What to Do When Your Teenager is Out of Control

They say if your kid is an asshole, it’s your fault. I don’t know who they are, but I believe it. I’ve met a lot of asshole kids in my life and, more often than not, the apple did not fall far from the tree (something else ‘they’ say). I’m also raising four of them myself. Kids, not assholes (sometimes, though). While only one of my own children is a teenager – and she’s a brand-new 14 – my husband and I worry endlessly about the teenage years.

Teen and Parent

We are exceptionally fortunate our first-born teenage daughter is a dream. She’s not perfect, but she’s pretty darn amazing. She’s an honor student, a freshman in high school who made the Varsity cheer squad, she is kind, and she’s an all-around great person. She’s so much like my husband.

Soft-spoken and sweet, quiet, but quick and exceptionally witty. She’s well-liked, polite, and she doesn’t have an attitude. In fact, the closest she’s ever come to talking back to either of us was once when she said, “No!” to me with force when I asked her a question.

I think all of our eyes were huge when she said it, and she was apologizing for being ‘snotty’ within seconds of uttering her emphatic no. I know – we are fortunate with her. All of them, really. So far, they’re all good kids. They’re imperfectly perfect, but they’re well-behaved kids who we don’t worry about. Unfortunately, not all kids make it to their teenage years with the same good attitude and low-key personality. I have no idea if we’ll always be this fortunate, but I do know that I want to be prepared in case we are not.

It’s Not Always Your Fault

Listen, we joke about kids and their behavior being your fault, but it’s not always your fault. Teenage years are difficult. Kids all handle this time in their lives in their own way. Some kids handle it with ease. Others don’t. While it’s probably true most out-of-control teens aren’t living their best lives at home, there are many who are. Good parents who love their kids, dote on them, and care for them the way a parent should still find their teens out of control and unmanageable, and it has nothing to do with them.

It could be anything from peer pressure to young love to young heartbreak to drugs or alcohol or mental health or anything in between. My point is that dealing with an out of control teenager is something you have to handle without spending your time blaming yourself. If you can do better, then do better. Otherwise, don’t waste time blaming yourself when there is a real problem to figure out.

Is My Teen Out of Control?

It’s imperative you understand the difference between an out of control teenager and one who is simply acting out. These are not the same things. There is one thing that these two things have in common, and that’s the fact that you’re not sure how to handle the problem. You know there is a problem, but how do you fix it? the first step is understanding the difference between out of control and acting out. Neither behavior is acceptable, but understanding the differences is imperative when it comes to finding a solution.

Signs of Acting Out in Teens

Acting out is a very natural childhood act. Whether it’s defiance as a toddler or a teen, however, it’s not a fun phase. While normal, it’s still something you must handle appropriately, but learning to identify what is perfectly normal adolescent behavior is crucial.

  • Your teen is secretive
  • Your teen’s mood swings are insane
  • Your teen spends all their time in their room
  • Easily frustrated
  • Impatient
  • Temperamental
  • Adverse to spending quality time with the family
  • Your teen ‘hates’ you or home
  • Restless behavior
  • Discontent
  • Talking back
  • Eye rolling

There is nothing fun about any of that – nothing. But it is perfectly normal childhood behavior for a teen. Your teen is dealing with a lot of emotional and hormonal changes. They’re learning who they are as a person. They’re seeing what they can get away with. They’re learning to control their emotions, and so many things are new and strange and confusing for them. Think about how emotional you are and how much you dislike change, and then think about how often you have to stop yourself from rolling your eyes or locking yourself in your room or becoming impatient or frustrated with those around you. And you know how to control those things.

Signs of Out of Control Behavior in Teens

Out of control behavior is not your typical eye-rolling and impatience with the family. Of course, most out of control teens do exhibit each of the signs of a teen who is simply acting out, but there’s much more to their behavior. It’s out of control when teens are doing the following:

  • Exhibiting physical abuse
  • Exhibiting emotional or verbal abuse
  • Threatening others
  • Abusing siblings
  • Using drugs
  • Using alcohol
  • Staying out and not coming home
  • Trouble with the law
  • Stealing

There is nothing remotely normal or acceptable about these behaviors. Though a teen may experiment with alcohol or even drugs once – not all do, though – you’re looking at teens who come home drunk or high and don’t try to hide it. Normal experimentation is more likely something your kids will try desperately to conceal from you or other adults – though we completely understand that is not acceptable behavior, either. The important thing here is to remember that these things are not a phase your kids will get over. These are destructive behaviors, and they require immediate attention.

What Do I Do When My Teen is Out of Control?

