Parents: Keeping Your Cool with a Troubled Adolescent

The teen years are often tough on parents. Adolescents are stretching their wings… and their boundaries. As they head toward adulthood, even the most mild-mannered teenagers will tend to pick arguments, overreact, bristle against parental expectations, and make less-than-ideal choices. If your teen is troubled in some way, the frustrations — and the stakes — loom larger than average. The primary rule to keep in mind when parenting a troubled adolescent is that you need to stay calm and do your best to keep your cool. Your teen is already dealing with strong emotions, and your own strong emotions won’t help matters if you can’t keep them under control. Check out these tips for keeping your cool when your teenager is going through tough times.


1. Disengage Your Hot Buttons

Your teenager knows you well, and he or she knows what makes you feel hurt, annoyed, angry, and even betrayed. It might be a certain tone of voice, certain words, backtalk, ignoring you, refusing to do what you say, or something else. When your adolescent is dealing with negative feelings, he or she might want to spread the misery around, and pushing your buttons is almost a surefire way to accomplish that goal.

Don’t allow this to happen. During a time when you’re not feeling frustrated or angry, think of the ways that your troubled adolescent provokes you. Sometimes just acknowledging what makes you lash out can allow you to deal with these actions without giving in to the temptation of a quick — and often hurtful — response. Once your teen knows he or she isn’t getting under your skin, you might be surprised at how quickly the misbehavior disappears (though it’s not all sunshine and roses, as it will likely be substituted by something else).

2. Stop and Think Before Responding

When your troubled adolescent comes to you with a minor or serious problem, it can be easy to let your emotions guide you, and this can lead to arguing, yelling, and fighting with your teen. Although it sounds cliche, make it a habit to stop, take a few deep breaths and count to ten before you respond. In some cases, this will be enough to allow you to focus on solving the problem without raising your voice or overreacting. It will also leave a short period of silence that your teen might fill with more information.

Other times, an issue is too serious or too frustrating to expect to handle it within ten seconds. If your teen is in immediate danger to him- or herself, then do what you need to do to ensure his or her safety. If not, though, don’t be afraid to tell them that you need some time to come up with the right response. You can excuse yourself to another room while you consider what’s been said and what you want your next step to be.


3. Get Needed Support

Handling a teen who is dealing with difficulty (or just being difficult) is a big job, and if you’re trying to do it alone, you’re likely to get overwhelmed and upset. Instead, find someone to support you as you parent your teen. In an ideal situation, this will often be your teen’s other parent, but this is not always realistic or even beneficial. Consider whether your own parent, one of your siblings, or a close friend can lend some support to the situation.

A parenting support group is another great way to get some guidance for yourself. You can share your trials and tribulations in a non-judgmental group of parents who are going through or who have gone through similar experiences and, in turn, you can help others deal with situations that you’ve already been through with your troubled adolescent.


4. Stick to Boundaries

Most families have rules and consequences in place for their teens, but when there is a mental health problem, a drug addiction or another type of trouble, it’s common for these rules to take a backseat. It’s important to keep boundaries in place as much as possible, however. A routine will help by providing your teen a semblance of control when other things in his or her life seem uncontrolled or uncontrollable.

They will also help you avoid flying off the handle from allowing small infractions to build up until you finally blow up. If your teen is late getting home, enforce the consequence that you would have before the difficulties started. If you’re having trouble setting boundaries and enforcing consequences, you can find some ideas at Understanding Teenagers.


5. Support Your Troubled Adolescent in Treatment

If your teen is troubled, there’s a good chance that he or she is in some type of treatment. If they’re not, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about getting your child the help needed. Once you are situated with the appropriate mental health professionals, support the treatment plan, even if your troubled adolescent is not excited about it. Take your teen to the appointments and insist that he or she stick to any medication regimen prescribed. (Do be aware of any side effects to watch for, and report those to the doctor promptly, but if your teen is on a particular medication, it’s important not to stop it suddenly without the express advice of a physician.)

Your teen might be upset that you are enforcing the recommended treatment plan, but this is often a time for you, the parent, to make the decisions. Talk to the mental health care team about any recalcitrance on your teen’s part, and they will give you advice pertaining to his or her particular situation.

Helping a teen navigate the ups and downs of adolescence can be a bit harrowing even on the best days, and when a teenager is struggling, it can be very stressful. Try to remain calm, stick to your guns when it comes to boundaries and consequences, and rely on your child’s healthcare and mental health care professionals to help him or her through the worst of it, with your support. Remember that this too shall pass, and in many cases, one day you will have an adult child who will thank you for being there.