Dealing with Defiance: Tips for parents of teenagers

So, the adolescent years of your whippersnapper are upon you? Something I’m sure you have been looking forward to since your offspring was just a cute little infant that made googly eyes at you all day. It can almost be expected that your child’s adolescent years will bolster a few speed bumps along the way, but for some parents the few speed bumps are more along the lines of a barricaded roadblock. So how do you, as a parent, deal with your defiant teen? Well, there are a few simple tips that may help improve the relationship, but first let me tell you a little bit about your teen…

The teenage years can be a difficult period of transition from childhood into adulthood. Teens are trying to make sense of the world around them, and trying to find their place in it. The teenage years are full of exploration and experiencing. Teens want to gain freedom and control over their life; a natural instinct to help prepare them for the future and for the real world they are about to face. They want to make their own choices, make their own mistakes, and (hopefully) learn on their own from trial and error. Our instinct as parents is to protect our children. This protection leads to making choices for your child so they don’t get in harm’s way. Making these choices for your child can lead to your teen feeling like they don’t have control over their own life. Here are a few simple tips that may help improve the relationship and decrease defiance…

Mutual respect:

Believe it or not, your teen is also a human being and desires respect from others just as you do. You know the saying “treat others the way you wish to be treated”? Well that goes for your teen too. Show your teen that you respect them as a person, and that you respect their exploration of autonomy. In addition, explain to your teen that with mutual respect, comes them having to respect you as a parent. How can this be achieved? Sit down and create a contract together. The contract should outline each of your expectations that you can mutually agree upon (yes, you and your teen can come to a mutual agreement, it’s called finding common ground). A contract eliminates any gray areas and holds everyone accountable to what has been agreed upon.

Give your teen more freedom:

Most of us know about the Forbidden Fruit Theory, so it should come as no surprise when your teen does the exact opposite when you tell them to do something. When something is “forbidden” from us, we have a natural tendency to gravitate towards that very thing. It’s the danger, the thrill, and the mystery behind it that makes it so desirable. So when you tighten the reigns on your teen, their natural instinct is to head full-bore in the other direction. Regardless of what you tell your teen they can and cannot do, if they REALLY want to do it, they’re going to. When you give your teen the freedom to explore, it takes away the thrill of the forbidden fruit. The forbidden fruit becomes…well, just fruit. Now, I’m not saying throw out all guidelines (see the Be Reasonable paragraph), I’m simply suggesting giving your teen some more freedom. So how do you accomplish this AND keep you teen safe? When you give your teen freedom, they are less likely to go to extremes because they won’t feel the need to “go all out” while they have the opportunity. They’ll test the waters before jumping in, and explore more responsibly.

Be reasonable:

Be reasonable! When you are setting up a contract with your teen (refer to the Mutual Respect paragraph), set age appropriate guidelines and consequences. For example, a 7pm curfew is not very reasonable for a 17 year old. However, a curfew of 11pm or 12am would be perfectly reasonable for that age. Also be reasonable with your consequences. If your teen’s curfew is 11pm and they come home at 11:15pm, give them an appropriate consequence; don’t just give them the most sever consequence outlined in the contract. You cannot predict every circumstance that may arise, so you have to be able to be flexible to the occasion and set a reasonable consequence.

Follow through:

From my experience working with defiant teens and young adults, one of the top reasons for defiance is due to lack of follow through by the parents. If you set a boundary, or a consequence, follow through with it! If your teen knows the consequence for an action and chooses to do so anyways, you need to stick to your end of the bargain and follow through with some sort of consequence.  I have heard so many times from teens, “Well I know my parents won’t actually follow through with that”. The sad part is, sometimes the teen is right. Parents may say there is a consequence but don’t actually enforce it. If you do this, your teen will not respect you and you are making it ten times harder on yourself for the next time when you actually want to enforce the consequences.

Talk to your teen:

Please parents, I beg you, throw out the saying “because I said so”. That will not get you anywhere with your defiant teen. Your teen is smarter than you may think; they are looking for a logical explanation as to WHY and simply because you said so does not provide any explanation or logic. Your teen can learn a lot from you if you sit down and talk to them. Tell them about your personal experiences, or others that you have seen, and explain why you are suggesting they should or should not do something. As a parent, your job is to help guide and support your teen which involves educating them on things they cannot learn in school. Whether your teen decides to do something or not is their choice, but you can help prepare them by sharing your knowledge.


The best thing you can do as a parent with a defiant teen is to try to foster a healthy relationship built on honesty and mutual respect. You need to be able to be honest with your teen, tell them why you are making suggestions and educate them on life lessons you have learned. You also need to respect that your teen is seeking autonomy and let them make choices of their own. When you demonstrate honesty and respect for your teen, it sets an example for your teen to follow in your footsteps and demonstrate honesty and respect towards you. Creating an open relationship can allow for your teen to feel safe coming to you with questions or problems. When all these outer layers and walls have been broken down, you have an opportunity to really get through to your teen.