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Are you constantly trying to please your tormenting, swearing and tantrum throwing teen? Do they always have the last word in an argument? Is it either your teens’ way or the highway? You may be dealing with an out of control teen. Things may have spiraled out of control, but there’s still room for improvement. We help you curb the situation.

You’ve just finished cleaning the house and your teen comfortably sits on the couch and plots her feet with dirty shoes on the coffee table. You calmly ask her to take her feet down; she passes a tedious look and ignores you. You want her to know how angry you are, so you start shouting at the top of your voice. ‘It is just shoes’ she says, before you know it you are both involved in a clash of words brawl which usually ends with your daughter screaming the words ‘I hate you!’ Some parents may be saying “not in my house would that happen,” while other parents are so familiar with this phrase it has actually become a melody that they wish they can skip and never have to listen to again. But unfortunately this is the reality for so many parents; kids telling them what to do, throwing tantrums when they don’t get their way and being rude and disrespectful. ‘I am certain that many mothers can identify with similar experiences. This is actually the norm for many teenagers’ parents.’ says Johannesburg based clinical psychologist Joanna Kleovoulou. She says this sort of “out-of-control” behaviour is only too common in her consulting rooms, where parents flock to get helped on how to get the principle of discipline right, and are tired of their kids treating them disrespectfully. ‘They blame themselves for all the wrong reasons; not being good parents, bad company their kids keep or the way they’ve raised their kids. But often, the truth of the matter is guilt, stress and the fear of saying no.’

Parents’ guilt, stress and the fear of saying ‘NO’ is to blame

According to Joanna, most working mothers, are too tired to discipline and sometimes afraid to say: “no” to their kids. ‘When we get home there’s dinner that needs to be prepared and homework that needs to be attended to. Before you know it, it is 10pm, we are “worn out” and just want to get into bed and catch up on a few pages of our favourite book, and even then, we are stressing about plans for the week. With the little time we have left on weekends, we focus on pressing matters that we couldn’t get around to during the week, and spending time with the kids kind of takes a back seat. And so the cycle continues.’

This is exactly why teenagers end up getting away with murder says Joanna, because parents feel guilty that they are not spending any “quality time” with their kids, and in an effort to try to fill that void they cover it up by making the mistake of giving in to their kids’ every whim, almost as a means to just keep them quiet. ‘For instance, a mother will promise to take her kids shopping or to a movie then, something more important comes up and she has to let them down. When the kids then start making demands she will just give in because she is guilty for disappointing them.’ Joanna continues, ‘While another factor that I’ve seen one too many times is parents who now have it all. They grew up in poverty and didn’t have luxuries such as toys, and as a means to correct their past sufferings, they promised themselves that when they had kids they would overcompensate for what they did not get and would provide them with anything they wanted. And let us not forget the need to be the “perfect parent” Syndrome, where parents will provide their kids with unnecessary wants, when a kid asks for something though the parent may not see the need for it, they agree to it, to avoid any sort of confrontation. Truth be told, these are not effective ways for any parent to be raising their child. Discipline still needs to enforced.’

The rules of discipline have changed

Many older parents will agree that discipline is not what it used to be. Take 50 year old Rachel Sutherland*, her eldest daughter is 26 and she thinks that 10 years ago raising a teen was as easy as riding a bicycle as compared to todays’ discipline tactics. ‘A lot more kids are disrespectful from as young as nine now, and not just towards their parents, but their teachers as well. The challenge lies with us parents, we need to teach todays’ generation the standards and morals that we grew up with, and that existed some 10 years ago. I would of never even thought to throw tantrums in my mothers’ house, because I knew the repercussions of my actions.’

There was a time when a good old fashioned hiding was seen as the passage of growing up and in enforcing effective discipline. This according to Joanna, however, this is no longer the ideal source of punishment because kids have rights too. ‘Any sort of corporal punishment can land a parent behind bars, leaving many parents with not much option, but to give in to their teens’ senseless demands’ says Joanna.

