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Behaviour modification for parents and teenagers

Parents often complain about the behaviour of their teenagers. So what are some good ways to cope with teenage behaviour?

First, understand that when your teen is pushing you away or doing things they know annoy you or not doing things to contribute to the household, that’s their job. They are caught in an ‘in between’ stage that is the transition between being a kid and being a grown-up. It’s their job to individuate and become independent, but we don’t have any ‘rites of passage’ or ‘Initiations’ for doing this any more. So young people do it the only way they can and that is, to rebel against their parents.

At the same time, as a young adult, how do you cope with seemingly nagging and ever-demanding parents who are making you do things and stopping you from doing things? That’s their job. To make rules to give you boundaries to push against. Otherwise what would you have to rebel against? Also having parents who impose boundaries tends to make you feel more secure because their rule-making is a sign that they are looking out for you and maybe that they even care.

There are a few simple rules for modifying behaviour that we often forget and this works both ways, for parents and teenagers.

If you want more of a particular behaviour, give positive feedback for it

For example:

  • Parents - when your young adult comes home on time, or helps with the chores thank them and do it sincerely.
  • Teens – if parents are understanding about why you didn’t get home on time and believe your explanation thank them and tell them how much you appreciate them trusting you.

If you want less of a particular behaviour, ignore it or say how you feel about it

Parents and teens, make sure you make a point of saying it’s the behaviour, that you don’t like, not the person. Make a point of telling your son or daughter, mum or dad, how a particular attitude or behaviour makes you feel and then say what you’d rather have (re-framing the behaviour or attitude).

This is called ‘classical conditioning’. Rewarding for what you want and ignoring or re-framing what you don’t want.

It might not happen straight away, but it will happen if you stick at it and do it with good grace and good will (not as a way to manipulate and abuse).

Look at other areas of this site for more on parenting teens: