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Angry Teen Doesn't Listen 




How do I get my teen to listen to me. I am fed up with his messy room and not helping out around the house. Whenever I ask that he helps out, all I get is flack. I've tried taking privileges away and that doesn't work. What should I do?


Welcome to life with an adolescent. Firstly, remember they are in the developmental stage of individuation/separation. In other words, they want to be anything else but like their parents. The more you push in one direction, they are likely to look to go in another direction. Yes, I know they are looking to separate and be their own boss, while all the time seeking you to support them, but this is the tension that is adolescence.

With regard to managing behaviour and whereas with younger children you can get away with telling them what to do, with teens you can only hope to influence them.

In order to have any influence or sway with your teen son or daughter, you first must have some semblance of a relationship. Typically after days, weeks or even months of tension or fighting, the relationship is strained and the teen will only expect your hostilities. In view of expecting hostilities, your teen will be on guard for the fight and definitely will not be open to your wisdom, counsel or influence.
Step back from the fight and re-establish the relationship first and you the parent must take this first step. Being older and wiser, you need to possess the maturity to take this step. Your son or daughter the younger, likely does not yet possess this kind of maturity and can only gain it through your role model.

Re-establishing the relationship doesn't mean sucking up or accepting inappropriate behaviour. It really means concentrating however on those behaviours and times where your son or daughter is reasonable or at least not disruptive. At these moments, say a kind word and walk away. The next opportunity, say a kind word, give a pat on the shoulder and then walk away and the following opportunity again say a kind word and ask how your son or daughter is doing - non-judgementally. Regardless of what he or she says, do not offer advice or solutions. Just listen. When your son or daughter stops talking tell them it is nice to hear their voice and let them know you care then walk away again. Slowly, over a matter of a few days, you can rebuild rapport.

Once rapport is established, you can share a concern or two with your teen, but without telling them what to do. You will require the patience of biblical proportion and again, this is where your maturity comes in. Eventually your son or daughter will make a better decision or show a sign of more reasonable behaviour. When this occurs, let your teen know you are appreciative. This will reinforce their improved behaviour and increase the likelihood of other more reasonable behaviour down the line.

Lastly, you didn't get into this predicament overnight, so it will take effort on your part and you changing your approach first, before your teen responds. In the meantime when you still want to rip out your own hair from frustration, talk with your partner, friend, neighbour, minister or counsellor. You need to stay on track with positive behaviour if you ever hope to be a good influence in the life of your child.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker in private practice. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider Gary an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.


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