How to Handle an Oppositional Teenager

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends… 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways… 12  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1Corinthians 4-13)

It is no secret that adolescence is a tumultuous time. As the body and mind enter new and constantly shifting states of fluctuation, physiological and psychological growth, and the development of what was once unknown functions to the “childish” the mind of a child has no ways to comprehend, it is no wonder that teenagers feel a little lost, or even quite possibly confused at times. However, I would be wrong if I said that it was only the adolescent that presents with states of confusion during this period of constant change. In the nearly two decades of work I have conducted with adolescent’s and their parents, I can undeniably say that the parents of an adolescent are just as undeniably lost for answers about what to do with the teenager that sits before them as the child is about how to handle the parent’s they love, but are unquestionably separating from in their quest to become their own individual.

In adolescence, we transition. As such, it is imperative that our parenting styles transition with the adolescent as well. How can we handle an oppositional defiant teenager? Let us explore.

Parenting is not a stagnant undertaking. Instead it is part of the dynamic growth process we undertake as adults, if we have chosen to have children and to be practical parents. Like the children that we raise, we are also in a constant state of growth and fluctuation. However, our growth as individuals is also linked to the growth of the generation we have created; therefore our success as parents is intimately tied to the success of our children. This is the underlying current that forms the cornerstone of such convictions as “I want my children to be better off than I” or the ancient Chinese Proverb that states “One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade,” or the beautiful quote written by Malala Yousafzai “To every child – I dream of a world where you can laugh, dance, sing, learn, live in peace and be happy.” While it is our duties as parents to raise the generation we have chosen to create with values that are important to us as practical parents, oftentimes we can loose sight of this end goal while we engage in the constant battles of opposition that adolescent development throws our way.

As parents, we must first sift through the battlefronts in order to gain an understanding of the overall goal associated with parenting an adolescent; technically, we must understand the teenage spirit. Erik Erikson (1963) believed that the psychosocial crisis associated with adolescence centers on the formation of an intact identity, or what psychologists have termed the ego. Yes, wearing all black clothing, weird hair-styles, or considering oneself Emo (emotional), popular, a jock, stoner, or a metal head are all part of Teen Spirit. This reflects the identity of the adolescent, which yearns to connect with others their age, in a plight to separate / individuate from their parents “old-school” rules. In earnest, by labeling themselves, teenagers attempt to find coherence within the identity(ies) they assume by finding sources of reinforcement from friends, family members, and a community who will support the person they see themselves becoming. However, this push to establish one’s independence can cause scenarios where long established boundaries between parents and children are tested, and this is what causes many to seek help for what is viewed as teenage oppositional behaviors.

 

Transitioning from childhood to an adult psyche is a lot of hard work. The physiological and psychological growth associated with adolescence taxes a teenager’s body and mind. But the spirit behind this growth helps the adolescent form an integrative ego, or a sense of self that they can offer the world. They can then use this self construct to approach and solve future problems in a cohesive and integrative manner. It is from this perspective, that a child learns to solve more adult oriented problems in their personal plight to mature. This is the cross a teenager bears, as they push to leave childish ways behind. This also stands as the dividing line children and parents face as a child attempts to establish their identity.

As a doctor, I have seen the pain and the pleasure, the failures and successes that practical parents face when navigating the torrential waters of adolescent development. While the adolescent yearns to establish their identity, it is our job as a parent to meet these undercurrents of what seems like a class four rapids with a sense of calm understanding, firmness, fairness, and consistency needed to tame an adolescent’s emotional lability. In my practice, I have found that six things work to move your children through the normal oppositional and emotional behaviors that accompanies adolescent development. Below is the strategy of CREATE, an acronym that will allow you to CREATE a new relationship with your teenage son or daughter.

  1. Calmness – Your adolescent has emotional lability. Their body and minds are literally ripping apart and being re-pieced back together in a manner they have never been exposed to during their childhood. Their physiological and psychological growth is controlled by hormones the equivalent of which would be a full grown person on Steroids. They will be moody, oppositional, and sometimes down right rude. It’s not that they don’t love you, or even mean what they say. They are going through a tumultuous time, and need you to be calm in order to turn it around.
  2. Rock It – Not Literally. We aren’t talking Dwayne Johnson here, although having him as back-up may help. Instead, be firm in your unwavering commitment to the morals and values you hold dear. Remember adolescents are like a river; they move towards a path of least resistance. And yes, like water, they will attempt to wear you down. However, it takes millions of years for a river to wear a rock down to a pebble. Your adolescent will eventually navigate towards understanding your point, even if they disagree, or simply give up trying.
  3. Evaluate & Empathize – Your adolescent most likely does not know what is going on with him or her. They have limited emotional intelligence. Because of this, they most likely will have difficulties explaining what they are feeling in the first place. By helping your children to evaluate their own emotions, especially through shared storylines you may have regarding your own growing experience, your child will learn to identify and navigate their emotional undercurrents with greater certainty.
  4. Amplify – your children’s positive traits and help them solve the negative traits that stand in their way. You have the choice to engage your adolescent head on (argue), solve their problems for them, or teach them to solve their problems themselves. What choice do you want to engage? Remember, your adolescent will naturally choose the path of least resistance and want you to solve their problems for them. You cannot do this. You must amplify their capacity to problem solve for themselves, Rock It, and work within the context of your team to be more adamant then they are to solve their own problems. You should never assume responsibility over their outcomes, this leads to scapegoating behaviors we see all to common in this day and age.
  5. Team Up – It takes a village to raise a child. Your team will consist first and foremost of your loved one. If you don’t have one, find a support group. They exist, and oftentimes are found in areas you may already engage. Institutions such as church and non-profits offer an array of support for parents. You may even wish to engage the help of a professional. Either way, form a TEAM (Together, Everyone Achieves More). They will listen to you when you need to vent, will bolster you up when you are ready to fall, and may even give an invaluable insight or two that can help you weather to storm of Teen Spirit.
  6. Empathize – Back to Step 3. As Will Smith said some 30 years ago “Parent’s Just don’t Understand!” I wonder if he still has the same sentiments today as a parent? Empathize. Your child honestly thinks that you do not understand. What’s worst, you most likely have forgotten what it means to undergo teen spirit. Let’s face it, Acne, Bullying, Fitting In, What Hair Style to Wear, Does this Make Me Look Fat, He (She) Loves Me, Loves Me Not, and all the social pressures associated with teenage life are traumatic. We suppress them, if not downright repress these memories for a  reason. In our plight to overcome the feelings associated with these adverse memories, we inevitably stumble upon a healthy enough adult identity that we can share with others. Show them that you understand, yet hold your ground, rock it, with your TEAM, Re-evaluate strategies for their good and bad outcomes, Amplify, and TEAM-Up with your child, to assume the role of a trusted confident, not a suspicious parent that jus doesn’t understand the plight they are undertaking

Practical parenting is a tough venture. However, it is one where the consequences assure a child’s healthy psychological development. Our ability to CREATE a working relationship with our adolescent is one step to assuring that they will the steps develop emotional identification and tolerance skills needed to navigate the waters of adult life. Furthermore, by engaging this journey with your child, they will learn the needed values they can ultimately can pass on to their children. All of this by simply by showing that you care enough to help them CREATE their personal destiny separate from yours.

Two sad teens embracing at bedroom

Let me know your thoughts?

View All

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.