Behavior Management for Teens

To be an effective parent and behavioral guide for your teen, you must fully understand the emotions a teenager is subjected to. If a teen is upset, he might act out in inappropriate ways -- this is a natural response. You can help a teen with managing his behavior by guiding him to a more appropriate way of expressing his emotions.

Expression vs. Suppression

Parents might be tempted to take the easy route when teenagers misbehave: suppressing or even ignoring misbehavior. But according to John Gottman, psychologist and author of “Raising an Emotional Intelligent Child,” squashing misbehavior without discussing it is a short-term solution for a long-term problem 1. Parents will find it harder to help a teenager with problems after the teen has already figured out her parents do not want to get involved. They might even become emotionally distant, acting out without allowing open communication between parent and teen. In contrast, if a parent allows a teen to express her negative emotions and emphases with the teen, communication lines open up, and parents will find it easier to correct improper behaviors.


Negative behavior can be a call for help. When a parent empathizes with her teen, she not only can consider her teen’s perspective but also make it apparent to the teen that she understands. Moms and dads can turn a teen’s negative emotions into clear, specific statements of empathy that show her that her parents can understand. For instance, if a teenage daughter is reacting rebelliously after being left home to babysit, moms would benefit from beginning a conversation with a statement such as, “I understand that you hate babysitting. I also hate some of my responsibilities.” The conservation can then start on a basis of mutual understanding, which will allow more expressive communication.

Nonverbal Communication

When parents encounter behavioral problems that are hard to discuss, nonverbal communication goes a long way. In such circumstances, a hug or even something as simple as a back rub shows your teen that she’s not alone. Often, knowing that someone is there for her will be enough for her to reconsider engaging in negative activities.

Review Limits

All teenagers want and need limits. One job of the parent is to set these limits. If the proper limits are too lax or too strict, teens might find reasons to act negatively, whether it be for purposes of feeling powerful or feeling rebellious. Moms and dads should set limits that put them in a place of power -- limits that are not overly permissive. At the same time, they should avoid being too strict. All effective limits extend from a genuine concern for children.