Is Your Child in Crisis?

If the situation is now out of control you will get much more resistance from your teenager when you change the rules and start to follow through on consequences. Many times parents will proclaim that their child’s behavior turned bad overnight. However, if you ask them to really examine how they have responded to their child (emotional support, advice), the guidelines they’ve set, and how consistent and clear they were in terms of consequences, they have to admit they have not really had much of plan. They just sort of let adolescence and all that goes with it “happen,” thinking they would not have to adjust at all.

How do you know if the situation is out of control? Sometimes it is obvious: your teen’s grades are slipping, the school calls to let you know they skipped school, they are more furtive and secretive, and they are not communicating at all. Half the time they are not where they say they will be, the other half they are arguing with you and challenging your rules. An out-of-control teen basically controls the mood of the house, putting everyone under stress with their attitude and behaviors.

The truth is, if your child has been running rough-shod over you, other family members, and teachers for a while, they will rebel more when you start to change the rules. Things will probably get worse before they get better. A child psychologist once said, “You have to enforce a rule three times before a child follows it.” This is a generalization, but probably very close to the truth. And if you back down and don’t follow through on consequences, you have to start with “one” again.

Remember that your goal is not to squelch the normal changes of adolescence, such as budding independence and sense of identity. Your goal is to create a safe environment for change where boundaries and guidelines are set to help your teen not go beyond reasonable boundaries for their age.

If you feel you simply don’t have the tools to turn around the situation, it is time to seek counseling. Counseling for adolescents does not work if the parents don’t also get counseling. In fact, family therapy has been shown to be far more effective when dealing with teens. Parents often need counseling to adjust their behavior in relation to their teens. Don’t let fear of being blamed for the problems get in the way of doing what works best. Blame and guilt do nothing to improve the situation.

Another important thing to remember when the problem has reached crisis levels: your teen is as unhappy with the situation as you are. They might seem like they revel in hanging on to their anger, hostility, and rebellion, but under the surface there is insecurity, fear, and confusion.

Start by contacting your teen’s school to find out what counseling is available to them there. However, finding a good private therapist to work with the teen and the rest of your family, may end up being the most effective strategy.