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What to Do With an Out of Control Teenager: A Guide for Parents

what to do when your teenager is out of control

Parenting a teenager is not always easy. Due to their stage of development, teenagers are often moody, emotional, argumentative, and rebellious at times. However, these behaviors are usually temporary. If your teenager is consistently out of control, you may be unsure of what to do or how to help your teen.

What Should Parents Do About an Out of Control Teenager?

First, it is important to distinguish between typical teenage behavior and an out of control teen. While every teenager has unique identities and experiences, many teens will exhibit moodiness and difficult behaviors due to their level of brain development. The adolescent brain is not fully developed, and most teens do not have the complete ability to make rational decisions, control impulses, or think before doing. This can lead to risk-taking, defiance, and impulsive conduct. The brain is also changing rapidly during adolescence, which can lead to heightened emotions and an intensified desire for independence.

As a result, many teenagers will act defensive, seem short-tempered, frustrated, and moody. Some teens might be secretive as they try to develop more independence in their lives. However, your teen may be displaying more concerning behaviors that seem out of control. How can you know the difference?

Signs of an Out of Control Teen:

Out of control teenagers exhibit more concerning behaviors that are intense, worrisome, and that go beyond a “phase.” For example, persistent fighting, lying, and avoidance (versus one-off cases) can be causes for concern. Below are some tell-tale signs of an out of control teenager that require attention:

  • Violence – your teen is physically abusive or destructive
  • Verbal abuse and outward threats towards others
  • Rapid mood swings or behavior changes
  • Habitual drug and alcohol use
  • Stealing, lying, and deception
  • Staying out all night/not coming home
  • Legal troubles
  • Self-harm and/or talk of suicide
  • Avoiding family 
  • Sudden change in friends
  • Skipping school regularly
  • Failing grades
  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, or sleep problems
  • Defiance and refusal to comply with rules

The above behaviors are not typical for teenagers and may indicate that something is wrong. Your teenager may be struggling with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or a behavioral disorder. Knowing the signs of mental health conditions can help you understand if your teen is struggling. Additionally, the above behaviors could signal substance abuse and addiction. In either of these cases, your next step may require seeking professional help.

How to Help an Out of Control Teen:

If your teen is exhibiting out of control behaviors and you feel at a loss, it is important to consult with a clinician or mental health professional. A therapist, counselor, or doctor can help you find the appropriate support for your teenager. This can begin your teen’s path to recovery. 

Additionally, there are steps you can take right now, at home, to regain control of the situation and help your teen. These include:

  • Observe your teen’s behaviors. 

Pay attention to how your teen is acting, who your teen is hanging out with, as well as your teen’s health and attitudes. Look for the red flags of out of control behavior, as listed above, and any potential indicators of mental health issues. It is these signs that will indicate professional help is needed.

  • Create an open line of communication.

If you have concerns about your teenager, the best thing you can do is create an open and honest conversation about your home. Let your teen know that you are there to talk. Ask your teen questions about their life and mental health. Encourage honesty and transparency in these conversations. Having this openness can establish a more trusting bond between you and your teen, and allow you to be more in-the-know about their struggles and concerns.

  • Be patient, be understanding, and listen. 

Teenagers are going through rapid periods of brain development, and learning how to function as independent beings without their parents’ help. This can create frustration and aggression in teens who do not know how to manage everything just yet. Be patient with your teen and do your best to understand their feelings. Ask questions and listen to what is causing their frustration, sadness, or anger. By listening carefully, without judgement or punishment, without giving advice, you can help your teen get to the root of their struggles.

  • Create structure and balance.

As much as it is important to be patient, supportive, and understanding of your teen, it is also important for parents to establish rules and balance to help maintain control at home. By establishing guidelines for things like curfew, mealtime, school assignments, and going out, you can create reasonable expectations and balance in your home. This level of structure can help give your teen accountability, purpose, and help to reduce their stress. Additionally, you can create balance by working with your teen to develop a structure or schedule that takes into consideration their needs and desires, too. This will help your teen to feel heard and in control of their life, too.

  • Establish limits and consequences.

In addition to working with your teen to create structure in your home, you can also work with your teen to set expectations, regulations, and reasonable consequences for wrongdoings. Threatening a teenager with punishment is not as effective as establishing consequences together as a family, prior to wrong behaviors taking place. For example, you can work together to create a curfew and consequences for breaking curfew. It is important to be consistent and stick to your rules, so that there is control and expectations set in your home. 

Of course, while these tactics can help troubled teens at home (and help parents find balance again), it is important to ensure your teen gets the help they need. As a parent, you have the unique opportunity to connect with your teen in a deeply personal way. You have the opportunity to get help for your teen if and when they need. Ask your teen questions, understand your teen’s experiences, and contact a professional if your teen is feeling out of control. 

Just because your teen is struggling, does not mean you have failed. Try not to blame yourself, as a parent, for your teen’s battles. Substance abuse and mental health disorders can happen to anyone, of any age or background, and most often develop in adolescence. The good news is that these disorders are treatable. Early and professional intervention can help to get your teen on the right path.

If you are interested in learning more about what to do with an out of control teen, or how to help your son or daughter, you can always contact Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health and substance abuse treatment center for adolescents and young adults. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.