It is easy to become so focused on the troublesome behavior of teens demonstrated by disrespect, rebelliousness, breaking trust, self-harm etc., and how to create change, that we forget how our response can influence and exacerbate a situation. It is important to take a critical look at how we interact with troubled teenagers and devise strategies that are positive and work towards a common outcome. Alternatives 4 Teens suggest three strategies below that could be implemented when dealing with troubled youth.
1. Patience and Confidence
When we feel disrespected it is instinctual to get defensive and angry, asserting the power we have by becoming aggressive and using the situation to our advantage. Teens can be pretty mean and say horrible things to peers and caregivers. The sword cuts both ways as all of us have the capacity to be mean and horrible when we feel threatened. As authority figures and instructors it is our responsibility to manage our responses with patience and display confidence in our own ability to manage our emotions.
2. Ignorance and Arrogance versus Authenticity and Transparency
Teenage arrogance and ignorance are all too familiar as they have a tendency to believe that they are the center of their universe and everything revolves around their needs. This often manifests in dishonesty, self-centeredness, and narcissistic tendencies. Simply telling them how to behave does not work and is a common stumbling block when we endeavor to make them do the right thing, think the right way, and change to become what we think will be a better person. Teens can drive you to your wits end with “why” questions because they are constantly in search of authentic and transparent answers. If you find it difficult to answer those questions authentically and transparently yourself, you may have to re-evaluate exactly what it is you are asking the troubled teen to do. As authority figures, we should be clear about how we are asking for something and transparent about why we feel it needs to be done. Aligning ourselves with the purpose of the task will make a teen feel empowered and part of the decisions instead of being bossed around. Teens hate to be treated like children.
3. Understanding the Relationship between Freedom and Responsibility.
In their quest for answers teens are always trying something out, sometimes seemingly lacking in control or impulse. This may present itself as wanting to have more freedom – but there is often a disconnection between the freedom they desire and the responsibility that accompanies it. These freedoms seem very tangible to teens because they desire the autonomy that they feel is coupled with becoming an adult. As authority figures it is our responsibility to teach, inform, and hold teens accountable for the responsibilities of having such freedoms. The difficulty lies in helping them understand the relationship between freedom and responsibility.
Teens are more easily manageable when we can foster character traits that are in line with self-reliance, responsibility, and compassion for others, with understanding and a willingness to be an example of what that entails by taking personal responsibility for our own behavior.