7 Strategies for Dealing with a Defiant Teen

Avoid power struggles when your teen is defiant.
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As frustrating as it can be to deal with a defiant teen, testing limits and rebelling in minor ways are normal teenage behaviors. As teens struggle to gain independence and learn more about who they are, they’re likely to test your reaction.

Whether your teen refuses to shut off the TV or he won’t clean his room, the way you respond to defiant behavior will either fuel the behavior, or discourage it from continuing.

Here are seven strategies for dealing with a defiant teenager:

1. Link Privileges to Good Behavior

Electronics, allowances, time with friends - these are privileges that should be linked to good behavior. Only allow your teen to earn privileges when he behaves appropriately.

Rather than ground your teen each time he makes a mistake, make it clear that he has an opportunity to earn his privileges each day. Following directions and behaving responsibly can help him earn more privileges.

2. Only Give Directions Once

Nagging your teen and offering repeat reminders will only add to your teen’s defiance. Give directions one time only.

Whether you want him to clean the garage or pick his football off the floor, make your expectations clear. Say something like, “Please shut off the TV and go clean the garage now.” Skip the extra words or lectures.

3. Provide a Single Warning

If your teen doesn’t follow through with your instructions, offer one warning.

Tell him what will happen if he doesn’t comply. For example, say, “If you don’t get out your homework right now, you won’t be able to use your electronics for the rest of the night.”

4. Follow Through with a Consequence

If your teen doesn’t comply after the warning, provide a consequence. Logical consequences, like taking away his bicycle - or the car - for the day can be effective.

Tell him his consequence in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Say, “You didn’t get the garage cleaned by 6 p.m. like I asked so you won’t be allowed to go to your friend’s house tomorrow.”

5. Avoid Power Struggles

Your teen may try to entice you to get into an argument just so he can put off doing whatever you said. If you told him to start his homework and he argues, don’t argue back. Every minute you engage in an argument with him is another minute he can put off doing what you’ve said.

Discourage misbehavior with selective ignoring. Ignore protests or attempts to get you to change your mind. Giving attention to disrespectful behavior can actually make them worse.

6. Praise Good Behavior

Provide positive reinforcement whenever you catch your teen being compliant. Say something like, “Great job cleaning the garage the first time I asked you to,” or “Thanks so much for clearing the table without even being asked.” Your compliments will encourage your teen to keep up the good work.

7. Teach Your Teen New Skills

When your teen misbehaves, it’s an opportunity to look for potential skill deficits.

Sometimes, defiance is really a symptom of an underlying problem.

For example, is your teen refusing to do his homework because he doesn’t know how to do his work? If so, he may need some help problem-solving how to get extra help.

Or, is your teen arguing about practicing for his concert because he’s terrified he’s going to make a mistake? If so, he may need help overcoming his fear of failure.

When you notice patterns to your teen’s behavior, consider what skills could help remedy the issue. Focus on teaching your teen the skills he’s going to need to become a responsible adult.

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