How to Observe Behaviour Problems in Teenagers
Getting to know children is tricky!
They don’t know themselves,
Have limited interests,
Those interests can last all of 5 seconds,
Even the older ones get bored quickly…
Trying to do ‘fun’ things can be straight annoying, most teens seem to moan when you try getting outdoors. I remember driving a bus load to a botanical garden one afternoon, complaining the entire way… The second we got there it all turned around, I had to bribe them to leave. We all even ate crickets!!!
With such uncertainty all we can do as parents is watch closely. It’s the only way to help these little humans meet themselves. We have a responsibility to recognise and draw their personalities out.
–Behaviours, Patterns, Habits
One way to draw these personalities out is by watching their behaviours.
When spending time with the children, watch, listen, learn. Detach from the situation a little bit, pretend to be an outsider. Imagine observing the interactions, and what you might think of their behaviour as an outsider.
Do you think the behaviour is acceptable?
Does it bother you?
Is it mean spirited or manipulative?
Would you want your child behaving like this?
Starting here we can then look for patterns.
These will be repeated behaviours, things that are becoming their character and way of life. A behaviour here and there can be tolerated, but if our little human is choosing to live in certain ways we need to change it. Whatever your lines are, draw them early and hold them firmly.
These patterns will become habits, and habits are harder to break…
Especially when dealing with teenage attitudes and their still forming brains.
The biggest caveat I have to the thoughts on habits is integrity.
If we have a child who does what they say they will do, mentioning most issues will usually fix most problems. For me integrity boils down to
“Meaning what you say, and following through always. Once spoken, it is happening.”
This means if my child signs up for a sport, that’s an entire season.
That means if my partner says she will do a shift but it is inconvenient, she does the shift.
That means if I say I’m going to do something it gets done, if not, it gets done then I make up for it.
The most important building block for every human.
If that’s how to watch and learn about our children, we need to be listen even closer!
As we said before, habits are hard to break. So why go around changing habits? Let’s try to see where the things our child is thinking are headed. By spending time listening to our child, and asking loads of follow up questions, we can start to piece together what is going on in their heads (and where that could lead in a few weeks, months or years).
Lying falls in to the same camp as integrity. It should be a non-negotiable and something to be watched for. White lies may seem cute and innocent, but once we have dealt with people who weaponize lying, it’s different. Crafty manipulators that say one thing to you with a smile, and another to everyone else with a smirk. Why risk having a lying manipulating teen? Nip it in the bud as soon as possible. Teach them to speak radical truth.
Radical truth is no white lies,
No twisting facts,
Owning our mistakes,
Taking on our responsibilities,
Dealing with our consequences,
Marching forward completely free and weightless.
Eliminating all forms of lying, and telling the truth in every situation, frees us completely. We can speak to anyone about anything. We don’t need to keep track of what we said to who, and where we said we were. There’s nothing to worry about anymore.
That’s the thing about lying and excuses, a lot of us just keep reusing the same cookie-cutter responses.
What type of child do we want?
One that always complains and doesn’t want to do anything?
One that avoids work at all costs, but can play games all night?
Or a child that is strong enough to push through the opposition and hurt that life is going to start throwing their way?
No matter how sick, damaged, broken, tired, sore we get… there’s always something we can do. Teach resilience from the beginning. Don’t allow head aches and upset stomachs win out over responsibilities. Don’t ask how much can I help, ask how much can this person do in this situation. Watch closely, be there for support, but allow your child to grow and learn on their own. Allow them to feel the pain and frustrations in things. Over protecting makes weaker people, and weaker people get hurt more as they get larger…
– People Puzzle
A larger issue in figuring people out, is the people puzzle.
We are all an amalgam of little bits and pieces.
A tv show here,
Comic book there,
Favourite band lyrics,
Characters we identified with,
Attributes we stole from others to add to our personality,
Programming, choices, best odds, responses to life’s tramua’s.
We are all just people puzzles, some missing pieces, some barely holding together. Listening closely identifies these pieces. We hear the things people are trying to hide. The truth comes out more and more as each of us speak. Betraying ourselves the truth shines through, sometimes as a little bead peeking around the barely cracked door frame. By listening closely these pieces are captured, and sorted.
As more and more little pieces accumulate, and as we begin to piece this person together, the true picture of this human begins to appear. By paying the attention we can show deep care and validation by actually validating the areas that are going well (and that need some complimenting!).
Listen closely to the words, and the actions… Everyone tells the truth some time.
If you have a solid theory as to what that truth is, why not run an experiment?!
Let’s take integrity as the issue, our child is lying and not doing what they say they will.
Let’s say that the child isn’t eating, and is stealing sweets.
When it comes to integrity they are constantly breaking rules around their friends.
For eating, we can set what breakfast will be (and make it messy so we have some evidence). When it comes to the sweets, we can leave some out (either in the draws, ice-cream in the freezer, mini chocolate bars in the fridge, something in our room if they seem a little gamer… maybe even ask them not to touch the sweets), then we wait. Checking every now and then. When we get a bite we have a choice, do we bring it up or do we hold on to the knowledge and try again in the future. (If you want to be really fancy, you could log how long it takes for the boundary to be pushed).
With friends we could allow them to go out, but be weirdo stalkers and watch what they do.
We could track their phones and ask where they went.
We could arbitrarily ask them not to do something with their friends.
Then, we run the first test.
This first test is for us, and I would recommend this most times.
No immature feelings on our part.
Yes, our child may have broken a boundary.
Yes, our child stole (in this example).
Yes, we feel a certain way.
