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How to Deal With a Rebellious Teenager: Tips to Help Keep Them Safe

**this was originally published in July, 2021

When you have a rebellious teenager who’s going to do what they want even if you say “no”, use these tips to help keep them safe.

Sometimes you just know in your gut that even though you’ve explained the risks to your teen and told them you don’t want them to do something, they’re going to find a way to do it anyway.

When I was a rebellious (and spirited) teen in the ‘70’s, I got grounded or punished for disobedience–which only fuelled my resentment towards my parents and made me even more determined to find a way to do what I wanted. Because I felt misunderstood and unable to confide in them, there were times when I got into difficult situations and had no “wiser adult” whom I trusted enough to share my struggles. I felt alone, and often was awake during the night with anxiety. I turned to my peers which felt okay at the time, but years later when I finally met an adult who could hear my struggles without judgment, it was a balm for my heart and soul.

Our teens, even when rebelling, never want to be totally alone, and I wanted things to be different for me and my son.

Here are some tips and principles that I’ve found most helpful, for you to keep in mind the next time your teen wants to do something that you feel is too risky (e.g., go to a party where there will be substance use and possibly no parent supervision).

  • Acknowledge the experience they’re having and the need they’re trying to meet (e.g., “I’ve noticed how important your friends are to you and I know it’s important for you to feel included when your friends are doing something. I get it.”) When they feel understood, you’ll stay  connected
  • If you think they’re going to do it anyway, say “yes” instead of “no”, and then add something that limits the risk (“e.g., I’ll pick you up at midnight at the end of the driveway–you don’t have to say your parents are picking you up, you can just tell them that you have to go”)
  • In general conversations, provide information about how to stay safe (e.g., eat before drinking alcohol; there’s a delay between ingesting and feeling a response so go slowly; people often can’t judge how drunk or stoned they are until they look back on it the next day–use your logical brain to set a limit before starting and stick to it)
  • Have ongoing discussions about how to stay safe, and let them know you’ll always give them a ride, no matter what. And if they get into trouble, they can *always* call–no questions asked, and they won’t be in trouble.
  • Always use non-judgmental language when talking about their desires, feelings, choices, and their friends.

These are some of the key things that have helped me support my son to be safe. At 17, he’s doing less risky behaviour, however, recently made a decision to try something and ended up feeling a bit scared–and he *actually* called me. It felt like a ‘win’ moment amongst a lot of anxiety-ridden moments I’ve had through his teen years. And I have less anxiety now knowing that he’ll call me if needed.

To summarize, focus on connecting, minimizing risk and putting safety in place where you’re able to, because they can *feel* when you’re trying to control their behaviour, vs. when you’re letting go, but still engaging with them in a way that lets them know that their safety is truly your greatest concern. They feel your “realness” and your authenticity.

More tips on staying connected to your teen and keeping them safe (especially if dabbling in risky behavior)? Check out this blog post.

And if you’re looking for practical tips for staying connected to your teen in everyday life, or to reconnect with a teen who’s pushing you away, you can find my best strategies for what to say and do (and not do) in the replay of this webinar, Connecting with Your Rebellious Teen.

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