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Why Does My Teen Act This Way?

Most parents have had a moment or two when they glanced at their teen and seriously wondered: Why does my teenager act that way? In this article, I’ll get to the bottom of what’s motivating your teen to do what they do. I’ll show you how you can stop spending all your time correcting conduct and instead get to the heart of your teen’s behavior.


Asking Questions is a Great First Step
If your child is displaying mystifying, new and inappropriate behaviors, you’re probably already asking yourself a lot of questions: What caused this behavior? What have I missed? While asking yourself questions like these and seeking honest answers is a critical and valuable first step, you need to direct these questions to your teen! The best way to find out why your teen is doing what he is doing, is to ask him. Set aside time to regularly talk with your teen, calmly and with sincere interest in his answers. Listen to what he is trying to say and get to the heart of the problem so that you can move towards positive change together.


Second, Realize That All Behavior is Goal-Oriented
Most parents understand their role in curbing inappropriate behavior. But if you want to see real improvement, you can’t stop there. True change won’t come until you find out what’s behind the behavior. Your teen’s behavior is goal-oriented, even if he can’t articulate what the goal is. Parents can help their teens recognize what’s really driving their choices and show them how to meet their needs appropriately. It’s critical that parents move beyond simply correcting bad behaviors, and move towards training their teens. Helping teens understand their own goals and find healthy ways to achieve them leads to lifelong changes instead of temporary fixes.


Third, Understand What Your Teen’s “Needs” Are
Teens say they “need” lots of things! But one of the greatest needs I see in teens is for security and the feeling of unconditional love. Your teen wants to know that you love him and accept him no matter what he does. And if your teen feels like your love is contingent on his performance, he may go outside of the home to find acceptance elsewhere. Ultimately, “needs” are those real or perceived conditions, possessions, environments, relationships, or actions that are essential or desired to fill an area where something is lacking or unattainable. If you’re not sure what your teen needs, just keep watching, keep talking, and stay connected. Over time the motives behind the behavior will be exposed. In the meantime, even when you can’t explain your teen’s behavior, do not disengage. The times of struggle are when your teen needs you the most!


What If You Unknowingly Cause Some of Your Teen’s Inappropriate Behavior?
Parents, you can do things—or fail to do things—that fuel your teen’s choices. Left unresolved and not discussed, you can send your teen in a direction they don’t want to go. Dads can easily provoke teens through anger. Overreacting can cause your teen to withdraw or strike out and ultimately stifle your relationship. Parents need to “be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Moms are more prone to constantly correcting their teens. Instead, they need to speak, “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit all who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). When you make a mistake in parenting, be quick to set the example of correcting your own behavior and asking your teen to give you grace when you push them too hard.


What If Your Teen is Just Wired Differently?
Some of the behaviors that parents see as “inappropriate” may be part of your teen’s unique make up. Sometimes parents expect their teens to act in the same way they did in high school, but your teen is a unique individual––maybe she’s creative, a thrill seeker, or less sociable. So as you try to figure out why your teen acts the way she does, take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of your teen.


Hey moms and dads … teens do things for a reason. There’s a motivation behind their behavior. All behavior is the visible expression of the invisible issues swirling around in the life of your teens. Your job to figure out what that motivation is and engage on a level that’s deeper than just dealing with behavior. Work on getting to the heart of the issue so you can stop the process of inappropriate actions. For example, it’s not just tearing off the top of the weed, it’s digging down to the roots so that weed will never grow again. Your task is to look beyond the behavior and find the cause. Don’t ignore the behavior. It must be dealt with, but in the long run, by digging deeper, you will prevent inappropriate behavior from raising its ugly head in the future.

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.