Having a defiant teenager is a particularly difficult stressor on a family. A lot of parents get frustrated and hopeless, wanting to give up altogether. This stressor can also affect the couple relationship significantly. So, what is the best thing to do with a defiant adolescent?
When addressing the issue of “diabolical teens,” one of my colleagues jested, “you just praise the hell out of them!” This may seem counter-intuitive, but studies have shown that praise and positive reinforcement are the most effective tools for long-term changes with adolescents. Understandably, the natural tendency of parents is to be stricter, yell, and demand compliance. Sometimes this will work in the short-term, but will likely further damage the relationship and will make teaching your teen less effective. Dale Carnegie suggested that “a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” We can catch some of those pesky teenage behaviors more effectively through praise than with criticism.
Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the positives when everything seems to be going wrong. Just give it a try. What we focus on tends to expand. Teenagers are already used to people nagging them all the time. If we are looking for the positives, we will find them. For example, if you find out that your teenager was late to a couple of classes, focus on the fact that they are going to school! Praise them for it. Express gratitude for it. Even reward them for it.
Obviously, it is important to have rules and structure. Boundaries set by parents are also vital for a functioning family and both positive and negatives need to be addressed. However, research has shown that a ratio of at least 4:1 positive to negative interactions helps to maintain a healthier relationship and address desired behaviors.
Finally, it is important to be on the same page as a couple. It is probable that the expectations and level of tolerance between parents is different. Have these discussions in private and compromise on the appropriateness of consequences. One of the best things you can do for your teen is to show him or her that you are on the same team. If you are a single parent, seek support from family, friends, and the community. So many people are facing similar challenges when it comes to this particular challenge. You are not alone.
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