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Slamming Doors and Silent Treatment

As a teenager, I had garden-variety rebellion issues: sneaking out to drink my dad’s homemade lemon vodka on the beach with neighbor kids, downing generic beer with the guy who was supposed to be taking care of my bedridden grandmother and blowing my Yale entrance interview on purpose because I wanted to stay in New York with my boyfriend. My big defense when my dad tried to rein me in was, “Hey, I’m not on drugs and I’m not pregnant.”

But honestly, in hindsight, I’m kind of amazed I made it past 17 with all of the compromises to my personal safety.

Experts say that bad behavior—to a point—is normal for most kids, because they are experiencing hormonal changes and developmental challenges.

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“When teens and toddlers are wrestling with their own autonomy, that’s when we see resistance, opposition, defiance … and the psychological goals of adolescence parallel the psychological goals of toddlerhood,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. While the goal of a toddler is to separate herself from her mother via temper tantrums and boundary testing, a teen is also trying to resolve her own separation from her parents and emerge with independent thoughts on big issues such as sex, relationships, religion, ethics, morals and character.

Loren Buckner is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Tampa, and the author of Parentwise. She works with families on issues such as behavior and anger and says that the first step parents need to take when noticing issues with their kids is to look at their own behavior. How are they handling family life? Are they asking the child to be more in control of himself than they are of themselves?

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She sets out these steps for parents of teens:

  • Set clear limits
  • Keep lines of communications open
  • Make school a high priority
  • Pick your battles
  • Be honest and express your love
  • Talk about your thoughts and feelings, so you can model it for your child (this is easier to do when the child is younger, and it will eventually become normal to talk about thoughts and feelings.)
  • Don’t stoop to their level by mimicking a child or giving him “a little of his own medicine.”

Walfish says the place to start if you’re noticing behavior issues with your teen is by having a sit-down chat, not a lecture. “Try to be as open and generous as possible by being a good listener and saying something like, ‘I wonder if you notice what I see…’ to raise your child’s self-awareness. Sometimes they’re changing behavior and don’t realize it. And ask specific questions such as 'How is it going in with your Spanish teacher? What’s lunchtime like, who are you sitting with these days?'”

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If your teen has apologized for a problematic behavior and she doesn’t repeat it, then it’s been handled. But when you feel your teen’s behavior is beyond your capability to manage, it’s time to get help. This can be from a pediatrician, teacher, clergy, counselor or therapist. “Don’t let foolish pride get in the way,” Walfish says. “There’s no shame in not knowing.”

Walfish and Buckner outline the following behaviors as typical for teens, who are navigating social, hormonal, emotional and other challenges—but say when they cross over from a minor problem to a red flag or worse, it’s time to get help.

Ten Common Teen Problem Behaviors

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