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Two Words You May Regret: “Get Out”

Teens need boundaries, not closed doors.

Source: Ultrapro/Depositphotos
Source: Ultrapro/Depositphotos

There is no doubt about it: unruly teens can definitely push a parent’s buttons. They can be defiant, rude, disrespectful and even disobedient. Oftentimes, parents can get so worn down by their disruptive teen that the mere thought of throwing him out may bring a wave of mental and emotional relief. Many parents make the thought a reality and actually give him the boot, but is it the right thing to do?

If your teen is a minor, according to the law you can’t toss him out. In many instances, kicking him out could be classified as abandonment. Unless your teen has been emancipated (the court severs the parent’s legal obligations) you are still legally accountable for his welfare.

Aside from the legal aspect, it’s your job to be the parent and you are responsible for your teen’s safety. Sure, your teen may be pushing you to your limits, and making your sanity questionable, but does that mean it’s right to close the door in his face? Your teen needs boundaries, not closed doors. Despite the fact you’re dealing with a teen, you can’t let him take control of your emotional well-being and disrupt your home. Adolescence is difficult. Teens are exploring the world they live in and yes, even testing the limits along with yours.

So before you pack your teen’s bags and set him out the door consider doing this:

  1. Watch and listen. Take some time to explore what’s going on in your teen’s life. All behavior serves a purpose. So that means there is a reason your teen is behaving this way. Try to figure out what purpose is behind his behavior and you may hold the key to what’s going on in his life.
  2. Look for warning signs and symptoms. Have there been changes in hygiene, friends (either hanging out with different people, or pulling away from others), academic problems, substance use, or acting out impulsively and recklessly? Sometimes these changes can be signs of mental health issues. Don’t let the unruly behavior conceal a serious underlying problem.
  3. Recognize you are dealing with a teen, not an adult. Even though your teen may want to act all grown up, we have plenty of research that supports he is not. An adolescent’s brain is still developing, and processing information differently from an adult’s. The prefrontal cortex—the CEO of the brain - responsible for problem-solving, impulse control and emotional regulation is still maturing and it’s not fully developed until around the mid-20s. It’s essential to understand where your teen is emotionally and developmentally. Doing so may help you exercise more patience and flexibility in understanding why your teen is acting out.
  4. Get your teen help. You may be facing something bigger than a defiant and unruly teen. Your teen may have emotional and mental problems that may have not manifested themselves to this degree until now. For example, your teen could be depressed, struggling with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, and the list goes on and on. The behavior that’s being exhibited may be your teen’s way of crying out for help. A professional can help your teen find effective and appropriate coping skills to manage his feelings.
  5. Get professional help for the family. Too often we, as adults, want to pass problems onto our teen and neglect looking in the mirror. Parents often take their defiant teens to counselors to "fix" the disruptive behavior, and while that behavior may need to be addressed individually, more often than not, so does the environment in which they live. Be open to letting a professional help you explore the dynamics within your home.
  6. Establish boundaries. While you are trying to figure out how best to handle your teen without pulling out your hair, don’t allow him free reign of the house. Your teen needs rules and structure. Oftentimes troubled teens wear their parents down so they can get their way. As a result, they learn the tactful arts of manipulation, deception and diversion. They learn to play adults against one another and often create chaos to divert attention away from them. Don’t let yourself get caught up in a game of cat and mouse. It’s your house.
  7. Don’t give up. Your teen needs you now more than ever before. Frequently, parents take the brunt of their teen’s unruly behavior. And while your teen pushes you away, deep inside he/she is longing for love and acceptance. No matter how hard it is—hold on tight and ride out the storm.
  8. Last but not least, if your teen is completely out of control, you may have to look for alternative living arrangements. Some of these may be temporary and some may be long-term. One thing is certain, this setting isn’t the street. Think about it: if you kick your teen out, where is he going to go? Sure, he can bum nights off of friends, but that is usually short-lived. Eventually, when your teen returns home if the issues that led to the eviction haven’t been resolved, the defiant behaviors may escalate even more.

In closing, don’t make an impulsive decision you will end up regretting. Troubled youth need to feel control and stability. When those two things seem unobtainable emotions can escalate and behaviors can spiral out of control. Kicking your teen out of the house can have long-term, irreversible consequences. Is that a risk worth taking? Because once you close that door, the damage is done.

More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
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More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
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