This is the ninth article in a series on parenting adolescents.
Q: What are some of the adolescent problematic behaviors beyond those normally occurring?
A: One of the stereotypes commonly believed about adolescents is teens are difficult to get along with and hard to handle. That myth for all teenagers is not true. However, there are some teenagers who exhibit difficult behaviors.
One of the teen attitudes that is troublesome for parents is argumentative behaviors. Parents need to understand why adolescents are argumentative and develop ways to work around their oppositional behavior. Because teens are curious, they form their own opinions and start to wonder if there are other ways besides the way their parents do things.
Another contributing factor to teen argumentativeness is the desire for independence and for starting to make some of their own decisions. Because teenagers do not yet have adult communication skills, they might express themselves in ways that seem critical to parents and put them on the defensive. If adolescents feel they are being controlled and stifled by parents, they commonly resort to ignoring their parents or becoming argumentative.
Online Parenting Coach offers the above insights about argumentative adolescents and then goes on to present 15 tips for dealing with these teens. First, parents need to allow teens to make decisions on matters they can handle. Sometimes, with defiant and difficult adolescents, parents can become more restrictive than necessary, as a reaction to teen oppositional behavior.
Parents need to assign tasks but then allow teens to handle the details. If the adolescents struggle with trying things, parents should still allow teens to find their own ways. During the process of allowing teens more latitude, parents have to control their emotions and remain calm, focused and factual. Parents need to teach their teens to argue without yelling and becoming irrational. In order to do this, parents themselves need to maintain control of their own emotions.
Adolescents need to be given responsibilities without parents nagging them. With homework, parents can monitor grades and if they drop, discuss plans to improve their grades. With the topic of risky behaviors, the best time to discuss these subjects is before teens become involved or are exposed to these risks. Family values can best be shared during times that are calm and rational. The risks are alcohol abuse, illegal drug abuse, and sexual risks of pregnancy and STD's.
Parents need to listen to teens and ask them questions, rather than engage in arguments and try to counter their opinions. Rules need to be appropriate and age-appropriate. Expectations of some family time are reasonable, but should be tempered by the age of the teens. Parents can reward adolescents for being trustworthy in following the rules.
Access to television shows, the Internet, computer and cellphones should be limited. Teenagers, if not monitored, will spend time on some form of technology late at night. Parents who work might be so tired at night they go to bed at reasonable times and assume their teens do likewise.
A good piece of advice regarding teens is for parents to pick their battles; that means adolescent rebellions or shocking behaviors, such as hairstyles or clothes, should not be prohibited by parents unless significantly inappropriate. Teens need to feel they are expressing themselves, and parents need to accept ways that are transient and essentially harmless.
Parents need to develop empathy for their teens and let them know moodiness is normal, as well as vacillating between acting like a child and an adult. Reading books and articles about the developmental stages of adolescence is also good advice. The more knowledgeable parents are and the more they know what to expect next, the better they will be able to cope.
Unless parents observe red flags or danger signs, they need to respect their teenager's privacy. That respect includes teenagers' rooms, texts, emails and phone calls. However, parents need to know where teens are going, what they will be doing and when to expect them back. Parents can establish trust first unless broken by adolescents.
Finally, parents need to establish expectations such as acceptable behavior, decent grades and following house rules. The secret is to set up expectations that are reasonable and not to be argumentative and provoke oppositional behavior.
Search Institute maintains an online publication called Parent Further. Hostile and angry teens might cause parents to feel unfit and insecure about their parenting. The first suggestion from Parenting Further is to deep breathe before responding. The next suggestion is to resist behaving in kind and venting anger on the teens.
Parents need to understand the teenage brain and to know the reasoning part of the brain is not functioning too well. This circumstance produces an increase in emotional responses and a decrease in common sense. But parents should not respond by asking themselves: What are we doing wrong?
Teens can be insulting and hateful, and parents have to make concerted efforts to be objective. Usually hateful comments are related to discipline or denying teens what they want.
Empathy matters and helps parents to maintain their parental roles and to remain objective. Most parents can remember times when they struggled with their parents. Finally, parents should listen without editing or trying to fix something. Remaining connected matters.
Teens ages 10 to 14 can begin to think like adults but do not have the judgment or experience to act like adults.
Teens ages 15 to 18 are thinking about the future and what to do. Parents need to support and respect their decisions and not try to manipulate teens into what they think their teens should do.
* Next week's article will discuss problems in mother-daughter relationships.
Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State
University. Send your questions in care of the department of
sociology and social work.