By Mark Gregston
It’s normal for teenagers to fail to do their chores without ten reminders, to put off their homework, to be emotional, to lose important things, to like music that is too loud, and to sometimes counter or question authority. That’s all pretty typical, though it can be aggravating to parents. To compare, let’s look at what’s abnormal . . . sudden profound changes in personality, angry outbursts of profanity, extreme disrespect for people and things, addictions, sudden failing grades, not sleeping or sleeping too much, extreme weight loss, eating disorders, self-harm, running away, or self-imposed isolation.
Do you see the difference? Normal stuff has to do with being distracted, ditsy, trying to fit in, or flapping their wings of independence. It passes in time, as the teen matures. Abnormal behavior and true rebellion is represented by a growing darkness, hatred and anger in their soul, which tends to only get worse over time.
A common cause for rebellion is when a teen is trying to exert their independence in a home where independence is not allowed. They feel boxed in, so they tend to explode. The best thing to do when you see rebellion in your teen is to first look at what may be impeding your relationship. Could it be that you are still treating them like a child, and need to give them a few more freedoms?
Or, has something happened in your child’s life, even unbeknownst to you, that is affecting them? Kids forget stuff. They get distracted. And by definition, they are still a bit irresponsible. Yes, they need to obey the rules and remain inside the boundaries you have set, but I want to encourage you to put their behavior into the context of their lives and not label them as a rebel just because they are acting like a teenager.
Parents need to recognize the difference between a distracted or foolish child and one who is making a bold “You can’t tell me what to do!” statement. Though both may seem rebellious, only the latter is trying to be.
Apply Boundaries and Consequences
There needs to be some “hurt” when kids cross the important lines. For instance, turn off their computer, unplug the TV, take away their car keys, ground them for a week. I sometimes say it this way, “You’re sixteen. I’d like to treat you that way, but if you insist on being treated like you’re twelve, I will! But you won’t like it because you’ll only have the privileges of a twelve year old.”
Don’t over-react or get upset. Anger just shifts the attention away from their behavior, causing them to reflect anger right back at you. Shaming them just makes them feel like there is no hope of ever pleasing you. Instead, demonstrate your love by keeping your cool and keeping to the plan for applying appropriate consequences. And never cave in or lessen the consequences. That just backfires in the end, causing you to have to apply even more severe consequences later.
The important thing to do is to differentiate between normal and abnormal. If it’s normal stuff, strengthen your boundaries and apply consequences. If your teen’s behavior has become dark, secretive, explosive or otherwise abnormal, it’s time that you get them in to see a counselor. Consequences may have no effect on such a teen.
Restore Your Teen
I’ve worked with thousands of teenagers who have fallen short in life. Most have broken just about every rule in the book. As a result, many of them think they have messed up so bad that no one—not even their parents or God—loves them any more. They’ve developed a “what’s the use of trying” attitude, which has gotten them into even more trouble. That thinking needs to be turned around before they will turn around.