Most teens are on emotional roller-coasters -- with parents often taken along for the ride. Almost every adolescent acts out from time to time -- some more frequently than others. Although a certain degree of "acting out" -- speaking disrespectfully, disregarding rules or behaving recklessly -- is considered developmentally normal, it can be difficult to know how to address problems or interact with your teen during these stressful and emotionally-volatile times.
If your adolescent days are deep in your memory, it can be difficult to remember exactly what it felt like to be a teenager. Sometimes, adults have skewed memories and have trouble recalling their own experiences and behaviors. But educating yourself about what's normal and what isn't can equip you to better handle your acting-out teen's behavior. And it might be a bit easier for you to cope if you realize that other parents are dealing with the same issues. According to online resource EduGuide, teens are dealing with a host of issues, ranging from hormonal and brain changes to stress, social and academic problems that can trigger episodes of acting out. Try to show understanding, concern and compassion and you might be pleasantly surprised at your teen's response. Although their actions sometimes say the opposite, most acting-out teens just want to experience their parents' love and attention.
Even though your teen might make you feel like pulling your hair out, it's important to stay calm and address any problems or concerns that you might have as soon as they arise. Communication is the key to solving problems, and it won't help if you start laying blame or making accusations, says social worker James Lehman in an article for Empowering Parents. Set aside time to discuss your teen's behavior and show an active interest in helping her resolve problems or reduce stress. Try not to take her behavior personally -- in most cases, acting out is a normal part of development that usually resolves on its own.
Establishing and enforcing the rules are positive behaviors parents can adopt to address acting out. Teens who have a strong sense of rules and obligations might be less likely to act out, especially if they have a good understanding of the consequences of their behavior. According to a publication by the Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools, parents who don't enforce the consequences of rule-breaking only reinforce their teen's negative behaviors. You might also consider getting your teen's input about the rules in advance -- if he feels like he has some say in the rules, he might be more likely to comply.
Sometimes, acting out is a sign of a more serious, underlying disorder, like conduct disorder or depression. Teens who frequently break the rules, show little respect for authority, cut classes or engage in reckless behavior usually require professional intervention. It's not always possible to address severe problems on your own -- and the behaviors might escalate if not properly managed. If your teen's behavior doesn't improve or she seems unresponsive to your efforts to help, consult a qualified child and adolescent psychiatrist or another licensed mental health professional. Professional intervention can often produce positive results and prevent teens from going down self-destructive paths.