How do you handle a rebellious teen?
It’s a challenging situation for parents to deal with.
Angry answers to innocent questions, slammed doors, refusing to study – these are behaviours you may be all too familiar with.
Rebellious teens can turn the home into a war zone. So parents come to me feeling as if their teenagers hate them.
Through my work with over 20,000 teens so far, I’ve come across every kind of parent-teen problem you can imagine.
I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. So, in this article, I’m going to share with you 25 tips for handling rebellious teens more effectively.
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1. Decide exactly which behaviours are unacceptable
There are many behaviours your teenager displays that might annoy you.
You might not like the clothes she wears, or you might not like the mess in his bedroom.
But if you react to every one of these behaviours, your relationship with your teenager will descend into one long argument.
Over time, your teen will come to see you as a parent who can never be pleased.
Not only that, if you are constantly criticising your teenager, she will soon learn to block it out as “background noise”.
And that’s bad, because when you really need to register your disapproval, it won’t count for anything.
So it’s essential to be clear about the difference between behaviours that are annoying and those that are unacceptable.
To put it another way, you need to pick your battles.
Parents will have their own boundaries regarding behaviour that is annoying and behaviour that is unacceptable.
Screaming at you while you’re trying to explain something or calling you an “idiot” to your face might be examples of unacceptable behaviours.
On the other hand, what time they take a shower and what they choose to eat might be examples of behaviours that you choose to ignore.
2. Accept the fact that your teen isn’t perfect
Overparenting can take many forms. One common manifestation of overparenting is expecting too much of your teenager.
It’s natural for parents to want the best for their teenagers. After all, we are biologically programmed to protect and care for our children.
But wanting the best for your teenager can easily turn into something negative.
That’s what happens when parents turn their teens into a “project”.
For these parents, their teenager is a “diamond in the rough” that needs to be polished to an ever-higher standard.
High parental aspirations can lead to an obsession with perfection. And that, in turn, can make your teenager feel suffocated.
As a parent, it’s crucial to remember that the teenage years are about letting go. Your teenager is learning to separate himself from you.
He is in the process of launching out into the world, so he longs for independence and autonomy.
As a parent, it’s hard not to be concerned about your teenager’s future. But you must balance that concern with your teenager’s need to become his own person.
3. Focus on just one issue at a time
When parenting teens who display defiant behaviour, focus on one issue at a time.
Your teen may be exhibiting many problematic or risky behaviours. But if you try to deal with all of them at once, it will be difficult to address any one behaviour effectively.
It’s much better to tackle difficult behaviours one at a time, typically starting with smaller issues and then moving on to bigger issues.
This way, the focus will be clear, and you will avoid overwhelming your teen.
4. When having a serious conversation with your teen, try to have it outside the home
Why do I recommend this?
Because your teen probably thinks of your home as a place where you have all the power.
It’s better to have the conversation on neutral ground, such as in a café, a restaurant, or on a park bench.
This way, your teen will be more likely to be open to constructive discussion. She will also be less likely to subconsciously revert to rebellious attitudes.
If possible, have the conversation at a place your teen enjoys going to. This will further improve the chances of having a fruitful discussion.
5. Discuss possible solutions together with your teen
Make sure the conversation is focused on problem-solving, and ensure that your teen is part of the process of finding a solution.
This will create a positive atmosphere where both parties are able to suggest possible solutions to the problem.
Avoid turning the meeting into a one-sided conversation where you set the rules and your teen has to accept your position.
Such one-sided conversations will lead to a confrontation, which won’t help the situation.
6. Ensure that nobody walks away from the discussion feeling like a loser
Ensure that the discussion ends in a win-win (or at least no-lose) situation for both you and your teenager.
Make sure that your teenager doesn’t leave the meeting feeling like they lost, and you won.
The way to do this is to help your teenager feel heard. Allow them to play an active role in reaching the outcomes you both agree upon.
For example, if the issue is how much screen time your teenager should have on weekdays, ask her to suggest a limit.
Or if the issue is that your teenager is not helping with the household chores, ask him what daily tasks he would be willing to do.
When teenagers feel as if they are involved in the discussion, they are more likely to take ownership of the solutions and stick to them.
7. Postpone the conversation if you or your teen starts to become angry
Keep in mind that the purpose of the meeting isn’t to vent frustrations.
When tempers flare, it’s challenging to find solutions that both parties are agreeable to.
So if either you or your teen starts to get angry, it’s best to postpone the conversation to another time.
8. Refrain from casting judgment on your teen
Avoid making judgmental statements about your teen’s choices or behaviour.
In particular, avoid statements that begin with the words: “You always” or “You never”.
These kinds of statements are too general, and will put your teen on the defensive.
If your teen feels that you regard her as a “problem child”, she is likely to continue her problematic behaviour.
This is because teens tend to behave in a way that is consistent with how their parents view them.
Repetitive nagging or criticism will push your teen toward rebellious behaviour.
9. Understand how your teen feels instead of prescribing solutions
As a parent, it’s natural to point out to your teen solutions to their problems.
