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Handling a Manipulative Teen

Teens often employ “creative” methods to get what they want. As a result, too many parents find themselves dealing with a manipulative son or daughter. In this article, I’ll help parents recognize when they’re being conned by their kids and give practical tools for ending the manipulation and training teens to be selfless.


Manipulation Might Look Like…


Manipulation is your teen’s way of getting his needs met. Teens are desperate to get what they want and what they think they need. They may be willing to break trust and scheme against Mom and Dad to get it, and that means trouble at home. When Mom and Dad are played against each other, teens can drive a dangerous wedge between their parents. Trust me, your teen knows which parent to ask for approval or permission, and which one to avoid. They will seek out one who gives in more easily and strategically avoid the one who is less likely to give in.


Some teens may tell half-truths to get what they want. They will leave out important details or give only part of the story in order to get what they want. Manipulative teens know how to carefully craft their requests in order to set up a parent to agree to something they’re not really in support of. It’s frustrating, but parents should not be shocked. It’s normal for teens to be selfish in adolescence. It’s Mom and Dad’s job to train teens to be less selfish, more trustworthy, and more focused on what others need.


How Can We Respond?


If your teen is “slippery” and can find a way around every rule and consequence, if your teen is pitting you against your spouse, if you’re continuously caving into your teen’s requests—then it’s time to rethink your response. Here are some helpful guidelines to get back in control.


  1. Call it out. Once you’ve discovered the con, call it out! Talk to your teen about what you see him doing. Let him know that you see what they’re up to, and don’t let your teen blame you or your spouse for his poor choices or behavior. Place the responsibility squarely back on your teen’s shoulders. It’s not Mom and Dad’s job to constantly check on their teens to prevent them from stepping out of line—it’s your teen’s responsibility to follow the rules.
  2. Search for why it is happening. Mom and Dad need to figure out what their teens really want and why. Discovering the motivation behind your teen’s behavior will give you the clues you need to know how to deal with it. If you’re not sure why your teen wants something, then wait before you give your teen an answer. Talk to your spouse, a friend, or a counselor. Don’t rush. Too many parents get pushed into making a decision that they regret later. Pause and find out what your teen really wants.
  3. Know your own boundaries. Some teens can talk their way out of anything. If you haven’t clearly defined your family’s rules, expectations, and boundaries then you will be an easy target for a manipulative teen who wants to push the boundaries further and further out. So take time to talk about your expectations and figure out what you want from your teen. What are you willing to allow in your home? Establish boundaries and stick to them!


Establishing a Plan for a Manipulative Teen


Here are some tips for dealing with tricky teens. First, have well-established rules in place. Manipulative teens will often claim that they “didn’t know” the rules to avoid taking responsibility. So be clear about what you want and what the consequences will be for breaking your rules. Next, when you give your teen instructions, do not talk too much. Keep it simple. Don’t give any answers to their questions for 24 hours. Crafty kids will wear parents down with relentless requests and “what ifs.” Then, stick to your consequences. Don’t renegotiate the terms on the fly or allow “work arounds” from your teen. When necessary, get help from a third-party to keep you and your teen accountable.




Hey moms and dads … teens are moving from being totally selfish to learning about being selfless over the course of their adolescent years. It’s more of a marathon than it is a sprint. So set your expectations for the process appropriately. Add to your parenting toolbox new strategies that will help your teens break their selfish nature and learn that it’s better to give than to receive, better to count others as more important, and better to think about someone else other than the person behind your own nose. Your best lesson will be your example. Help people and give to others because of the new person that Christ has made you. In that example, you will show your teens the rewards and significance of a selfless life. Establish rules and implement ways to help your teen learn about the satisfaction of being to others who Christ has been to you. It’s a process, so give it time to do its work in the life of your teen.

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.