“Tom and Anna have been struggling with their third 15 year old daughter, Jo, who often expresses her anger and makes the rest of the family physically get out of the house because they are unable to cope with her rage and her physical abuse. Jo’s three siblings live in fear. Tom has been depressed for the last few years since he struggled with his previous job and currently suffers from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anna often just gives in to Jo’s demands to avoid Jo’s reactions and abuse towards her other children. Tom and Anna decide to lock every room because Jo has started to steal from her family’s belongings……Tom and Anna live in their own prison….They feel frustrated, have lost their confidence and feel like failures in their parenting, especially knowing that their best friends, Paul and Lisa, have three beautiful children, who strive to achieve their goals, study well and respect their parents…..”*
You might wonder why your teenager has turned out to be difficult, arrogant, disrespectful and very challenging, while other teenagers are good, respectful and responsible.
WHAT WENT WRONG WITH RAISING JO?
Through counselling, Tom and Anna learned what some of the causes of Jo turning very badly and uncontrollable are:
- Parents’ relationship plays a big role in parenting young children and teenagers.
Beside Jo’s personality and character being very different from her other three siblings, Tom and Anna acknowledged that they themselves were not able to negotiate their own differences, including in matters of parenting their children. With Tom depressed, Anna is left to parenting their four children alone, particularly Jo. So Tom and Anna often either express their anger and frustration through yelling and screaming, never resolving any problems or ignoring each other and Jo’s inappropriate behaviour. They admitted that there were times where they had overridden each other’s opinion and instructions to Jo as the result of their own disagreement as payback towards one another.
- Lack of boundaries.
As Tom and Anna have their own marital issues unresolved, they never taught their children/teenagers how to take responsibility for their own actions so they can be responsible to others. Tom often let Jo do whatever she demands, whereas Anna, feeling bad about Jo, became over-responsible for Jo , e.g. doing everything for her and not setting any consequences for Jo’s wrong doing. Both Tom and Anna did not exercise the tough love for Jo. Lack of boundaries often makes teenagers feel confused and use their parents’ weaknesses to take advantage for themselves. They know how and when to push their parents’ weak buttons.
- Inconsistency in parenting.
Tom and Anna realised that being inconsistent was another significant component in failing to raise respectful and responsible teenagers. They gave up in disciplining Jo because it was too hard, and made allowances for Jo on the expense of the other three children. However, there were times when Anna put some punishments on Jo, but Jo gradually disrespected and the discipline did not work. Jo knew very well that she had the power and control over her parents and her siblings, and therefore she would lash out knowing that everybody would disappear and leave her alone. This gave Jo the message that it’s ok for her to continue treating her parents and her siblings in an abusive way.
HOW TO TURN A TROUBLED TEENAGER TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TEENAGER
- Improving your relationship with your spouse/partner.
Tom and Anna went to counselling to work on their relationship issues first and resolved some of their discrepancies, including their view and beliefs on parenting. They were committed to change themselves, build a healthy relationship and learned how to negotiate well. It takes a lot of courage for someone to look at their own issue and willing to change themselves.
- Setting healthy boundaries.
As their relationship started to grow healthily and their understanding of each other increased, they were able to back each other up in difficult times and delivered their parenting together. They consulted each other and made decisions together on what is the best approach in parenting Jo, but also to their other children. Their children started noticing the difference on how united they are now in their parenting. They also set clear boundaries on which domestic responsibility belongs to whom and negotiated with their children the consequences if they fail to fulfil their responsibilities. Tom and Anna also added some boundaries around emotions, where if someone gets upset and wants to lash out, they have to take a Time-Out to cool themselves down and then to come back to talk respectfully. In this case, Jo is the one who has to remove herself outside the house when she wanted to chuck her tantrums, instead of the rest of the family going out of the house like before.
- Consistency in parenting.
With the help and support from counselling, Tom and Anna learnt how to follow through with the consequences that Jo had to take, particularly her abusive behaviour and her demand when she wanted something from them. As both of them are able to back one another up, they are more able to have the energy to be consistent with their parenting. E.g. if Jo demanded to be picked up at the station while the family are having dinner, Jo needs to wait until Anna has finished her meal, rather than Anna stopping her meal and rushing to the station because of fear of Jo’s abusive behaviour. If Jo became abusive, she has to find her own way to go home. Jo learned that her abusive way wasn’t working anymore and no one bought into it or feared her. Instead, she slowly learns that she has to respect her parents and stop her abusive behaviour towards Tom, Anna and her siblings.
Although the journey Tom and Anna had to go through to rectify their marriage and parenting approach wasn’t easy and took some time to change it, in the end it paid off.
Have you had any experience with parenting teenagers? What are some of the challenges you had to overcome in the process? Do you have any questions related to parenting? You can share your experiences or ask your questions using the comments sections and we will be happy to try and help you.
*The client’s details, name and family details have been changed for the purpose of confidentiality.