Dealing with a teen that seems out of control can be a very isolating and frustrating experience for any parent. If you’ve been working through aggressive, defiant, or disruptive behavior from your teen, you may have grown tired of hearing criticisms from family and friends and even pulled back from engaging in social functions. As behavior becomes more extreme, you may isolate even further as you grapple with your parenting ability and guilt over his displayed behavior. However, your child’s behavior may not have anything to do with what you did or didn’t do. Some kids are just more difficult than others, and it’s important not to assign blame during this difficult period.

Even if your teen’s behavior feels completely out of your control, there are many things you can do to help make positive changes. Learning about disruptive behavior disorders, what to look for, and their causes can help you get a proper diagnosis for your child to start the treatment process. There are also many tips you can follow at home to make your child feel safer, to regain control of your house, and to look at parenting through a fresh lens.

Disruptive, defiant behavior in teens and its causes

Interacting with and parenting a teen who is consistently disruptive and defiant can be extremely difficult on you and the entire family unit. Whether diagnosed or not, it can be helpful to learn about the various disruptive behavior disorders, what to look for, and what its causes are, so you can help your teen get the best treatment possible.

In order to be diagnosed with a disruptive behavior disorder, teens must show ongoing patterns of uncooperative and defiant behavior. This type of behavior can range from indifference to hostility toward authority figures and it will frequently impact those around them including family members, peers, and teachers. The three most common types of behavioral disorders in teens are disruptive behavior disorder not otherwise specified (DBD NOS), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD). Teens with any of these disorders will tend to be stubborn, difficult, and disobedient, but those with conduct disorder also have a tendency to be physically aggressive and intentionally violate others’ rights.

Teens in general can often appear uncooperative and defiant, so how can you tell the difference between typical teen behavior and indications of something more serious? Teens with behavioral disorders can be categorized by the severity, intensity, and duration of their behavior, meaning this behavior is frequent, intense, and lasts for long periods of time.

Children and teens with oppositional defiant disorder often lose their temper and are quick to argue with adults and authority figures over rules or requests. They are likely to display uncooperative behaviors, argue about everything including small details, refuse to follow rules or instructions, deliberately annoy or try to anger those around them, and blame others for their mistakes. Teens with conduct disorder will show signs of increasingly aggressive behavior toward other people and animals, bully and intimidate others, destroy property, steal and lie without feeling remorse, and are more likely to run away from home.

Researchers are still working to find the exact causes for behavioral disorders, but they are currently thought to spring from myriad factors working together. One factor is heredity, children and teens with behavior disorders often have parents who have struggled through their own mental health disorders including substance abuse, ADHD, a mood disorder, or schizophrenia. Another factor that puts teens at risk is their environment, including life events such as being rejected by their mother as an infant, being separated from their parents, being placed in unhealthy foster care environments, or being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused as a child. Lastly, there are some physical risks for developing a behavior disorder such as a low birth weight or suffering neurological damage as a child.

Children and teens who have developed behavioral disorders can benefit from a range of special behavioral techniques that can be implemented both at home and at school. In addition to more comprehensive therapies, there are many things parents can try at home to help work with their disruptive teens.

Tips for parents working with disruptive teens

If your teen has been diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, or even if they haven’t but their behavior feels like it’s spiraling out of control, there are many tips you can try to help regain control of your house while still providing the loving and safe environment your teens needs to thrive. Try some of these suggestions for working with disruptive teens:

1. Know your bottom line – It’s important that your teen sees not only that you have respect for them, but that you have respect for yourself as well and you’re willing to stick to your guns on the big issues. Working on developing your own self-respect will facilitate setting and sticking to limits when it comes to your teen’s behavior. It’s important not to issue idle threats for negative behavior, or your teen will likely call your bluff and continue acting out. If setting and sticking to limits is new for your teen, expect and be prepared for a negative reaction as he adjusts to this new reality, and explain that he will need to own his behavior and be held accountable for it.

2. Work with your child to problem solve – As a teacher, coach, and limit setter for your child, part of your role is teaching her how to problem solve and handle difficult emotional situations. During calm times, work with your teen to examine how they behaved in a particular situation and what the outcome was. If it was a bad outcome, how can they solve the problem differently next time using behavior that will lead to positive outcomes? This can and should be a collaborative effort, so listen to your teen’s ideas but offer suggestions of your own too if they get stuck.

3. Look for and praise small wins – Behavioral disorders won’t fix themselves overnight even when great strategies and techniques are implemented, so take small steps and appreciate and celebrate gradual change. The victory could be as small as disengaging from an argument rather than getting into a power struggle, and it’s important to acknowledge and praise these small moments as they happen so you can encourage future positive behavior.

4. Focus on one behavior at a time – Choose the behavior that is most troubling or harmful to your child to address first and create a plan for addressing and changing this one behavior. If you have many competing priorities, look for issues that address safety first, such as which behaviors affect your teen’s safety and the safety of those around him. Focusing on one behavior will allow you to examine it in greater depth and decide what behaviors you are able to live with and what behaviors need explicit limits.

5. Plan ahead – Plan out what you’re going to say next time your child engages in defiant or disruptive behavior. Not only will it help you not be caught off guard by his behavior, but it will also help you remain objective and keep your emotions out of it by not getting drawn into a fight. The remaining objective will also help your child know this specific behavior is unacceptable and what you’re going to do moving forward to correct it.

6. Ask for and accept help – Extend your support network to help decrease any isolation you may be feeling. It can help to find a support group, therapist, or even a trusted family member or friend whom you can confide your feelings to help you get through this difficult period.

If you need additional and more all-encompassing support to help manage your child’s defiant and disruptive behavior, Discover Seven Stars can help provide your child the support he needs.

Discover Seven Stars can help

Seven Stars is one of the nation’s premier residential treatment centers for teens with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Whether diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder to date or not, Seven Stars’ students are those who struggle socially, emotionally, and academically. Our treatment model is a revolutionary hybrid. We combine the assessment aspects of a multidisciplinary assessment center, the experiential learning of an adventure program, and the therapy and classroom academics of residential treatment.

Working with a highly trained and qualified team, your child will learn to improve his social skills. We’ll start with what your child is already good at and then build, piece by piece until they find success in social situations. We also utilize outdoor recreation activities that provide ample opportunities for growth.

The foundation of success for our program is our focus on positive psychology. Our goal is not only to assess the previous and current challenges but also to help students find their strengths and build upon them through our personalized, strengths-based mentoring approach. We look for ways around power struggles and seek to find each students’ natural motivation for success. Rather than focus on level systems or punitive punishment, we teach our students about the natural and logical outcomes of their behaviors. We work to challenge each student at the optimum level to avoid breakdowns, establish quick resets, and encourage community involvement. For more information, please call (844) 601-1167.