There is no time to waste. This is not the time to blame yourself, to ignore it, or to hope it stops on its own. If your teen is out of control, it’s time to take action. Be warned that this is going to be a difficult task, and it will be emotional, draining, and it will break your heart more often than not. However, it must be done.

Open the Lines of Communication

We know. Your kids don’t want to talk to you when they’re out of control. Regardless, this is the most important thing to do. Let your teen know you are worried. Talk to them about your feelings, about your observations (are they suddenly hanging out with new friends or a different group, failing school, failing certain classes, skipping, lying, being disrespectful to authority, etc.?). Do not blame. Do not judge. Simply let your teen know you are worried, you love them, and you are here to talk without fear of judgment or punishment.

Learn to Listen

When your teen is out of control, more often than not they are trying to tell you something. This behavior is often a cry for help. Your job right now is to listen. When your teen does open up to you, listen. Listen like you are taking a test when you’re done. Listen, and practice patience.

Create Structure in the Home

Kids thrive on routine. They thrive on schedule. Even teenagers. When teens know what to expect, they are less likely to feel confused and frustrated. Think about your own home. Do you have structure? Not all homes do, and it’s not because you don’t care or love your kids. Perhaps your career is demanding and unstructured (you’re a doctor on call or an attorney with a big case). Perhaps you are a single parent who works two jobs. You have multiple kids with sports and activities. You’re caring for an elderly parent or relative. There are a million reasons why your otherwise loving, happy home might be lacking structure.

Right now is the best time to focus on creating structure. Even if you can’t structure every single day, give your kids routine when you can. Friday nights, for example, are for family date night in our home. We always have a family dinner date. Our kids get to take turns choosing where we go. Sometimes, they choose their favorite restaurant and we go out. Sometimes, we order in and watch a family movie. Whatever is going on in our kids’ lives, they have the structure of knowing the Friday night is a night that we do something together as a family. Structure is imperative.

Create Rules, and Enforce Consequences

As parents, my husband and I have found the most effective way to discipline our kids is by enforcing the consequences. This works best if they know the consequences. For example, our kids know that running a household of six people is a full-time job, and they know they have to do their part. Each is responsible for making their own bed, putting their dirty laundry away, putting their clean laundry away, and picking up after themselves when they play, eat, whatever. If they don’t, they lose their iPad/phone for 24-hours. We don’t warn them. They either spend the five minutes doing what they need to do, or they lose their items.

Guess what? They do what they’re supposed to do, and it’s habit. Of course, these rules and consequences will be a little more aggressive when you have teens who are out of control, but it’s important to have rules and enforce consequences. Even if your child is out of control and doesn’t listen, you must do these things. It sets precedent – you are the parent, they are not.

Talk to Your Child’s Teachers and Pediatrician

Out of control teens are not easy, and it’s going to take a village. This is the time to discuss what is going on with your child’s teachers and their doctor. Why? Because their behavior may be more than a bad attitude. They may be suffering from other issues that require medical attention – and your job is to provide that. Speaking with teachers allows you to have a better understanding of what’s going on behavior-wise at school. Teachers see a lot of stuff parents miss during the day when they’re not with their kids.

Speaking to the pediatrician allows you to understand what’s next. Does your child need to be evaluated for a learning disability? A child who suffers from ADD or ADHD, for example, might exhibit some pretty gruesome behavior because they simply don’t understand what is going on or how to handle it. Teachers and doctors can help you as a parent understand this, and a solution might come in the way of therapy or even medication to regulate these feelings and give kids a feeling of control once again.

Understand that the Issue Might be a Big One

This is where things get a little complicated for you. If your teen is out of control because they are using drugs, alcohol, or they are depressed or suffering from other mental health issues, you have to handle it appropriately. If you don’t, there is a serious chance your child might turn to self-harm or even suicide as a way of solving their problems.

This is why it is absolutely imperative to speak to your child’s doctor. If your teen is suffering from drug or alcohol abuse or even a mental health issue, your child’s doctor is the best advocate for your family. Your pediatrician is the person who will help you find a facility for treatment, who will recommend therapy and a therapist who will help with treatment. There is nothing more important than finding the correct treatment and being proactive.

Things to Keep in Mind When Dealing With an Out of Control Teen

  • Do not confront your teen
  • Keep the health and safety of your other children at the forefront of your mind
  • Do not use guilt as a tool
  • Do not accuse
  • Do not threaten
  • Have a plan before you talk to your teen
  • Try to keep your home as normal as possible for other kids
  • Be there for your teen

988 – the phone number for the Suicide & Crisis Hotline
1-800-662-4357 – the phone number for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Reach out to either number listed above if you have serious concerns about the health and well-being of your teen or any child in your home. They are open 24/7 to take calls.

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