When your teen starts acting out, you might feel like your entire world has been flipped over. Family dynamics shift overnight, and suddenly your child is someone you don’t even recognize. Growing up is tough, and the turbulent period of adolescence is even harder on some teens than others.

If your child has begun dabbling in substance abuse, sex, criminal activity or just a wide range of behavioral problems, here are four approaches you can take toward parenting that can help guide them back onto the right track.

Start Conversations

Connecting with your teenager as much as possible is important when they’re struggling. They don’t want you to tell them how they feel and explain their emotions to them. They want someone who will respect them and listen to what they have to say and how they feel, even when they may not fully understand themselves. Your child’s behavior won’t change overnight, but playing an active role in their life and showing interest in who they are and what they like will make a lasting impact. It’s easy for parents of troubled kids to revolve every discourse around their behavior. The constant persecution and lecturing only causes teens to withdrawal more.

Remember who your child is but also take the time to get acquainted with who they are becoming. Adolescence is when your teenager will develop an identity that’s unique and not simply based off who you raised them to be. Show your interest even when they don’t necessarily show any back.

Communicate Boundaries

Many parents issue consequences first and rules after. Rather than grounding your teenager after they’ve done something wrong or undesirable, sit down and calmly but firmly explain the new boundaries you’ve come up with together. If your children have a part in setting rules, they may be happier about following them. Make sure they understand what will and will not be tolerated as well as the reasons why.

Many parents will argue that they don’t owe their kids a reason, but your teenagers aren’t babies. They’re growing people on the brink of adulthood that no longer want to feel like they’re simply a slave to the world around them. Showing them respect by explaining your thought process will show them you really care about who they are becoming. When you re-frame your approach and start talking to your child more, you’re able to garner better reactions and more positive responses than simply yelling and doling out punishments.

Develop an Action Plan

If your teen is lashing out or pushing the limits, some negative consequences may occur. What will you do if you get a call from the police and find out you have to post bail? Not many people know of a good bail bond service ahead of time. How will you handle the aftermath of picking your intoxicated teen up from the station or respond to a request to take them home because they drank too much?

Although you want to avoid these scenarios at all costs, if your child is really acting out, it’s important to plan ahead and be able to respond in a calm, collective manner. This will reduce conflict and allow you to address the situation from a much more sensible approach. If your child seems to be headed down this path, speak with them before they get to this point and tell them what your plan is if it does come to that. Knowing what lies ahead may just be the kick start they need to shape up. However, be sure to communicate that you do what you’re doing out of love and concern.

Be Present

Watching your teen spin out-of-control not only pains you as their parent, but it can also make you wonder where you went wrong. Feelings of failure, guilt and even anger are all understandable and perfectly justifiable when your teenager is facing so many problems. When your communication dissolves to nothing but screaming matches, stalemates, and ultimatums, you created a barrier between you and your child without ever intending to.

You pull away because it’s easier. Sometimes, giving up and turning your back feels like the only option to maintain even a frail grasp of your sanity. Practice self-care. Rely on others. Find support. But make sure that you stay involved. Don’t give up on your teenager. They need you the most right now even if they don’t understand that. Being available and letting them know you care for and love them is one of the most supportive things you can do.

Remember how hard and confusing your teenage years were and treat your child with the kindness and compassion you needed at that age. Do your best and love them unconditionally.

By Erica Buteau

Change Agent. Daydream Believer. Maker. Creative. Likes love, peace and Jeeping. Dislikes winter, paper cuts and war. She/Her/Hers.

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