In this series of articles on teen defiance and chronic conflicts with parents called “Why Is My Teen So Mean to Me?” we’ve discussed the root causes of some of the most challenging behavioral issues teens develop. We’ve shared what kinds of treatment are available. We discussed immersive mental health treatment programs, such as intensive outpatient programs (IOP), partial hospitalization programs (PHP), and residential treatment (RTC). Now, in this fifth and final article in the series, we’ll talk about the different types of support parents of defiant teens might need to receive to help repair the parent-child relationship.
You read that correctly. If your relationship with your teen is volatile and filled with conflict, there’s a chance you may need professional support, too. When a teen struggles with behavioral challenges, it’s not just their problem. It’s a family problem. Therefore, it’s not only your responsibility to seek treatment and support for your teen, but it’s also your responsibility to seek support for yourself. There’s a chance you may need treatment, too. This may not be an easy thing to accept. However, by accepting the fact you may need support – and realizing that you may benefit from therapy – you’ll fulfill your parental responsibilities in a way that benefits your entire family.
Treatment and support for parents comes in many forms. In this article, we’ll address five:
We’ll go through them one by one, and talk about how each one can help both parents and teens.
A persistently angry and disrespectful teen affects the entire family unit. Family therapy sessions, when attended by the teen, their parents, and siblings when appropriate, is an integral part of treatment for a teen with behavioral issues. These therapy sessions can help improve communication, problem- and conflict-solving. They help other family members learn productive ways to support the teen with behavioral issues. The goal of family therapy for defiant and/or oppositional teenagers is to work on interpersonal skills while increasing the level of empathy for the other family members.
Parents learn how to see things from their teen’s perspective. This helps them communicate more effectively. Teens learn that their parents will set limits. They learn the outcomes they experience – i.e. the consequences – are a direct result of their behavior. Additionally, siblings have a chance to voice their feelings and contribute to the conversation. They can identify boundaries that they would like their sibling to respect, and vice versa. In general, family therapy can help everyone develop effective coping skills and interact with each other in positive and productive ways.
Many parents lack the knowledge or skills to manage and guide the behavior of a teenager who is openly defiant. Therefore, for parents of children with conduct issues, parent training – also known as parent management training (PMT) or behavioral parent training (BPT) – is essential. During parent training sessions, parents learn to be predictable and consistent in responding to disruptive behaviors, chronic irritability, or defiance. They learn how to reinforce positive behaviors rather than negative ones. They learn what to do when their child has a tantrum, has angry outbursts, makes rude remarks, or engages in otherwise inappropriate behavior. Parent training will also teach parents how to enforce consequences from a place of warmth and love rather than negativity. Parents learn tips on creating an atmosphere of warmth and validation in the home. They learn to maintain an authoritative – not to be confused with an authoritarian – environment that fosters communication and growth.
When looking for a parent-training therapist, parents should find one who specializes in their area of need. There are therapists with experience in treating teens with oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Parents should find a therapist who has the experience and knowledge to help teach them specific tools for managing specific behaviors.
For young adolescents with ODD, parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is proven effective. In PCIT, a skilled therapist observes a parent interact with their child through a one-way mirror while the parent wears a discreet audio device that connects them to the therapist. The therapist then provides in-the-moment coaching and guidance to help the parent handle undesirable behaviors and reinforce positive ones. This all happens in real time, and it works.
Individual Therapy for Mental Health Issues
Some parents find that they benefit from seeking professional mental health support if they have unresolved issues from their past. Unprocessed trauma or unresolved emotional issues can make it a significant challenge for any person – adult or child – to live a productive, fulfilling life. When a parent with mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, trauma, or anger management issues seeks treatment for their disorder or disorders, the whole family will benefit. These mental health disorders make it difficult to function as an individual. They can also make the already challenging job of parenting that much more challenging.
Note: If you have a hard time connecting to your child or being an effectively validating parent, consider Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Through individual therapy from a DBT-trained therapist, you’ll learn Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, Mindfulness, and Interpersonal Effectiveness skills. Changing yourself – how you view yourself, how you respond to stress, how you interact towards others – can help change your child’s behavior for the better, as well.
In these large group sessions, multiple families, teens, and therapists meet to collaborate and share their treatment experiences. These group sessions allow families to learn from one another and recognize they’re not alone. Families receive support from others going through similar experiences. Multifamily groups are incorporated into most adolescent Intensive outpatient (IOP) and partial hospitalization programs (PHP) on a weekly basis. As teens learn the lessons they need to heal and grow, parents learn how to support them during and after treatment. Different teen treatment programs conduct group sessions in a variety of formats, depending on specific family needs and circumstances.
Parent Support Groups
Joining a support group helps parents understand they’re not alone. Thousands of families around the country have similar experiences. They have teens with behavioral challenges, too. Most are willing to share their experiences with other parents. They’ll give hugs and offer shoulders to cry on. They’ll dole out tough love, or tell stories that have everyone laughing through tears. They’ll provide empathy, compassion, understanding. They also offer the knowledge that although the road to recovery may not be easy, there are people who’ve walked the road before. They know the way – and they want to help.
There are many support groups for parents of teens with behavioral, mental health, and substance abuse issues. We’ll end this article – and this entire series – by offering the following resources for parents of teens with significant behavioral issues:
NAMI Family Support Group is a peer-led support group for any adult who has a loved one with a mental health or behavioral condition. NAMI’s support groups are free. They follow a structured model, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to be heard and to get what they need. NAMI Family support groups can be helpful for parents of teens with behavioral issues and other mental health challenges.
For parents of teens with ADHD, there are local Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD )support groups. Check out their chapter locator.
Alcohol and/or Substance Use Disorder
Behavioral issues and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. For loved ones of teens with dual-diagnosis mental health and alcohol/substance use issues, check out Al-Anon Family Groups and Alateen, which are 12-step support groups specifically for the parents and siblings of teens with alcohol or substance use disorder.
There are a number of online support groups for parents of children with specific behavioral conditions like ODD and DMDD. Check out these helpful groups: the Conduct Disorder Resource Center, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy International, and DMDD.org.