10 Strategies for Dealing with a Defiant Teen


October 12, 2015 by middleearthnj

Mother and DaughterAdolescence can be a difficult phase in life to navigate. Defying the wishes of their parents (or other authority figures) and testing limits is a normal part of growing up for teens. Youth are trying to figure out who they are, establish their independence, and express themselves. Unfortunately, in some teens, this process can cause them to act out in an angry, argumentative, spiteful, or rebellious manner. But, just because it’s normal behavior, doesn’t make it acceptable. To keep the peace in your home, parents need a strategy to deal with a teen’s defiant behavior.

Today’s blog offers 10 strategies for the weary parent to handle a defiant teenager:

1. Tie Privileges to Good Behavior.

What your teen might consider as necessities are really privileges that they should have to earn. Electronics, money, driving, and time with friends are all wonderful things that your teen may be allowed when they are behaving appropriately. While you should try to keep the link positive – for example, telling your teen that they have the opportunity each day to earn more privileges with good choices – these privileges should be taken away if your teen calls you names, refuses to comply with house rules, or engages in some other disrespectful behavior.

2. Avoid Repetition.

For some reason, it seems like most parents, at one point or another, resort to repeating themselves. Nagging your teen, or reminding them over and over that if they don’t do something they will be grounded, usually does not work. Many times, it just encourages defiance and steals your authority. Instead, give directions one time only, offering only one warning, and then, follow through with a consequence. It is the fastest way to achieve compliance while also maintaining a more peaceful household.

3. Enforce Consequences.

Once you have decided what limits and/or rules are important to you, stick to them, and establish specific consequences for breaking them. You absolutely must follow through in enforcing consequences to see change in your teen’s behavior. Do not ever threaten a consequence that you will not enforce – your teen will call your bluff, and, when you don’t follow through, you will lose your authority. If your teen doesn’t comply, provide the consequence in a calm manner. For example, you might say, “You didn’t clean your room like I asked you to, so you won’t be allowed to go to the movies.” Or, “Since you came home late tonight, you will not have access to the car this weekend.”

The other important key in this area is not rescuing your child from the consequences of his behavior. This will only encourage further defiance. For example, if he backtalks a teacher, do not call and make excuses for his behavior or try to lessen his punishment. Instead, talk to your teen about how he should make choices that work in his favor rather than choices that ultimately make him unhappy.

4. Have a Plan.

When your teen acts defiant, the situation can become very emotional. Your teen may be angry and their behavior can, in turn, make you angry. Unfortunately, emotional gut reactions generally do not help calm the conflict, so it is best to create a strategy beforehand. Plan out what you’re going to say to your child ahead of time, before she acts out again. Deliver your message in a simple, clear, and calm manner.

5. Praise Good Behavior.

Offer your teen a compliment or simple thank you when you see them making a good choice or doing something you asked. You might say, “Thanks so much for cleaning your room without even being asked.” Your compliments (as long as they are not sarcastic or over-the-top) will encourage your teen to continue to do good things. If you are always on his back about what he does wrong, he will end up feeling like he can’t do anything right, so why bother? Acknowledge the small steps they take in positive directions.

6. Teach Problem Solving.

Despite what your teen may say, they usually do not prefer to deal with their problems alone. As a parent, you are your teen’s teacher, coach, cheerleader, and disciplinarian. Part of your role is to teach your teen how to solve their own problems. You can read our previous blog Teaching Problem Solving Skills.

When things are calm, you might say, “This behavior won’t solve your problem—it will only get you into more trouble. So, how can you solve this problem differently next time?” Listen to what your teen has to say, and suggest ideas if he can’t come up with anything.

Additionally, it’s important to realize that, sometimes, defiance is really a symptom of an underlying problem. Don’t just assume your child is being defiant when they refuse to do something. Perhaps they don’t understand their classwork, so they refuse to do their homework, or perhaps they are afraid of speaking in public, so they refuse to prepare their project. You might need to help them develop a new or specific skill to address an underlying problem.

7. Focus on One Behavior.

If your teen is acting defiant in a number of different ways, it will be difficult and exhausting to try to address all of the problems at once. Instead, choose one behavior that is bothering you the most and begin to plan the steps you will take to improve that behavior. For example, if your teen is disrespecting or cursing at everyone in the family, not doing their homework, and also breaking their curfew, you need to decide which of these behaviors you cannot live with or seems most detrimental to their safety. When you have enforced consequences for the first behavior and it is under control, then you can move onto the next most bothersome behavior.

