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What to do when your Teen misbehaves

Updated: Jan 22

Do you have a tween or teen who is acting in ways that you really don’t understand, that worry you or that you know are not in their best interest? Are they engaging in behaviours like self-harming, vaping, or experimenting with alcohol? Or are they struggling to get their school work done, being rude to their family members, or any number of things our older children do that make us as their parents and caregivers lose sleep?!

I understand very well how difficult it is to see your children struggling or acting in ways that are harmful to themselves or others (I'm currently raising two teens myself and have worked with hundreds of parents over the past couple of decades!)

I also understand that when we see those behaviours, we want to stop them! As adults, we see the possible negative consequences of the things our kids are doing - and the HUGE repercussions the ‘wrong’ choices could have on their lives.

We want to stop them from making mistakes. Show them the error of their ways. Knock some sense into them!

Many of us have been taught to do whatever it takes to stop those unwanted behaviours. We have been taught that when our kids are acting in challenging ways or ‘misbehaving’, we must teach them how to behave more appropriately and that the way to do that is through advice giving, lectures, consequences, and punishments (and sometimes by rewarding 'good' behaviour to encourage more of it).

Unfortunately, these things, even if they seem effective in the beginning, often aren't long lasting. Even worse, they can lead to undesirable, unintended results like lowering their self esteem or further eroding parent/child relationships.

We tend to see kids through this perspective that they would do well if they just wanted to. If they weren’t so spoiled, lazy, unmotivated (insert insult of choice), they would do better! If they just CARED enough or put the effort in, then everything would be fine. Basically, we blame the kid for not doing what it takes to meet our expectations!

Does any of that sound familiar?

Well, I would like to suggest we change the lenses we are seeing kids through, and instead of seeing them as only doing well if they want to, we see them through the lense of, “Kids do well when they CAN.”

When I first heard this said in a talk by American psychologist Dr Ross Greene, it really struck a chord with me! I had found someone who got it - someone else who is advocating for seeing challenging behaviours for what they really are…the symptom of a problem!

Imagine if you thought of your children's challenging and undesirable behaviours as symptoms of an unsolved problem instead of thinking of them as THE PROBLEM (just like a fever is a symptom of an illness).

If we look at children and their behaviours that way, then instead of doing whatever it takes to extinguish the behaviours we don’t like (with consequences & punishments) we are more likely to work to get to the bottom of why the behaviour is happening in the first place!

Our children need our guidance and a listening ear. They need to know we have their backs, and they need to know we believe they do well not just when they WANT to, but when they CAN.

So, when CAN a child do well? Quite simply, when they have the skills and support they need to meet the expectations being put on them.

I promise you, when they have the skills and support they need to do well, they WILL do well. And when we see them not doing well our response, instead of punishing them or dishing out some consequences to 'teach them', should be to work with them to figure out what's going on under the surface and help them.

Anne Cullen, BA, IBCLC Anne Cullen is a coach and parenting specialist who has been supporting and educating children and their parents for nearly 30 years. Her mission is to ensure children grow up feeling safe, secure, and understood (and their parents enjoy the journey!) Anne holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in Sociology/Anthropology; Family Resources; and Education, is certified as a Life Coach, MAP Practitioner, Mindfulness Instructor, and REACH Practitioner with additional training in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy and Collaborative & Proactive Solutions. Learn more about her HERE. Don't Miss A Thing. Our subscribers are the first to know about new courses and special offers. Simply let us know you're interested by emailing us at

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