Q. I’m the mother of five girls. Three of my daughters are teens and the other two are younger. I manage well with my two oldest teens. From time to time they exhibit negative attitudes, but it all seems within the normal range. My third teen, who is 14, is a different story. Until she turned 12, her behavior was mostly respectful at home and in school. As her bas mitzvah approached, so did her attitude. I’m fully aware that physical changes can make teens moody but this seems more extreme. She gradually became oppositional and started questioning every decision I made, even if it made sense to the rest of my daughters. As her behavior worsened, I had her assessed by a therapist who told me that there are no red flags that would indicate trauma and that her behavior can be attributed to the fact that she is an unruly teen. Although I found that to be a relief, parenting her feels like I’m consistently under siege. When I say something she doesn’t agree with, she tells me that I’m not very smart and that I’m being unreasonable. These can be perfectly logical decisions, such as asking her to go to sleep before midnight or not to walk alone in the dark in an unsafe neighborhood. I feel like I have tried many forms of parenting from showing flexibility to creating clear boundaries, but I still feel so lost. How do I parent a teen who pushes boundaries every day?
A. Thanks for sharing your struggle. Although your family and friends may share their parenting struggles, when it’s your child, it can feel incredibly lonely.
I’m happy to hear that your challenging daughter is not your eldest. The fact that you feel that you successfully parent your two older teens should lead you to believe that you are doing something right.
I think it’s very intuitive and wise of you that you took your third teen to be evaluated for trauma, which can be a factor that causes negative behavior. I think it’s imperative that your daughter continues seeing a therapist consistently to assist her with her emotional regulation difficulties.
You mentioned that your daughter questions logical boundaries you set with her and responds to them in a demeaning manner. This must be incredibly painful for you.
Your daughter will need a very different form of parenting than your other children needed. This will exercise every fiber of your being. I hope you are ready for this long and arduous journey. In general, I think you will find it helpful to seek consistent professional help to guide you when parenting your daughter.
There are some clear strategies you can utilize when parenting a difficult teen. First, hold on to your power as a parent. When your teen pushes your button, try to keep your cool by counting to ten before you react. This will reduce the issue at hand as opposed to exacerbating it. Second, establish boundaries that are precise and clear. These boundaries or house rules should be reasonable and should be able to be applied consistently. One boundary that should not be negotiable is that your teen should treat you with respect. Third, utilize effective and assertive communication by remembering your position of leadership. Fourth, when your teen is not behaving in an outrageous manner try to exhibit empathy and utilize a sense of humor. Fifth, if you see your teen is distressed, offer to listen and help solve problems. Then pull away and wait for your teen to approach you. Last but not least, when your teen really crosses a boundary, deploy a consequence to compel respect. This level of predictability will help your teen feel safe and loved.
I hope these strategies have provided you with some direction as you exercise abilities and patience you never knew you had in your repertoire.