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Problem Teens
- Gary Direnfeld

Is your teen giving you problems? At times such problems escalate seemingly to the point of no return. Here's help.

Managing teenagers is a full-time job for some parents as they turn themselves into 24-hour police to monitor the consequences doled out for misdeeds. You constantly keep trying to figure out what your teen is up to, while your teenager keeps trying to hide his life from you. So, a game of cat and mouse develops and as the game continues, your child starts getting bolder and bolder, while the parent starts applying more restrictions to their child's life, and coming up with harsher punishments. The net result is that resentment builds and while some teens even go to the extent of running away from home, most teens turn defiant, rebellious, start lying to their parents, and turn to alcohol, drugs and smoking as a means of escape. Long gone is the kind and loving relationship of earlier years.

When the relationship is spiraling out of control and parents find themselves at their wits end, the challenge is to try and placate your child, and see if you can build your relationship from scratch. Harsher, more restrictive consequences will not bring your teen "under control". Slowly and deliberately trying to 'woo' your teen can rekindle the relationship you feel you have almost lost.

Step by step

As a parent, you should make the first step in going out of your way to find moments when they can approach your teen by showing an interest in their activities or to provide a positive comment. For instance, if your teen is seated at the computer, approach, place a hand gently on his shoulder and ask what he is doing. Then nod, as if interested, make a neutral comment such as "oh", or "aha" - and then walk away. Thus, slowly start rebuilding your relationship. When you are already at a stage of sour relationship with your child, trying to push yourself on your child too hard will only worsen the situation. You too need to 'play it cool' initially, and earn your child's trust. Take slow steps to start rekindling rapport with your teen. On other occasions, perhaps when chauffeuring your teen here and there, make a stop such as at a dosa or burger joint, and offer to grab a couple of burgers or idlis. This will help the two of you to have some fun together, and is a step in a right direction. Use time with your teen constructively, to gain an insight into her life, and not to lecture her with what she is doing wrong.


Most parents lose sight of the fact that they need to guide their children and not control them. Try and restrict your controlling impulses and guide your child by getting his feedback, and by trying to meet your child's demands halfway when giving permission for certain activities.


Throughout, step away from escalating any arguments. Alternately, when your teen acts inappropriately, quietly and directly express your disapproval and then walk away. You want to leave the teen thinking about their behaviour, not yours. While you cannot control your teen's behaviour, you can control your own.


If there are serious concerns related to school attendance, drugs or alcohol, try to discuss your concerns and if this isn't possible, make an appointment with the school counselor to address these or other issues. Demonstrate to your teen that you will use appropriate strategies with their well-being in mind as opposed to them feeling you are just trying to exert your will or control over them through "discipline". Don't push them too hard and then try to make them understand that it is all for their own good. Make sure that your actions show you are trying to act for their own good.

If your child is violent, tell them that rather than engaging in counter-violence, you will call the police, and do so if need be! Your child should know that certain kinds of behaviour will not be accepted.

It is not that your teen should avoid the consequences of their behaviour, but that you should engage them in ways that can promote the relationship and your influence. This is how you can reduce any conflicts you have with your teen, build rapport, continue to hold them accountable and help them develop appropriate life skills.

It starts with you as a parent, taking responsibility as the grown-up to foster the relationship. While you may not believe it will work, you know the other way didn't. Take the leap of faith and try.

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