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How to Deal With Difficult Teenagers

By Michelle Bolyn ; Updated June 13, 2017

Your teen is striving toward independence, trying to figure out who he is and determining what he wants out of life -- all while trying to fit in with his friends and make it home by curfew on Friday night. It’s easy for an impulsive teen to get into trouble, start drinking or using drugs, have sex or get involved with other risky behaviors. While it won’t be the simplest task, it’s possible to keep communication open, provide effective discipline and help keep your difficult teen safe, too.

  1. Take a few minutes to remember what is like to be a teenager. Think about the rebellious things that you did and how you felt about your parents. There were probably times where you loved them and other times where you couldn’t stand to be in the same room with them. That’s the life of a teen. Her hormones are raging, she’s experiencing peer pressure and she’s making life-altering decisions regularly, such as whether to have sex, whether to drink at a party and whether she should get in the car with a friend who’s been using drugs.

  2. Communicate with your teen constantly. A difficult adolescent might try to blow you off, but it’s important to let him know that you’ll be there if he needs to talk. Start when he’s in his preteens or younger and ease into all of the difficult topics like sex, drugs and drinking and driving. If you’re uncomfortable talking about a specific topic, your teen will pick up on it and he probably won’t come to you with questions or to get advice in the future.

  3. Get help from a licensed mental health professional who specializes in working with teens. Talk to the therapist about your teen’s specific problems and get feedback about services that might be available. For instance, if you teen is using drugs, there are many treatment options, such as detoxification, individual and family therapy, 12-step programs, and short and long-term rehabilitation.

  4. Create a behavior contract with your teen. Spell out what you expect of her, what the rewards or privileges will be for keeping up her end and what the consequences will be for breaking the agreement. You can incorporate academic improvements, behavior changes and chores in the contract, but try to be realistic in your goals so your teen feels she can reach them. Follow through consistently with both rewards and consequences.

  5. Consider removing your teen from his peers if necessary because they are likely the most influential group in his life. If his friends are using drugs, he’s much more likely to do so, too. You could have him spend the summer with a relative or look into summer camp, community service travel groups or behavior summer program options.

  6. Tip

    Don’t think you’re helping your teen by bailing her out of trouble. She sometimes needs to learn the hard way through natural consequences. For example, if she gets caught drinking and driving, don’t fight to have the charges dropped. Let her lose her license for a year, have to pay a fine and take driving classes. She’ll think twice before she does it again.

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