For example, you might want to say to your daughter: “If you didn’t use your phone so much, you wouldn’t get such bad grades.”
Or you might want to say to your son: “If you kept your room tidy, you wouldn’t keep losing your belongings.”
But your teen will see these “solutions” as criticisms, and will feel irritated as a result.
Instead of pointing out what they are doing wrong, start out by building a better relationship with your teen.
The best way to do that is to listen.
Listen to your teen “actively”. This means listening in a way that your teen will feel respected.
Maintain eye contact, and nod your head once in a while. Use phrases like “Tell me more” to encourage your teen to continue talking.
Once in a while, summarise what you think you hear your teen saying.
These active listening techniques send a message to your teen that he is being heard. Your teen will share more about what he is feeling, so you’ll understand him better.
10. As a family, create a family mission statement
Almost every company has a mission statement. A mission statement guides it as it serves its customers and conducts its business.
Families can benefit from having a mission statement too.
One benefit of having a mission statement is that it lays out a set of shared principles and values. Having a shared sense of purpose bonds parents and children together.
This is especially so if you involve your children in developing the mission statement.
To create a family mission statement, have a family meeting, and ask questions such as:
- What is our family’s mission?
- What kind of family do we want to be?
- Which values are most important to our family?
- What kind of relationships do we want to have within our family?
- How do we want to treat one another?
For more information about developing a family mission statement, refer to this article.
11. Share your feelings about your teen’s behaviour
One of the reasons your teen is so defiant is that it seems to her that you have all the power, while she has none.
You can restore balance to the relationship by allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
Instead of just telling your teen that his behaviour is not acceptable, tell him how you feel about his behaviour.
For example, you could say: “I feel worried when I see you staying up past midnight on a school night. This is because it’s going to be hard for you to get through school the next day.”
Or you could say: “I feel disrespected when you walk away in the middle of a conversation.”
By sharing your feelings – instead of nagging or criticising your teen – you make yourself vulnerable.
If you deal with teenage attitude this way, your teen will be more understanding and less rebellious.
Contrast this with the kind of parenting that sends this message: “I’m the parent, you’re the child, and you’ll just do as I say.” This approach encourages your teen to become more rebellious.
12. Confirm what you think you hear your teen saying
During the teen years, when your child’s brain is still developing, communicating with her will often not be straightforward.
So it’s a good idea to confirm that you have understood what she is saying.
For example, you might ask your teenage daughter: “Is it okay if I send this photo of you to your grandparents?”
She might reply: “I guess so.”
This doesn’t sound like a definite “yes”, so it would be best to check your understanding of her response.
You could then ask: “Does that mean you’re happy for me to send that photo, or would you rather I choose a different one?”
Using this approach can help to avoid a misunderstanding that later leads to a conflict.
13. When your teen does something you appreciate, let him or her know
As a parent of a teen, it’s easy to become focused on the behaviours that bother you.
The danger of this is that your teen may come to see you as an “unpleasable parent”.
As such, it’s important to show appreciation when your teen does something you’re grateful for.
If your teen helps her younger brother with his homework, you could say: “Thank you for helping Joshua with his homework.”
Or if you see your teenage son taking out the trash, you could say: “I appreciate you helping out with the household chores.”
14. Don’t use sarcasm
Sarcasm might seem funny, but it’s actually a form of aggression. You can see this from the origin of the word.
“Sarcasm” comes from the Greek word “sarkazein”, which means “to tear the flesh off”.
Using sarcasm will damage the relationship between you and your teenager. This is because your teenager will feel wounded and belittled.
If you are in the habit of using sarcasm, make a conscious effort to eliminate the habit altogether.
Using sarcasm frequently will result in a toxic home environment. This will lead to your teenager becoming more rebellious.
15. Set an example for your teen
It’s not reasonable to expect your teen to behave in a particular way if you don’t model that behaviour.
So be careful about how you speak to your teen. As far as possible, speak to him with kindness and respect.
For example, you may feel like saying: “It’s already 10 pm, and tomorrow’s a school day. And you haven’t even started your homework! What’s wrong with you?”
Speaking rudely sends an indirect message to your teen that it’s okay to talk like that when he’s agitated.
A better way to address the issue would be to say: “It’s 10 pm and tomorrow is a school day. Can you please share with me why you haven’t started on your homework yet?”
16. Don’t lecture your teen
When your teen does something she shouldn’t have, it’s tempting to lecture her.
But doing so will tend to make your teen see herself as a “bad kid”. It will also make her turn defensive.
Another problem with lectures is that they are focused on the past. The parent delivering the lecture may bring up a long list of past incidents and wrongdoings.
It’s much more productive to focus on the future and to ask your teen questions that invite him to be part of the solution.
For example, let’s say your teenage son breaks his curfew. Instead of lecturing him about the importance of keeping to his curfew, try to understand why he came home late.
When you understand the situation more clearly, shift the conversation toward solutions to ensure that this won’t happen again.
If you really can’t help but lecture your teen, keep the lectures short – less than 5 minutes. Any longer than 5 minutes and the lecture won’t have any effect on your teen.
17. Try to uncover if there’s anything else going on with your teen
When you’re having problems with a rebellious teen, it’s natural to focus on your teen’s behaviour.
But before dealing with the behaviour, get to the root of the issue.
If you notice a sudden change in your teen’s behaviour, it’s worth considering whether she is getting bullied at school.
Or perhaps the root cause might be an issue related to self-esteem, body image or anxiety.
Take the time to listen to your teen and build the relationship, so that she’ll be more willing to share her problems with you.
Your teen’s behaviour will only improve when you address the underlying issue.
18. Get professional help
If the situation doesn’t improve, seek professional help.
There’s no shame in asking for assistance.
If you break your foot, you won’t hesitate to get help from a doctor. Likewise, if the situation with your teenager is broken, don’t hesitate to get professional help.
For example, I offer this 1-to-1 coaching programme for teenagers, where I enable them to become motivated, focused and responsible.
19. Give your teen some space
Family life can be intense, so there are times when we all need to decompress.
In particular, teens need physical and emotional space to unwind.
The reason for this is that as they transition into adulthood, they desire more independence and autonomy.
As they wrestle with this transition, they need space to think and reflect.
So if your teen asks for space, try to oblige him as much as is feasible.
20. Don’t punish your teen harshly
When dealing with rebellious teens, never mete out harsh punishments. Avoid any form of physical or emotional abuse, e.g. withholding basic necessities such as food, slapping your teen.
I know parents who have gone so far as to threaten their teen with a knife in an attempt to change his behaviour!
Harsh punishments will only make him more withdrawn and defiant.
Keep in mind that your relationship with your teen is fragile. Once it is damaged, it can be hard to repair.
21. Do something enjoyable with your teen
So much of family life is taken up with routine activities. Often, it doesn’t occur to parents to do something enjoyable with their teens.
Once a month or so, go somewhere with your teen and do something enjoyable together.
It could be going to the park, fishing, or watching a movie.
Doing this is about building the relationship with your teen. So it’s vital that during this activity you don’t nag, criticise, or lecture your teen.
22. Never set rules without explaining the logic behind them
When you create rules within your family, always explain to your children the rationale behind the rules. This applies especially to teenagers.
Your teenager is more likely to accept your rules if she knows the reasons behind them.
If your teenager asks about the reason behind one of your rules, never say “Because I said so” or “My house, my rules”.
Statements like these will leave your teenager feeling frustrated. As a result, he’ll become more defiant.
When you create rules, do your best to involve your teenager in making the new rules.
For example, you could say to your teenage son: “I think we need to talk about how late you can stay out at parties. What seems like a reasonable time to you?”
Having such a discussion is itself an excellent relationship-building exercise.
It will make your teenager feel that his views are being heard.
23. Do something nice for your teen
A nice gesture, however small, can go a long way in building the relationship with your teen.
If you’re going through a rough patch with your teen, you may not feel like doing this.
But remember that love is intentional. You don’t have to feel like showing love in order to act in a loving way.
Here are some examples of nice gestures that will help to build the relationship between you and your teen:
- Write her a note to wish her all the best for a test
- Put a small packet of his favourite snack on his table
- Buy a copy of a magazine she likes
- Buy him a gift card
- Offer to make her a sandwich
A gesture like this is particularly powerful when it’s not a reward for “good” behaviour. This is because your teen will realise you did it just because you love him.
24. Realise that your teen is rebelling because he or she probably feels powerless
As a parent, it’s often hard to remember what the world looks like through the eyes of your teen.
In your teen’s eyes, you have all the power, and they have very little.
I’ve worked with thousands of pre-teens and teens. This is something I see over and over again – many of them feel powerless.
In nearly every aspect of their lives, they feel as if someone else has the power.
This takes the form of:
- Authority figures forcing them to go to school (even if they hate going to school) and do their homework
- Boundaries related to phone usage and how much mobile data they can use
- Rules about how much TV they can watch, what time they need to be home by, etc.
Of course, boundaries are necessary. But it’s also important to give your teen a sense of control and autonomy.
After all, you can’t control every choice your teen makes. Neither can you control every aspect of your teen’s behaviour.
However, if you empower them to make decisions for themselves, you’ll motivate your teens to try harder.
25. Don’t expect the situation to improve overnight
Don’t expect a sudden improvement in your teenager’s behaviour.
Even if you apply all of the tips in this article, it will still take time to see results.
Your teenager didn’t become defiant overnight. It was probably a process that took months, or even years.
In a similar way, helping your teenager to become less defiant is also a process that will take time.
The tips in this article are all ways of helping your teenager to become more respectful and responsible.
(To learn 5 bonus tips, download the free PDF below.)
Of course, it would be impossible to implement all the tips at once.
Put two or three of the tips into practice and monitor your teenager’s progress. As the weeks go by, apply more tips gradually.
Over time, your teenager will become less rebellious. Your home will also become a more peaceful and harmonious place!
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