My Teen Doesn't Listen

Parents of teens often ask “How do I get my teen to respect me and follow my directions?” or “Why won’t they listen to me anymore?”

First, it’s important to understand that there is no quick fix and the solution to these challenges requires us to look beyond the individual and at the “bigger picture.” If we identify the teenager as the only “problem” in the family and expect him/her to do all of the changing, we’ve already approached the situation from the wrong angle. If we view the problem as a family issue, however, and consider how each person may play a role in both the problem and the solution, we have a greater chance of creating lasting change. For example, if a teenager is sneaking out at night, we want to address his/her behavior but it’s also important to look at the rest of the family. Are the parents doing anything to intervene beforehand? Are there siblings who may be contributing to the problem? Are the parents responding to the teenager with a consistent and united front, or is there an environment of conflict and division within the home? We know that change takes time and dedication from everyone involved, and looking at the bigger picture will help in the change process.

Next, in order for families to create change in their family system, it’s important to identify their motivations to change. If a teen seems to only comply when they are motivated by external factors (e.g. bribes, allowance, nagging, threats, etc.), it can also be worthwhile to take a deeper look at the relationships within the family. This may help uncover a lack of internal motivation on the teen’s part to want to contribute to the family or show respect to the parent. Likewise, parents may be lacking an internal investment in their child. Parents can ask themselves: Have I sat down to talk with my teen about what motivates them? Did my teen help identify the chores they’re willing to help with? Did they have any input on some of the rules? When parents are invested in their teenager, seek their input, and give them choices in some areas, the youth is more likely to feel internally motivated to contribute to the family and is also more likely to abide by the non-negotiable boundaries that parents must set. Finding an appropriate balance of healthy external motivators (e.g. allowance, privileges, simple cues, daily/weekly goals) and positive internal motivators is the most likely to create lasting change in a family.

These principles of looking at the big picture, types of motivation, and family relationships can be applied to a number of issues that parents and teenagers may be faced with, whether it’s drug and alcohol use, anger problems, or not following basic rules. To hear more about this topic and how it translates into changes that you might be seeking for your own family, do not hesitate to contact CEDARS. We have a number of programs that can help you identify barriers and provide assistance and support to help your family achieve lasting change.

If you have more questions or would like further parenting support, give us a call at 402-436-5437.