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Dealing With Difficult Teen and Young Adult Behaviour

Emma and Jo from our Parents Helpline discuss their top six tips for parents on dealing with difficult teens and young adults.

Staying behind closed bedroom doors, minimal communication, constantly on social media or playing video games… these are common behaviours often attributed to teenagers and young adults.

As a parent or carer of an older teen or young adult, it can be difficult to know how to respond to their behaviour at times. On our Parents Helpline, we often get questions about what is ‘normal’ teenage behaviour.

It can be a tricky one to answer because we know that teenagers in adolescence can be very different to your average adult. They need longer hours of sleep per night, and it’s developmentally normal for them to be moody, temperamental and argumentative. I’m sure this resonates with any parent who has a teenage child. Being a teenager is difficult.

We hear from parents that their teen is only interested in their friends, social networks, partners and relationships. This can be quite normal. Teenagers can be very introspective and fixated on those areas of life.

An indicator of when there may be an emerging problem is when there is a marked change in behaviour

But an indicator of when there may be an emerging problem is when there is a marked change in behaviour. For example, your child may have been communicating reasonably, but now they’re not. Or there has been a huge shift in their ability to function, and they’re refusing to go to school or not sleeping properly. You may be worried that they might have developed a mental health problem. These are indicators that it could be time to take action.

As a parent, you can implement your boundaries and reassert your authority. However, we know that it can be exhausting, demoralizing and draining dealing with difficult teen behaviour. We hear from many callers on our Parents Helpline that it’s gone on too long, and they haven’t got any fight left.

Here are our six tips for parents:

  1. Be hopeful: Try to be reassuring. It can be easy to get consumed by your child’s difficulties, but passive acceptance isn’t helpful.
  2. Come up with options with your child: It’s important to collaborate and treat them in a way that communicates they have agency and autonomy.
  3. Have a conversation: If you observe and monitor any dysfunctional, negative behaviour or symptoms, feel empowered to acknowledge that and have a conversation with your child about it. It is okay to say, ‘this is what I’ve observed in you.’
  4. Think about your expectations: Consider your expectations when it comes to your child’s communication and emotional wellbeing. If you don’t think your child is functioning within these expectations, then talk to your GP.
  5. Take a step back: Have a quiet moment to take a step back and think if there is anything you are doing that could be enabling the problem.
  6. Take care of your wellbeing: Your resilience as a parent is key, and an important protective factor towards your child’s mental health. You may be feeling very down and demoralized, so it’s important you take action and get support from GP, friends, family, loved ones or colleagues. You are not alone.  Acknowledging your feelings is the first step to being able to support your child.
Your resilience as a parent is key, and an important protective factor towards your child’s mental health.

For more advice and support on this topic, watch our full Parents Lounge session on 'Dealing with Teen and Young Adult Behaviour'. 

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