If you’re the parent of an at-risk teen, you’re not in an easy situation. In addition to seeing a side of your child you never dreamed to be there, you’ve probably seen a side of yourself you didn’t know existed, either. Part of adolescent development includes the quest toward independence, which is often accompanied by testing parental boundaries; troubled teens also tend to purposely and routinely push buttons in order to provoke authorities and push them to their breaking point.
Based in the Golden Rule, these tenets of good parenting can go a long way toward restoring a broken or damaged parent-child relationship. They’ll also model for your child the kind of relationship skills that will benefit them in life. And who knows?! You may even see these behaviors come back to you someday.
1. Unconditional Love
While you certainly want to use incentives and withhold privileges, based on your child’s choices, you’ll also want to let them know that you love them, no matter what. You want to be clear with your teen that you offer certain privileges out of love, regardless of whether they’re deserved. Such privileges may include special birthday and holiday gifts and celebrations as well as family outings. Such special events supplement meeting regular needs of your family, such as providing a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, and adequate clothing to wear. “Extras” such as designer shoes or favorite snacks may be withheld as a result of problem behavior, but the basics should never be in question. Your child’s security in your love and basic needs can go a long way toward helping him through this difficult stage of life.
2. Respect for Differences
You may need to limit your teen’s ability to exercise his or her freedom of speech in certain contexts or freedom to act based on what you see as a divergent line of reasoning. However, you should also give your child opportunities to explain various opinions, when the conversation can be calm and reasoned. If you find yourself getting heated when you hear ideas that simply don’t wash, have the maturity to say, “I’m sorry, but I need a break. I don’t want to say something I’d regret, so we’ll need to continue discussing this, some other time.” After all, isn’t that what you’d prefer to hear from your teen when he’s frustrated with you?
3. Appreciation and Encouragement
While it may be hard to find something to compliment about your troubled teen, look for opportunities to praise small achievements and encourage continued growth. Try your hardest not to add remarks such as “If you did that all the time,” or “That was nice for a change” that would detract from the positive message that you want to send. While teenagers often shrug off this kind of recognition, they still often appreciate a heart-felt compliment.