8. Pick your Battles.

In all honesty, many family conflicts are not worth your time and energy. It’s important to decide (with your spouse) which battles are worth fighting and which are best to let go. Avoid power struggles. Many times, teens will use petty arguments to delay having to comply with rules. Instead, concentrate only on battles that truly need your attention to protect your teen’s well-being. By avoiding minor disagreements, you create a more peaceful environment for your family, which can actually give your teen more confidence to approach you on more significant issues.

9. Stay Respectful.

Youth often come across as rude and disrespectful to their parents, teachers or other authority figures, which can be incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, many adults respond by being rude and disrespectful back, but this is not constructive. As the adult, you must model behavior you want to see. Regardless of what you “preach,” if your teen sees you respond disrespectfully to them, then they will assume that disrespectful behavior is appropriate.

10. Get Support.

When our teens act inappropriately, it becomes easy to think we are bad parents and feel disappointed or even depressed. Do not buy into these negative thoughts or isolate yourself. Instead, find someone to talk to, whether it’s a therapist, support group, friend, or a trusted family member. You will be surprised how much better you will feel when someone simply listens to you.

When Defiance Has Gone Too Far

When disobedience begins to get out of hand, lasts longer than six months, is excessive compared to what is usual for the child’s age, and/or starts to affect both you and your child’s social and educational life, then it may be a problem that needs to be addressed. Children who struggle with excessive disobedience for over 6 months should be evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychologist. One possible diagnosis could be Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), which is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward people in authority.

Final Thoughts…

Remember what you were like when you were a teen, and have empathy for your son or daughter. The adolescent years are a time filled with rapid change, mood swings, and growing independence, but it does not have to be a time of war. So many people talk about the difficulties of raising a teenager that many parents approach the adolescent years as an ordeal to survive. But this is still your child, and he or she needs you. So while you should stay alert for problems, you should also stay focused on the positive. Enjoy the unique person your teen is becoming.

25 thoughts on “10 Strategies for Dealing with a Defiant Teen

  1. Dawood. says:

    I have a granddaughter that shows no respect and has a nasty oath filled mouth filled with words I couldn’t think of repeating to or around my parents or any elderly person.I love her but the nasty disrespectful mouth has to go.

  2. Phoenix says:

    These are all bullshit and make kids today entitled and empowered over their parents. When I was a kid I was spanked and we even had paddles in school. But, I sure as heck learned how to respect my parents, follow rules, and many other things because of it. Kids today have no respect for anyone because we softly tell them to go sit in timeout 50 times before we cave because we have to “pick our battles”. I wish I would’ve disciplined my kids like my parents did me….maybe my teenagers would respect me more and behave better. Now, I am a doormat and walked all over by them because of all the tips above. If I could do it all over again, I would spank my kids instead of put them in timeout.

    • struggling parent says:

      I feel so defeated with my 12 year old. She is only 12 and gives me a rough time. I, too, was given whoopings growing up and I turned out fine. I think I should have done the same thing when she was younger. I imagined myself being the perfect parent for my daughter and never in a million years would think I’d be going through what I am going through with her. I consider my home to be really stable so I am so confused as to why she is so disrespectful to me.

    • Peeved parents says:

      Absolutely! Tried everything about….doesn’t work. In fact, above suggestions just made him feel not entitled and inconsiderate! Yet he behaves in school and respect his teachers. Smh

  3. Friederike Lehrbass says:

    I’m reading right a book called A House United from Nicoleen Peck,which has some very practical advices how to deal with child rearing. Nicoleen used to be a forster parent,where she learned those principals. I’m slowly starting to implement those principals..

  4. LaToya says:

    I have a very sarcastic mouth and so does their father. I always wanted my kids to have opinions and not feel confined where they can’t openly tell people how they feel about them and what they do or say to them. My issues is they go back and forth with me and I’m finding myself repeating myself and I’m tired of that. They use to listen to me when I say things once it was done when I counted to 3 they answer me when I threaten them they would do it immediately but the past few years it’s not working and it’s getting worse to the point where I’m getting frustrated and I’m running out of things to do. What should I do I don’t want to lose my kids openness with me along with honesty? They always want to be on the game. So u finally took the games system out their rooms last night and I’m going to start back saying things once if it’s not done then they will start writing sentences on living up to the fact that they will listen more. I take their phone daily when they get home anyway. If you have any suggestions please tell me what is the best strategy to handle 10 & 13yr old boys

  5. Mike says:

    My daughter’s mom is around now and then but rarely, and when around she sets odd examples. My daughter, now 17, wants a relationship with her mom but her mom is just not willing to give the time. I have raised her since age 2 1/2, took her thru dance, music, private schools, travel, and these past few years have been absolutely horrible, disrespect, says terrible, mean things to me, yells loudly at me for the slightest things, lies all the time, even when she doesn’t need to. It is just killing me slowly and I worry night and day.

