Are you dealing with a struggling teen in your home? Are emotions running high and hope running low? I’d like to offer you some advice to help you find peace in the midst of this struggle.
There is nothing worse than living with a struggling teen who is spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process. It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen daily reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.
Your teen is caught in “The Spin Cycle,” and he or she needs you to intervene. The downward spiral can have tremendous destructive potential with lifelong consequences, or even bring a young life to a quick end.
It is frightening to think about the damage he or she may be doing to his or her future. But that’s just what we parents do…we worry about our child when we see the warning signs (grades dropping, hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug use, depression, defiance, sexual promiscuity). The unknown is always scary, but we cannot watch over our teenager every minute. We also personalize our teen’s struggles as a direct reflection of who we are as people and how good we have been as parents. This personalization often causes more pain and anger within us than the current situation should cause.
When teens spin out of control, they need a responsible adult to respond, not react. In responding to a spiraling teen, you offer calmness, honesty, love, grace and support. If you are instead reacting, you are emotional, angry, hurt, quick to judge, and often harsh. These knee jerk, seemingly instinctive interactions are almost always counterproductive.
Reacting to your teen’s misbehavior or lack of respect is probably never going to give you the response you intended or wanted. Responding correctly in the midst of chaos is difficult, but parents of teens must learn to stop their mouths, think about what is to be said or done, and only then speak or act – Stop, Think, Go.
Most people in times of crisis are in Go, Stop, Think mode, which will only bring more pain and chaos.
So, Where Do You Begin?
You can start with a simple truth and consequences message, “Honey, we’re not going to live like this anymore.” or, “I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself. We’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.” Make the message clear, “The negative behavior we’re seeing will no longer be allowed or tolerated in our home.”
Don’t expect your teen to like the new rules, nor the related consequences. And they probably won’t appreciate your attempts to deal with their bad behavior. Their first response will most likely be anger or resentment. Be prepared for their behavior to get worse – more screaming, more name calling, etc. They are upping the ante; forcing you to back down. They want to see if you are really serious about these new rules.
The time your child may spend hating you is short, and compared to the entirety of a life, it’s just a blip on their radar. Secretly, he or she may feel relieved and thankful you cared enough to intervene, giving them a good excuse to say “No” to their peers when asked to participate in the wrong things.
Usually, a teen figures out that life will be much easier if they change their behavior so they can work things out with their parents, but not always right away. And sometimes they simply don’t figure this out at all, or this behavior is too entrenched to handle it all on your own. You may need the help of a counselor, or may even need to place your teen in a program like Heartlight for a time.
Once you start down the path of responsible parenting, don’t stop, and don’t be pulled down to their level with childish fighting. Stay calm and focused on what you want for them and deal with the heart of the issue. There will be days when you mess up and yell back. After you calm down again, go to your teen and apologize for yelling. Don’t turn it into a lecture or blame her for you losing your cool.
There’s never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle. It can be very difficult, but keep in mind that more parents of teens are going through the same thing with their own teenager. Seek them out and find a place where you can share your feelings and gain strength and support from each other.
Most parents describe the struggle with a troubled teenager as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg,” and for many it can either be a time of the family banding together, or it can tear them apart. With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationship strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life. You’ll have those “valley” days. Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes.
Do not stop to build monuments to your grief, anger, or fear. One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt. It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future. Celebrate the good days. They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay. Let them prop you up. Enjoy each victory. Laugh with your teen. Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.
Do not worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which
is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.
-Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
Be sure to give the reins to God, and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life. And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you, and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, as God loves us.