What to Do When Your Teen’s Behavior Feels Out of Control

“She’s a rebel, she’s a saint. She’s the salt of the earth and she’s dangerous.” The song blares through my headphones as I jog after my kids.

I smile at the description because it reminds me of how I pushed boundaries and social norms back in my day. But my years of rebelling seem so innocent compared to rebellious teens these days.

It’s one thing to stage a protest about getting the car taken away, it’s an entirely different ball game when your teen takes the car and drives to another town.

So what do you do, when your teen feels so out of control?

What Are the Signs of a Troubled Teenager?

It’s normal for teens to fail to do their chores, to put off completing their homework, to be emotional, listen to loud music, and act like being around the parental units in public is mortifying.

That’s all pretty typical behavior as they learn to become interdependent adults. It’s also not normal to have failing grades, acting defiant, running away, or even self-imposed isolation.

But according to “Is My Teen’s Behavior Normal,” rebellious behavior includes angry outbursts, extreme disrespect to people, property, and rules.

“Teenage rebellion is an act of highest assertion of independence and little adherence to parental advice during the teen years of a child’s life. It leads to intense confrontation between the teen and her parents,” according to pediatrician Dr. Claudia M. Gold.

So why do teens rebel?

There are multiple reasons, in his book, Losing Control & Liking It, Youth Specialist, Tim Standford says:

Your teenager is in the process of moving away from you. Therapists have a term for this: developmental individuating. It means your child is doing the following:

  • disconnecting
  • leaving the nest
  • becoming his own person
  • growing independent
  • becoming a free moral agent

But teenage rebellion happens for several reasons. Here are 3 of the most common:

What Makes Teenagers Rebellious?

1. The Brain Is Still Developing

Science suggests the brain develops and doesn’t reach full maturity until the mid-twenties. This means teens do not have a full understanding of choices leading to certain consequences. Dr. Cara Patterson suggests talking with your teen. 

She says, “In middle school or high school, the part of your brain that takes over decision making is the part that is ruled by motivations, feelings, friends,” and suggests talking to teens about their developing brain.

“The frontal and prefrontal lobes are the last to develop. These parts of the brain are responsible for judgment, insight, impulse control and executive functioning. Understanding this truth may not eliminate conflicts but it helps us parents recognize the possible root of their teen’s rebellion.” 

Romans 12:2 reminds us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

2. Their Mental Health Affects Their Choices

Teens feel as if they live in a pressure cooker now more than ever. Between COVID, social distancing, social media, social life, and the typical high school pressures, more and more teens are being diagnosed with anxiety and depression at an alarming rate. 

50% of all lifetime mental illnesses develop by age 14 and 75% develop by age 24. When they’re world is spinning out of control, we can remind them God is in control and help them make decisions to improve their mental health like seeing a Biblical counselor.

John 16:13 says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

3. They Are Becoming Their Own Person

Remember who you were at 12, 16, and 18? You probably dreamed of getting away from your parents and going to college. You dreamed of your own place and felt like your parents were holding you back.

Now that you’re on the other side, you knew your parents lovingly gave you rules and boundaries to keep you alive and to ensure you were a good human.

Right now she is struggling to find her identity and struggling for acceptance of others. She also wants attention, control, and freedom but she still wants us too.

Our goal from the day they’re born is to raise an interdependent, healthy adult by training them up in the way that they should go. This means cultivating your child’s natural abilities in order to launch them into the world but still have a good relationship with you. We want them to grow up and move out, but we want them to know their relationship with us as parents is lifelong.

Just like our Father, God, we will always be there for our children. 

Psalm 25:4-5 says, “Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

3 Things to Do When Your Teen Is Out of Control

Remember the toddler days? Remember how you thought talking your child off the ledge over a juice box she wanted to open herself was tough, the teen years are pretty much the same way.

Except they’re bigger, they can talk back, and act out in ways you never thought possible. So, what’s a parent to do when their teen is out of control?

The first step is discerning whether your child is truly out of control or if it’s normal teenage angst. 

Out-Of-Control Teen Behavior:

  • Falling/poor performance in school
  • Violent acts (fights at school/home), extreme aggression
  • Breaking laws
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Self-destructive acts

Red Flags Include: 

  • Changes in appearance/appetite/sleep patterns
  • Depression/emotional health issues
  • New set of friends that lead to negative behavioral patterns in your teen
  • Excessive isolation/aloofness
  • Repeatedly breaking laws

1. Open the Lines of Communication

It may seem hard to believe given your teen’s anger or indifference but teens still crave love, attention, and approval.

The first step to helping your teen is to open the lines of communication. Remind them you still love them and want to be around them. Remind them you are a proud parent no matter what.

It’s important they know your love is unconditional and not based on behaviors. Remember the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32?

His father loved him even after squandering his inheritance on fast cars, fast living, and fast women of their time. Mainly, the moral lesson of the prodigal son is that God still loves us when we wander. He is ready to receive sinners who come to Him in repentant faith.

Our attitude needs to be the same, but this doesn’t mean there will not be consequences for the poor choices made. 

2. Be Aware of Your Stressors, Triggers, and Emotions

When your teen is out of control, you need to take a moment and ask yourself: “Am I taking this behavior personally?” If you get angry that your teen stomps off to her room and slams the door because she knows it bothers you, you’re giving your teenager power over you.

If you take your child’s actions as a personal attack on you, it will only escalate the situation and not teach her anything. 

3. Seek Help

Anger is a tough emotion for anyone to navigate. It doesn’t matter if it’s your co-worker, neighbor, or spouse. But sometimes anger from our teens throws us for a loop.

Keep in mind however anger often masks other feelings like, sadness, hurt, fear, embarrassment, frustration, vulnerability, or shame. Seeking help from a mentor, pastor, or Biblical counselor is vital and encouraged.

The Bible reminds us we are not alone and that a nation falls for lack of guidance but victory is won through many advisors (Proverbs 11:14). The same goes for your teen.

James 1:5-6 reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

No matter how your child is behaving, remember you were an out of control teen too. We can turn the utter sense of helplessness over to God and ask for His wisdom and comfort.

Remember God loves your teen more than you do and there will always be help for you should you reach out for it. It’s our job to help our teens learn to take responsibility for their actions. The next step is to try to get your child in a position where she becomes willing to take responsibility for her behavior.

As a parent, I think you always have to ask yourself, “Where is this behavior headed? What’s next?” And then help your child get back on the right path through rules, communication, and seeking help when appropriate.

Photo Credit: ©KatarzynaBialasiewicz


Heather Riggleman is an author, national speaker, former award-winning journalist and podcast co-host of the Moms Together Podcast. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 21 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal,  Mama Needs a Time Out, and Let’s Talk About Prayer and a contributor to several books.  Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman, and Focus On the Family. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.  

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