How to Deal With Teenagers Who Make Bad Choices

Your visions of a happy life don't include watching your teen make bad decisions that could ultimately ruin his life. In fact, your visions of parenthood and family probably include a well-behaved child who works hard at school and has fun at home. This might make it even more difficult for you to understand why your teen seems so hell-bent on making bad decisions that don’t bring anything positive into his life. It’s painful, it’s depressing and it’s hard to deal with when your teen makes bad decisions, such as doing drugs, using alcohol, spending time with the wrong people or neglecting responsibility.

Consider the cause of your teen’s inability to make good choices, advises Dr. Phil McGraw, mental health professional and talk show host. According to Dr. Phil, your teen did not wake up one morning and decide that she was going to make poor decisions and ruin her life. At some point, something happened to her that sent her into a downward spiral that caused her to make bad decisions, such as if you got divorced, she is being bullied or if you moved far from home and she had to make new friends at a new school. Major life events are typically what cause your teen’s personality to change, and figuring out what it was that caused your teen to make bad decisions is a good starting point to handling this situation. If your daughter began making poor decisions following your divorce, you can try working together with her other parent, talking to her about the fact that you both still love her, or taking her to see a professional who specializes in helping teens get through divorce.

Be your teen’s parent and not his friend, advises Dr. Phil. When your teen starts making bad decisions, it’s a bad idea to try and be his friend. You don’t need to try and be cool, or stop acting like a parent to get him to like you more. All this does is cause him to lose all respect for you. Instead, be his parent. Tell him you will not accept this behavior from him. Talk to him about the consequences of his poor choices, such as the health effects of using drugs or alcohol, the fact that he won’t be able to play sports if his grades drop any further, or that he won’t be able to get financial aid for college if he gets arrested for stealing. Be a parent. Tell him no.

Take charge of your teen’s behavior rather than attempt to take control of it, advises Debbie Pincus, licensed mental health counselor, for Empowering Parents 1. As a parent, your job is to take charge of her behavior and ensure that she behaves in a healthy manner. There is a difference between taking charge and taking control. If your teen is using alcohol, you cannot control her by keeping her home, locked in her room 24 hours per day. However, you can take charge of the situation by telling her that when she uses alcohol, you will take away her driving privileges. Taking charge by creating and enforcing consequences can teach your teen that you will not tolerate her bad decisions anymore.


Stay tough and be persistent, advises Pincus. Your teen’s bad decisions might not stop overnight, though it is possible that you can see results from your tough love sooner rather than later. To help your teen overcome this phase in his life, be persistent in disciplining her and in being there for her.

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