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How to Deal with A Teen’s Out of Control Behavior

by Mark Gregston

When the teen years arrive, some parents find themselves wondering, “Who is this person?”  And is this brand-new attitude “just a phase” or is it something that’s here to stay?  Well, I can say with confidence that it’s probably a little bit of both.  I’ve met plenty of teens and their families over the years and I’ve heard their stories.  I’ve even had the opportunity to “do” life with a number of them. 

I completely understand how frustrating it is to feel as if someone threw a switch and the child you were raising yesterday has transformed into someone you don’t recognize today.  But after thirty plus years of helping kids and their families deal with the issues that are lurking below the surface, if there’s one thing that I can share with you—it’s that unwanted teenage behavior usually only shows up when a teen is feeling lost or relationally untethered. 

The out-of-control behavior your teen is displaying is merely their way of attempting to gain control.  Seeing things are not going the way they want, they make changes in their attitude and mind that push them into a new direction.  Even though this direction may not necessarily be the way they want to go.  It comes from a place of wanting to fix what they deem broken or not working.  It results from them trying something new to see if that works in their favor. 

And that’s part of the reason that I write articles like this one.  I want to help parents, and teens, get a handle on those unwanted behaviors so that you and your family can transition from adolescence to adulthood with ease. 

The Twelve Warning Signs That Trouble Lies Ahead 

These top twelve warning signs are pretty good indicators that your family is heading towards a rough patch and it might be time to tap the brakes and course correct. 

  1. Your teen is verbally irritable and openly expressive. 
  2. Grades are slipping (if they haven’t already fallen). 
  3. Depression is setting in or their sleep patterns have dramatically changed. 
  4. Old friends are gone and new friends (of a different kind) are present. 
  5. Things they once loved they now hate and vice versa. 
  6. They’re socially withdrawn. 
  7. Sexual activity is on the rise. 
  8. They’re defiant and/or they ignore you. 
  9. There is extreme weight loss or weight gain. 
  10. Cutting marks can be seen on their arms or legs. 
  11. Anxiety is taking over their lives and a complete shutdown is imminent. 
  12. They are disconnecting from all relationships. 

What to do about Those Warning Signs: The Three-Pronged Approach 

Regardless of what your teen might be communicating to you at this moment, relationships—and yours in particular—are the most important things in their life.  So, breathe and then spend some time really looking at why your relationship has stalled or isn’t progressing.  What are you doing to contribute to the breakdown in communication?  Change doesn’t happen because we simply have rules to follow.  Change happen when we’re in healthy relationships.  So, focus on the things you need to change (because you can only change yourself), and then let those positive changes permeate your family dynamic. 

The next part of the approach does involve rules, and my advice to you is don’t have too many.  For most families, five should be about the max.  Your job in creating house rules is to make sure your teen has the tools they need to succeed as they transition to adulthood and that they avoid the three D’s: dishonesty, disrespect, and disobedience.  And that’s because those three things are relationship destroyers.  So, if your house rules address them, then you’re well on your way to making it through the teen years with success.  You’ll also want to make sure the rules you set are specific, definite, and understandable.  State what it is that you want from them.  State what you’ll do for them if they comply with your rules, and then make sure it’s clear what will happen if they don’t. 

The last point of the three-pronged approach is to figure out the internal struggle that’s driving your teen’s unwanted behavior.  Do they have a medical issue?  Do they struggle with processing?  Are they getting bullied?  Are they being a bully?  Sometimes kids can’t figure out the reason they’re acting out on their own, so it’s important that you get them talking and then keep them talking. 

Extra Encouragement for Parents 

Remember, the struggle is temporary.  The teen years will be over before you know it and then the two of you will be able to look back and laugh about these temporary struggles.  2 Corinthians 4:17-18, says it this way: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 

Conflict is a pre-cursor to change.  So, don’t hide from it. The opportunities you have today to work through these issues will strengthen your relationship and help your child mature as they grow into adulthood. 

Be encouraged. God is going to bring all the seeds you’ve been sowing in your child’s life to fruition.  He will finish what He started, and Philippians 1:6 tells us, “For I am confident of this: that the One who began a good work among you will keep it growing until it is completed on the Day of Jesus Christ.” 


Mom, Dad … if you have a child that’s spinning out of control, then you know the pain of watching a teen violate everything they’ve been taught and the heartache of watching a once happy child now feel miserable.  Remember, they’re more lost than they are rebellious.  And I’m convinced of this, they’re more miserable than you are.  But don’t lose hope.  All those seeds that you’ve sown into their lives will one day come to fruition if you maintain the fertile soil of a relationship that encourages a plan of resolve, rather than just nagging about and correcting the inappropriate actions that you see.  Now would be a great time to let your teen know that there’s nothing they can do to make you love them more, and there’s nothing they can do to make you love them less. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.