How to Deal Compassionately With Your Troubled Teen

A Compassionate Approach to Improve Your Relationship

Mother and daughter conversing in living room
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Parenting a troubled teen from a compassionate perspective can often yield positive results. At the very least, it gives parents an approach to focus on in the teen years, which can be a very turbulent and chaotic time. Of course, it's important to rule out more serious reasons for a teen's behavior, such as mental illness, bullying or sexual abuse, a learning disability or drug and alcohol abuse.

These are not situations where a kind word is enough; they require the expertise and guidance of a professional.

But if for a teen who is otherwise healthy and not in need of special assistance, a little empathy from parents can go a very long way toward curbing some of their more frustrating behaviors. Consider trying one of these approaches the next time you're struggling to figure out how to deal with your teen.

1. Focus on the teen you love, not the behavior you don't.

Difficult teen behavior can make parents forget the cute toddler or adoring preschooler their child once was. Many a parent has thought "who is this person?" when it comes to their teenager, and it becomes difficult to relate to one another. When this happens, it may help to take a moment to focus on the things you do love about your troubled teen and how much they mean to you.

2. Reflect on your teens' strengths and positive qualities.

When there is a significant amount of focus on what a teen isn't doing well or the consequences of their acting out behavior, it's easy to lose sight of the positive aspects of their personality and accomplishments.

In response, try making a conscious effort to focus on your teen's positive traits. Is he a hard worker? Does she have a great sense of humor? How about the way she relates to her other family members such as grandparents and siblings? Even at their moodiest and most sullen, there's usually at least one redeeming quality a parent can focus on to maintain perspective.

3. Ponder the pain behind the troubled behavior.

Behind the troubling behavior is usually a teen who is struggling to deal with feelings or situations they don't understand. A compassionate response is to empathize with their pain. Try to remember and reflect on the angst of your teen years whenever you're bewildered by your teen's mood or actions. It's a difficult time with a lot of changes going on, and it can be scary. While you don't want to try to come across as preachy or condescending, sharing a less-than-flattering story about your own teenage years can go a very long way toward strengthening your relationship. If nothing else, it lets them know that despite your status as their parent, that you really do understand what they're going through.

4. View your teen through the eyes of a stranger.

It's possible to become so involved in a your teen's problems or bad behavior that you lose perspective about who they are and how serious the situation is. As with any personal relationship, it's always useful to try to shift your focus and consider things as a stranger might see them.

This isn't always easy, because it requires some frank appraisal of your own role as a parent.

5. Connect with your teen on a deep and caring level.

Difficult teens are exhausting for most parents to deal with and not uncommon to feel discouraged. To help maintain a compassionate, caring bond with your teen find ways to express that you love them, even when that may not be what they want to hear. Often it's what they need to hear. Let them know that the problems they are having touch you deeply, and that you want to help them however you can..

6. Know when to act and when to just be.

It's easy to want to offer advice to help a struggling teen or to jump in to try to solve their problems, but sometimes what they need most is for the parent who loves them to simply be with them, without judgment or questioning. Find opportunities to give hugs, a gentle touch or to spend no-pressure quality time with them, such as over a meal or during a car ride.

All of these compassionate approaches can help shift the way you think about and interact with your teen. You may find that taking a different approach elicits a different response from your teen as well.

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