Oppositional Defiance in Teens

(Advice from professional Robert Schacht, PhD)

Q:I have teenager with FAE who can be really defiant. I find I am always having to say "No!" and she always wants to know "Why?" Sometimes I tell her "Because it's in your best interest!" I don't feel I should have to justify my decisions all the time, or I would be justifying all day long, so many times I just say "Because I said so!" How do I get her to realize I am not her warden, but sometimes I need to make decisions she doesn't always like, or agree with, but she needs to listen to her mother?

A: This sort of approach works OK for kids, but as they get older, I bet this tactic works less and less well every year, and in fact will encounter legal obstacles unless you have obtained guardianship.

In adolescence and early adulthood, I suspect it might work better to take this stance: "I need to make these decisions because you have not yet demonstrated the ability to make responsible decisions on your own."

And then I'd start talking about what it would take for them to demonstrate this ability, using reasonable adult norms, with *consistency.*

I'd talk with them about impulsivity, and the trouble it can cause.

I'd talk about the importance of being able to foresee consequences.

I'd talk about the importance of being able to plan ahead.

I'd talk about the importance of being able to pick good friends who won't let you down.

I'd talk about taking responsibility for their own actions.

I'd start sharing a little bit about what you have to go through every day, every week, to maintain your family's independence-- the work, the buying groceries, managing the household, balancing a checkbook-- all to emphasize the responsibilities that come with "freedom."

I'd provide "practice" opportunities for them to demonstrate their abilities.

I'd provide examples from their own history-- not to shame them and make them feel bad and worthless, but just enough to help them see that they have a problem in this area, and need to demonstrate consistent ability to deal appropriately with the problem.

I'd convey the attitude that, yes, they can have independence-- if they *earn* it. I'd work with them to establish milestones that must be achieved and maintained, and that earning it will take at least a year-- or longer, if the milestones are not being met.

And I'd reward them for successes along the way. There are two possible results, either of which is valid: either independence is earned, or it is not earned.

I should perhaps add one thing to my suggestions: KEEP A DIARY of the process. That is, document every success and every failure. The purpose of this is to help reinforce the lessons (positive or negative) that are being learned. I'm not saying that this process will work every time. It is only a suggestion. It is meant as a mutual discovery process to establish what the person can manage, and what they are not yet ready to manage.

At least, that is what I'd like to think that I would do, if I were a parent!

(Your mileage may vary.)


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