behavior your child can appreciate and emulate. You also help diffuse the negativity and tension.
Common mistake: coming up with punishments on the spot
It’s tempting to nip bad behavior in the bud right away, so your instinct might be to blurt out the first punishment you think of. There are several potential problems with this.
One is that it often takes time to figure out how to effectively hold your child accountable. If you just blurt out the first consequence you can think of, the punishment might not fit the crime. Additionally, if you threaten your child with a certain consequence without thinking it through first, you might later find it difficult or even impossible to enforce.
That’s why we recommend disengaging from your child when you feel like the conversation is no longer productive. One way to do with would be to say something like, “I don’t want to fight with you about this. Let’s take some time to think about how we might resolve this, and we can discuss it later.” Teenage rebelliousness is best handled through actions, not words. Taking a break will allow you to decide on the proper action to take next.
Common mistake: Doing all the talking
Sometimes individuation is the sole cause of teenage rebellion. Other times, there are underlying reasons for a teen’s complaints and refusals. For example, if your child refuses to get ready for school on time, it’s possible they’re being bullied or are struggling academically.
Regardless of your teen’s motivations/situation, you’ll be able to handle it better when you have all the information. Instead of arguing with your teen, you may be able to help them resolve whatever situation is causing their defiance. If your teen needs more freedom, more attention, or more emotional support, providing it can help prevent conflict by bringing you closer.
Even if your teen’s only need is to express their independence, listening to them is still a good idea. Having a calm discussion and giving your teen a fair hearing can give them a sense of autonomy. They may be more inclined to let you have your way, even if they’re not happy about it.
Common mistake: confusing punishments with consequences
You may have noticed that it doesn’t go well when you attempt to gain control over your child by threatening them with punishments. That’s because teens don’t want to be controlled by anyone and can’t appreciate the good intentions behind punishments.
Instead of using the threat of punishment as a means to control your child, you must teach your teen to control themselves. The only way to do this is to allow your teen to experience the natural consequences of their actions. When they inevitably mess up, you can empathize with them, but you must not shield them from the repercussions.
Is your teen refusing to help with dishes? The natural consequence is that they no longer have clean dishes to eat off of. They can eat your homecooked meals once they wash the dishes; otherwise, they’re on their own. Is your teen failing one of their classes because they don’t turn in their homework? Don’t figure out the problem for them—encourage them to figure out a solution on their own (offering suggestions as needed). If they fail the class and don’t graduate with their class, that’s the natural consequence of their actions.
It’s tough to watch your child sabotage themselves, but if you want them to grow into a responsible adult someday, there’s no really no other way. Allowing your child to suffer natural consequences allows them the autonomy they crave while allowing them to learn life’s most valuable lessons. The best part: You will no longer have to swoop in and save them, engage in fruitless arguments, or make up arbitrary punishments. You can simply stand back and let life happen (as long as your teen isn’t in imminent danger).
Common mistake: being too controlling
Teens desperately want to redefine themselves as something other than their parents’ children. They think they can accomplish this through typical teenage rebellion—always doing the opposite of what their parents say. But this is just another form of dependency.
To truly differentiate themselves, teens must have the freedom to explore and pursue interests and challenges. If you invade their space and control them more than you have to, you could stifle their individuation. Ironically, this will only make your teen angrier and more defiant.
Instead, allow your child as much freedom as (safely) possible. You can still offer positive guidance and suggestions, but ultimately, you must let your child live their own life. That means giving them some liberty over what they eat, what they wear, and what hobbies they pursue. By allowing them to make these inconsequential decisions, you can prepare them for the big decisions they’ll have to make down the road. You can also show your teen that you support them in their struggle for independence.
Professional Support Can Improve Things at Home
When parenting a rebellious teenager, it can feel like you’re in it alone in an exhausting, never-ending battle. Thankfully, with professional support from an adolescent specialist, you can get some back-up and things can improve at home. Send us a message or book a free 20 minute consultation call with Dr. Barajas or Dr. Goldman to see how she can help.