  6. pam says:

    i have a 15 year old daughter she had {ODD}oppositional defiant disorder she is all over the place she does not listen she curses at me breaks my things i tried so many things with her where it’s at a point where she beat up one of the kids at her school the mom pressed charges , and the court case lasted till about 9 months she has a probation officer who does not do anything only talks to her my 15 year old basically does what she want she don’t come home hangs the phone up on me treats me as if i am not her mother at all i am so emotionally broken with her to where i am about to sign my rights over because she doing things i never did to my mother she listen to her peers and other friends but not me i tried the taken the phone i tried grounding punishment etc nothing worked

  7. Sandra Cunningham says:

    This is really bull crap, teens these days are very disrespectful because they have an entitlement issue and think their parents owe them something.. I have never treated my mother the way my 14 year treat me.. he needs to go to juvenile hall and find out how good he really has it. I would like to know how to get him into the program..

  8. May says:

    I’m a single mom of a 15 year old son he’s been recently diagnosed with emotional/defiant disorder he’s on medication and in therapy yet when he doesn’t get his way he curses me out saying things like he wishes I die i took his phone away and he threatened if I don’t give it back he’ll call child services I ignored his threats so he told his therapist I punched him in his face even though the therapist knew it was a lie he told me he had to call child protective services how I’m i to cope with this its breaking my heart

  9. Rosa W. says:

    I have a 15 years old boy that I adopted 1 year ago in July 2017. I had him at age 10 and he was such a considerate, sweet, and nice young man. I have noticed a big change in his attitude. He has become very defiant, stealing, disrespectful, running a away for days at a time, fornication with girls some even younger than 10, profanity, anger issues, depression, and suicidal ideation. This child is disrespectful to adults and authority figures. His school grades has declined, his attendance at school is horrible. He has the ” I don’t care” attitude. Now he is confined to an evaluation center and he is acting out there, too. What is happening to this child where he is not listening or obeying anyone. He supposed to be returning home the first week in December and I’m not sure he or I will be ready for his return.

  10. A.P. says:

    This is a good read , but more solutions would be great.
    I have a child that is all of the above and does. NOT respondcomply with / to consequences , and is consequently almost never awarded privileges, hence Not caving. If you at some point do not meet the challenging behavior , although it is conclusively unproductive , they assume you will take the bullying. Therapy was not effective in our case , and we had a top of the line specialist for his behavioral and emotional coping issues
    Polite reinforcement is looked upon as a joke. Asking a single time or with a reminder to do something is not successful – and of course nagging leads to a battle. spanking is out at this age but was a joke at best early on. This child became this way as a result of a life with an alcoholic father and a single parent court order with no visitation with mom.
    He doesn’t even know why he’s angry anymore , not caring and causing chaos keeps him from being emotional otherwise.

  11. Wesley Gales says:

    Solid advice.those who have made previous comments have covered the bases.our reading early in the morning says that we are all dealing with very similar issues..and here I thought I was alone..I will try to use this guidance..words well spoken..thanks

  12. Mattha says:

    My daughter is 13 years in grade 6 and an A student, recently I was made aware that she is not writing her class work, and she is starting to lie more often. She said her books were missing and I discovered that she was lying too. She doesn’t behave badly at school my worry is that she is going to repeat her grade if she doesn’t change soon. Please advise what to do.

    • Barbara Tatarcuk says:

      My daughter did the same at age 10 in 5th grade. The lying, the hiding the teachers requirements from me, book report due dates, etc. After conferences with the teacher we caught on to her. Later on, I found out from other mothers of students in her class that many of the kids in her class are all doing the same thing and getting Fs on tests. Blowing off home work, too. My conclusion:….at this age, they are all on the cell phone, tablet, internet and interested only in friends, crushes, technology. I personally think its a normal stage in the tween years. As parents, our we are responsible to teach our children the love of God and the ten commandments. Instill this in them while they are still young (before 13). They go through their wayward teenage years, but hopefully the Rock of The LORD God will keep them on the path of life. Otherwise, if they have no values/morals and and are not taught the Truth: the difference between right and wrong, then they come to the false belief that there is no God, and they themselves are the highest authority, and they don’t respect authority in general and come to believe that nothing really matters, therefore, anything goes!

