Defiance seems to be characteristic of many teens. The clinical term is Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The common thread we see in the youth we work with is they are so very angry when they first come to our program. We work to uncover the root of this anger and then present new points of view for their consideration. If you are stuck in this tug-of-war with your teen, it can feel hopeless. The truth is no one can force anyone else to do anything they don’t want to do. That being said, parents do have some options regarding how they can work with their children.
To be clear, every individual has the choice of how he or she will behave and act in any given situation. When your child decides to challenge and defy you, they are responsible for their own decisions and actions. That being said, an understanding of contributing factors in this cycle can be very valuable for a parent to understand. What are the causes of this problem and what can parents do to change the cycle that contributes to it?
What can I do as a parent to break this cycle?
Try to calm down. It can be difficult to have discussions when both parties are emotionally charged. The goal should be to create an environment for civil discussion of the subject - not a yelling match. Try to avoid escalation and encourage your teen to do the same so you can get to an appropriate resolution. The more calmly you can discuss the issue, the more focused and productive the discussion will be.
Discuss rather than lecture. As parents, it is easy to fall into the trap of lecturing your teen without any meaningful dialogue occurring. When this happens, youth will simply shut down and won’t really hear anything the parent is saying. True communication requires listening on the part of both parties. Really listen to what your teen is telling you. Even if you disagree with what they want, try to be empathetic to their feelings. At the very least everyone wants to feel understood. You should never compromise on an important principle but there may be room to find a reasonable compromise in some situations.
Show respect. Teens are young adults who are still learning important lessons. Many times, a teen will be more open to guidance if it is presented in a respectful way. As a parent, you need to set the rules but in order to get your teen’s respect; you must show them the appropriate respect that every individual deserves.
Set reasonable goals. Have you ever worked for a company that had unrealistic expectations of what kind of performance was possible from their employees? The eventual result was probably a demoralized workforce with many employees quitting to work for a more reasonable company. The point is as parents we need to set attainable goals so our teens don’t disengage and “quit”. For instance, if you know your teen has a learning disability, it doesn’t do much good to harp on them every night for not getting straight A’s. Of course, there are some basic expectations that all children should be expected to live up to and we even want them to stretch and deliver their very best but we also don’t want to set them up for failure. The trick is to not expect too much or too little. Finding the correct balance may take some practice. The bottom line is to make sure your teen has the capability and tools necessary to successfully live up to your expectations.
Follow though on consequences. It is extremely important to be consistent in this. Most parents have no problem creating punishments for broken rules. It is what happens a few days later that creates the cycle of defiance...your teen drives you nuts until you back down on the consequence. When you set a rule, it is important to make clear in advance the consequences for breaking that rule. If that rule is broken and you do not enforce the consequences you set, your teen has just learned that getting away with breaking the rules is a piece of cake.
Spend time with your teen. We may sound like a broken record but the truth is there is no single better way to avoid problems with your teen than spending quality time with them. Look for an opportunity every day to connect with your child. Mealtime is a perfect opportunity. Take the time to understand who your teen is and what their interests are. Try to find common interests and use those to spend additional bonding time with them. Also, the better you know your child and the more time you spend with them, the earlier you will pick up on important warning signs.
Point out the positive. Like everyone else, teens need encouragement and praise for the things they ARE doing right. It is easy to point out all the things they are doing wrong and forget to positively reinforce those good decisions that have been made. No matter how many mistakes your teen is making, there is always something to offer them praise for. There is nothing wrong with appropriate constructive criticism but it needs to be balanced proportionally with positive reinforcement. Remember, there should be consequences for good decisions as well as poor decisions. Good choices should result in good consequences in order to create balance.
When all else fails there are resources available to help parents break the cycle of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. If you find yourself in a situation where you have done everything possible and still haven’t been able to reach your child, please don’t give up. There are professionals trained in resolving these serious problems. Please contact us to find out more about how our program can help your family.
The following are just a few sites that offer good information and resources for parents.
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry - Your Adolescent: Oppositional Defiant Disorder
- PsychCentral.com - Oppositional Defiant Disorder
- WebMD.com - Mental Health: Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Please explore our website or call an admissions counselor at 866.694.8882 for additional information about how Wood Creek Academy can help your family.