Regaining control

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

This week Ian Munro discusses dealing with an unruly teenager.

Ian Munro.
Ian Munro.

Living with an out-of-control teenager is not easy. In fact, it can be the thing that nightmares are made of.

At some point control has passed from the parents to the teenager. He or she is very much in control of the household or in control of at least one parent who, despite everything that’s happening, will make excuses for the behaviours and relent under teen pressure.

These parents have, with very few exceptions, allowed themselves to become the victim of a skilful programme of manipulation, usually involving some form of emotional blackmail.

Eventually, they reach a point where they feel trapped by helplessness, maybe even frightened.

And yet, it’s also a situation in which the teen is a victim; someone caught up in a cycle of behaviour that has become the only way of dealing with a life that has had few secure boundaries and with parents who did not make a stand when it mattered.

It then takes a lot of courage, strength and faith for a parent to make that stand when things have got to this stage. We see it from time to time, for example, when a parent takes a deep breath, says enough is enough and reports a situation to the police.

The first thing parents faced with an out-of-control teenager need to do is to decide that enough is enough, stop slugging it out and to get out of the ring and take charge. This is where the concept of "tough love" comes in. The second step, however, is not a case of being tough with your teenager, it’s a case of first being tough with yourself.

The teens know exactly which buttons to press to get their parents going, which red herrings will work to deflect a reprimand, what will make Mum or Dad feel guilty and how to make them lose control.

So, a parent has to come up with unexpected responses. If you usually shout, then try becoming quiet and vice versa. If you normally end up face to face, walk away. If you respond at length, keep it short and simple. There’s nothing like being unpredictable to throw manipulators: something’s wrong but they’re not sure what.

They are likely, of course, to work harder with some heavy-duty manipulation or become more aggressive to get the usual response, so some solid, friendly support is useful to help keep you strong.

The third step is to gain the support of all adults involved in the teen’s life and to set some bottom lines.

Next week: Some thoughts on what all this means.


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