  13. Harmony says:

    Thank you! This came to me exactly when needed. Your article gave us reminders of what we intuitively know and in line with other helpful info we have gathered. Your article helped to bring some clarity to how we wanted to respond to our 13 y/o son about behaviors that took a peak and a situation that took place 2nights ago. Last night we addressed it.
    The interaction was heated but maintained self control as parents.
    There is peace in the house again.
    Your article made a difference.
    Thank you!!👍👍✌️

  14. Angeline Smith patey says:

    Thanks for the advice it’s helped to make things more clear. I will try your strategies and see how I get on. This blog has also made clear how my own behaviour can make the situation worse than what it needs to be because it’s true that emotions get in the way at times.

  15. Helen says:

    My great niece is cursing in front of other adults, and curses at her mom. The psychiatrist said to let her do and say her expression, (at least that is what my niece is telling everyone). Can somebody tell me this is a thing, to let your 14 year old daughter curse bad words, let her boyfriend stay over and allow her to stay at his home?? I know she had suicide thought, and was in a center for a few days, but is this the answer for a child that as my niece says (We want to let Autumn grow up to be her own person so we don’t tell her no or correct her, we let her figure things out) no punishment was ever given to her. So please someone tell me if this is true cause I don’t think I can stand the (F) word coming from her mouth again without placing a bar of soap in it!!

    • Perry says:

      Since you are not the parent your options are limited to being an advisor or coach to your niece. If her parents refuse to apply the discipline recommended in this website then they are choosing to let her learn “the hard way” about how her words to others cause negative consequences to herself. Becoming her own person does not require loosing friends, family, and even future employment due to her offensive behavior. You can have talks with her following the steps and concepts listed on this site. Be a positive roll model. Also, remember that all of us learn from our experience but being coached before hand will greatly speed up that learning process.

    • Sandra Cunningham says:

      That is just rediculous. Her parents need counseling if they are allowing this.. she needs to be respectful to everyone.

  16. I believe kids today need mentors and other adults that really believe in them. A lot of parents are working, and kids don’t always get to have life conversations with them.

    I was lucky because my dad was a firefighter, so he had every other day off and would be at home. I remember my brother and I being able to talk to him about stuff like peer pressure, sticking up for other kids, bullying, and other life things… even the birds and the bees (that was an awkward conversation!).

    If kids have a couple extra adults in their life that can mentor them and believe in them, I think they will avoid bad decisions and they will have a much better chance to succeed.

    And if you’re a busy parent or a single parent, even just a 5 minute conversation about life skills could make a huge difference. https://www.preparemykid.com

  17. Wanda Parsons says:

    This post confirms my thoughts on dealing with my niece. I recently gained custody of her due to the death of my brother. The mother is incarcerated. This child has feelings of anger, grief, relief (she had wanted to live with me for a few years now due to bad home environment), guilt, and other emotions. However, I cannot allow her to get away with lies or disrespect. If you have any ideas on dealing with the gamut of emotions she has, please share. Keep up the good advice.

    • Janine says:

      Hi Wanda…I do not have any advice and it seems like this website has a lot of great stuff. I feel like an “amateur parent” and am navigating a lot or conflict and mediating some “intentional rebellion and power struggles”
      With my teen daughter.

      It sounds like you have a lovely niece who loves you very much – since you disclosed about her wanting to live with You – I am sorry about the passing of your brother.

      I just wanted to encourage you in your new role as “stand in MOM”. What a beautiful thing. I hope you get this message meant to encourage you – because sometimes that is all we need – a listening ear that does not judge! I recommend you stay connected with adults you admire and who are raising healthy teens – keep your niece active and involved…perhaps seek out some grief programs or read online about “grief relating to loss of parent” – she is experiencing loss through death and loss through gap or neglect.

      I Iive in Toronto Canada and am not sure of the resources you have in your community where you live.

      I am a big believer in prayer and staying connected with a beautiful church – with supportive people and resources – and a small group to join for support – through church is helpful.

      Surround yourself with loving people and give loving boundaries and make sure to love your niece. Ask for strength when you pray and it will show up in miraculous ways re patience or courage to “parent with consequences”.

      Many blessings for your journey. Another idea is to really just spend at least an hour a week doing something different and memorable – make it consistent and insist it happens…it could be as simple as …you fill in the blanks.

      Don’t let anger and despair take over – look for “the best” and avoid temptations and traps to complain or to feel resentful…these are warnings that “ugly is around the corner”. You can’t be a perfect parent but you can do your best. Oh, and get lots of rest..take time to rest and to take care of you – by doing a hobby and stopping the to-do list so you can be filled.

      Teens tend to empty our wallets and patience…so fill up beforehand…through prayer, people , hobbies and take time for JOy. – looking for ways to celebrate beautiful Things…all the best and many blessings!

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