This is about discovery. This is now an issue we can address properly, and promptly.
Why rush in and put a block in the way of relationship and teaching true discipline?
This test is a test for ourselves as well, like a parenting audit. If we are reacting too strongly, we need to learn to control it. When we get too heated, we need to learnt to calm down. The times we don’t want to confront issues, we need to remember why it is important. Whenever we are avoiding handing out a consequence we need to get over it and be the parent, it just sucks. Deal with it. It’s for our children.
Not many things work first try. It’s always wonderful when they do, and we should be striving for this… But when it comes to planning, these are our best bad ideas… and that means that we can always find a better idea!
Iterate! (this is COMPLETELY stolen from Alex Hormozi)
Take your best swing, whatever works repeat. Fails, try again, tweak and repeat.
Fairly quickly everything should be working smoothly!
– Trial Boundaries
To keep things running smoothly long term, we need solid boundaries.
When I was first navigating my partner’s life our daughter had no boundaries. Our little girl had gone through a lot of loss and trauma, and was fairly damaged. So, all expectations were abolished. There was tech in rooms, no filter on anything, socials were a free-for-all, the computer was being used to talk at all hours of the night (WE HEARD IT!). The relationship between the two was almost non-existent, more like emotionally distant sisters.
As soon as we brought in boundaries, expectations and responsibilities our daughter opened up. She started having deeper conversations with us. She was letting us in to her world finally! There was a time when she was completely ignoring us, doing eeeverything she could to block us out.
One morning I gave her a consequence because of a broken boundary… she almost instantly lit up and we sat talking on the couch for 15 minutes (more than the previous 2 days combined!)…
While starting out, decide on the behaviours or issues that are bothering you the most. By eliminating them we have abetter chance of confronting other issues with more softness and grace. Set the boundary, but explain that it will be moving and changing. As your child learns and grows, becoming competent in that area, extend the boundary… allow the learning and exploration to continue!
If you want to take the experimenting to another level, let’s go back to a good old fashioned set up, or experiment 😉
Much like in the experiment section, let’s find out where the children are at… but emotionally now.
– Make weaknesses strengths.
Dads are terrible. I’m pretty sure we aaaaall know how to press some buttons in the people around us… so let’s use this power for good. Ladies, I know you can pick out an insecurity or two, let’s go. When it comes to our children, let’s test these weaker areas: push some buttons.
During our recent move our daughter was full of energy and asking us a million questions. She wanted to be around us, hanging off us… and if she didn’t get what she wanted she was quuuiiickly getting a terrible grouchy attitude. It wasn’t nice to be around. When it came to her room, we were handing over a 4 post queen bed, which would need assembly. I left her to do this on her own, as I knew it was something she could figure out and that the exercise would teach her to trust herself more. Fully understanding that it would cause some levels of stress, I walked by every few minutes and checked in. At times even standing in there holding poles and helping give her ideas.
When things got really stressful I would walk past, peering in. Avoiding helping to let her stretch and grow in a safe environment. When she started to freak out a little too much we swooped in the help her, and in the end she felt accomplished.
Carefully set your children up, being ready to guide them. Don’t let them drown, but like baby float classes… let go a bit. Watch them fly, help them crash land. It’s empowering, and we get to be continually surprised by their problem solving, ingenuity and inner strength. What’s better than that?!
Leading straight in from the entrapment we have just had our children endure, let’s talk about discipline. Discipline is not punishment.
Punishment is: A Penalty Inflicted.
Discipline is: An Activity or Regime That Improves Skill.
It seems to me that a lot of people seem to think of disciplining children as punishing them. It isn’t about teaching skills, it isn’t about actually changing behaviour (which is really changing motivations)… it is about forcing someone to follow the directives the authority has commanded. This is totalitarianism, not discipline.
– Identify the skill
When we notice something with our children, we should start to identify the skills missing. Just taking one issue you would like to deal with, find one skill and one character trait that you could teach them that connects to the behaviour or thought process behind it.
If your child is skipping class, it could be reading or tutoring that are needed.
Maybe the lying thing is a problem, so working on personal responsibility and telling the truth.
For staying up late it could be some better ways to fall asleep, some techniques.Get creative.Find something that connects
– Learn the skill
That’s right. Dig in and learn the skill.
You are going to be teaching it soon,
and a teacher only need be one lesson ahead of the student.
If you are fortunate, and are already competent in the areas your child needs growth then go back and refresh. Research any way. There may be new data, ideas, techniques that we can employ to grow and learn ourselves.
Another reason the learn these skills and character traits ourselves is that something happens when we grow. Somehow, someway, we just seem to zero in on the issue in other people. EVERY time I want to work on my patience I get EVERY red light and EVERYONE seems so impatient to me… IF this is how we parent, we can be bother modelling positive behaviour and trouble-shooting the child’s behaviour at the same time!
And now we are ready to teach.
– Teach the skill
Teaching new skills is the entire power of close relationships. Just by virtue of spending more time with someone, we begin to pick up and copy little bits and pieces. The more we can model being a consistent and honest person, the more we will begin to see our children have integrity themselves.
The best part of teaching a new skill?
Now we can observe without even being present!
We can now ask how it is going at school, with friends, in free time, internally… and because we are coaching and helping our child along the way they should be happy to share it with us!!!
There it is.
How to observe behaviour problems in teenagers.
This can pick up little attitudes that need adjusting, or real deep complex issues stemming from trauma. If you or someone you care about is having a difficult time please reach out and find a professional. It isn’t worth the risk.
Let us know in the comments below how you observe behaviour problems in children.