Making sense of a demanding kid

Many family guidance centres have recently introduced parent counseling programmes, to help parents with problems such as discipline issues and interacting with your teen. Parents see them as getting support through a mutual sharing of problems and brainstorming of ideas. The programmes help the parent cope with the changes and pressures associated with parenting an adolescent and they get to learn better parenting skills. This goes to show that some parents become overwhelmed by the demands of raising teens.

In 50 year old mother Jane Wrights’* case, blame definitely plays a big part in her life since she is guilty for having allowed her now 18-year-old daughter Bridgette to go out with friends at night, have sleepovers and get exposed to the wrong things. ‘As a baby, Bridgette was adored by the whole family. We breezily went through the tweens with only a few humps on the road, but when she started high school, we were driving on a gravel road to this day.’ An emotionally drained Jane continues. ‘She started to overrule any sort of discipline, she would back chat in an unpleasant manner, shout at me, told me she hated me and that I was not her mother, and would carry on making demands some that I couldn’t meet. She would shout at me to the point where it drove me crazy until I finally gave in. I often try to figure out where it all went wrong with her, but I’m clueless. I sometimes wonder if peer pressure didn’t play a role, perhaps she was exposed to this “out of control” behaviour while visiting one of her friends, where she may have noticed her friend making demands to her parents and getting her way, so then she adopted the style and started practicing it on us.’ ‘I’m disappointed and angry; if only I had seen the signs sooner I would have addressed the problem from the onset.’ Jane concludes.

‘I’ve seen this type of “parental anguish” several times.’ Says Joanna, parents need to understand that kids misbehave for a specific purpose, it could either be that they are seeking attention, want power or control over a certain part of their lives, revenge or because they feel helpless. ‘When a kid starts saying things like “I hate you, or you are not my mother” or they become rebellious, rude and cheeky, it usually signals that they want to be made to feel that they are capable of making their own decisions without you and want to learn from their mistakes.

The starting point for parents is to begin by stretching their hand out first – show respect to your kid even when you feel like throttling them. ‘Incorporate fun and loving activities with your kid and make sure that the time you spend is always a priority and they shouldn’t come last. Show encouragement for behaviour that you would like repeated, keeping in mind that they want to make decisions and experience life more independently. A family intervention would also be helpful in rebuilding the bridges that have been broken in the past. Learn ways to effectively address problems – instead of bringing up the past, for example focus on the problem at hand. Encourage more calm conversations, where you can both sit, talk and listen to each other carefully to find out what each of your needs and expectations are. Find a way forward as a family that fosters connectedness and care. Remember, it is never too late to build a relationship with your kid.

*Not their real names

When your kid starts getting “out of control” it could be an underlying problem:

  • They are struggling with self-esteem;
  • They may be feeling neglected and not good enough; and in an attempt of trying to get their parents’ attention, they become obnoxious.
  • They are feeling out of control or dis-empowered in a certain area in their life.
  • Kids practice what they see happening around them. Maybe parents disrespect each other in front of the whole family; or perhaps the child is experiencing bullying at school, etc.
  • They are trying to communicate that they need more independence.

Tips for parents

  • Understand the hidden agenda of the misbehavior
  • Communicate with your teen in a loving manner and leave space for the opportunity for both of you to make suggestions and openly discuss what is bothering you. This will give you and your teen a fair balance of a healthy respectful relationship, and the chance to feel in control.
  • Discipline is a way of life. If parents communicate in a respectful manner with their kids, then the response will be similar and issues will be resolved constructively.
  • Give your teen more encouragement rather than finding faults.
  • Show your teen you love them unconditionally without making them feel that they need to earn it.

Our Expert:

Joanna Kleovoulou Clinical Psychologist at PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre in Bedfordview  has worked extensively with children and teens. Her clinical training was conducted at the Tara Hospital (Children’s Outpatient Clinic) and at the Child and Adolescent Ward at Johannesburg General Hospital. She likes to work holistically and address the family system at large. Joanna’s mission and lifelong dream is to make a difference as a healer, facilitator and teacher.

Should you wish to contact the Psychmatters Family Therapy Centre, Bedfordview, JHB www.psychmatters.co.za or 011 4503576

Feature: Jabulile D Zwane

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