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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.
that bad behavior—to a point—is normal for most kids, because they are
experiencing hormonal changes and developmental challenges.
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
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
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
Don’t stoop to their level by
mimicking a child or giving him “a little of his own medicine.”
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?'”
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
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.