Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: Is it Too Late for My Teen’s Behavior to Change?

Posted July 30, 2009 by

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If you’re dealing with a teenager, you probably have had a moment (if not many) when you ask yourself, “Is it too late?”  I think it’s fair to say that parents of teenagers feel a tremendous amount of powerlessness and pressure.  It’s almost as if they view their child turning 18 as some final deadline in their job as a parent; often, panic ensues and they don’t possibly see how the task of parenting will be completed in the amount of time they have left.  And blame follows panic, because many people mistakenly think it must somehow be about their own failure as a parent if their child isn’t showing signs of becoming a responsible adult.

I can understand why parents of teenagers feel like it might be too late.  Let’s face it:  They’re discouraged, it’s been a long road with their kids and they’ve not only put in endless hours, but they’ve undeniably invested themselves completely — emotionally and financially.  They’re exhausted from the history of putting in those hours but they’re likely working overtime at this point because of the time crunch.  And let’s not forget frustration — teenagers engage in risky behaviors and are typically very resistant and defiant.  Basically that boils down to a parent feeling like their kid is out of control. They wonder, “How am I supposed to deal with this crazy teenager?!”

That brings us back to the question of “Is is too late?”  There really is no question in my mind that we humans have the ability to learn new skills at any time. I especially love when the news will highlight a 90 year old who has just graduated from college.  Even though teenagers can truly appear to be crazy at times, realize they’re not exempt from that reality.  I think James Lehman speaks to this perfectly in one of his articles when he states, “It’s not ‘Can kids change?’ that is the question, it’s how they change and why they change that matters.”

What I’d like to see parents avoid is telling themselves that their child won’t change because they’re too old.  Keep in mind that when you tell yourself that, you’re just reinforcing that part of yourself that believes your child can’t and won’t change.  And thinking that way will prove to be a huge block to discussing and discovering new ways to help your child learn the skills that they need in life.  If you can avoid thinking that age is what makes your own situation unique and one that’s beyond fixing, you’re simply so much closer to making those changes happen.

Remember, change isn’t easy. It’s a process filled with many twists and turns.  For all the parents who are trying to prepare their teens for the world out there, make sure you balance your job of being a parent with other things that are important.  Think of it this way, when you used to have a really important test coming up, how effective was it to have an all night cram session?  More importantly, being a parent doesn’t end when your child turns 18 — it just changes. Your child doesn’t need to magically transform into a full fledged adult on the day of their 18th birthday. For both you and your child, it will remain an ongoing process.


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Jim: Thank you for your questions. We feel that it’s very important to teach kids more effective problem-solving skills so we really recommend that you focus on that in this case. When you are feeling that you can talk calmly with your child, have a conversation about what happened. Start off by asking what he or she was thinking right before taking the object. What was the reason for it? Notice we are using “what” not “why.” Briefly reiterate why it’s not okay to steal and who stealing hurts. Then, discuss what your child can do differently next time he or she is in this situation such as leave the store, call you and talk to you about what’s going on, or avoid the store altogether. Restrict the electronics until your conversation is done and your child has written a summary of it. I assume there are some legal consequences so there is no need for you to do more than I have suggested—let the court handle the rest. Here is an article James Lehman wrote about stealing where he does address shoplifting. I know all of this is easier said than done. We wish you luck. Take care.

  2. Jim Report

    Do you have any articles that deal with a teen ager 12-15yrs old who gets caught stealing from a local department store? What do we need to expect and how to deal with it without totally destroying the child?

  3. Carole Banks Report

    Dear ‘mamalow’:

    We’re so sorry to hear about this situation. One thing to keep in mind is that James Lehman states that the symptoms of mental illness must be under control before you can use the techniques in the Total Transformation program. He also says it’s really important for kids with these types of challenges to learn the skills necessary to succeed.

    It may be that the first thing that needs to happen in your situation is to encourage your daughter to seek the mental health treatment she needs to help her manage her moods and OCD. Encourage her to find a therapist that she feels more comfortable working with. Let her know if you are willing to help her make and get to appointments. You might try learning all you can about the symptoms of her illnesses to help her to understand that treatment is available.

    If her behavior escalates so that she is unable to control herself during angry outbursts, call the number for crisis services in your area. You can also call 2-1-1 and talk to the United Way to determine what services are available to you.

    We wish your family the best and hope you will keep in touch with us.

  4. mamalow Report

    My 16 year old daughter continually tells me she hates me. She only speaks to me when she needs something. She goes through bouts of depression, anger, anxiety, has panic attacks and is OCD. She went to a psychologist once, but refuses to go back. She said it makes her anxiety worse when she talks about it. Her angry outbursts are getting worse, throwing and breaking things! Any ideas?

  5. PGarrison Report

    It was great to read this endorsement of lifelong growth and development! I am a firm believer that it is always possible to change, and that we can continually have an impact on our teens. I’m not saying it’s easy…it’s unbelieveably hard, and confusing, and exhausting. But when I’ve stepped back, tried to remember what it was like being a teenager, and then shifted my approach, it has been surprisingly effective. Then again, it’s never done. The next day, could feel like we’re right back at square one.

  6. George12 Report

    I have a 19 yr old and a 20 yr old. They both have completed technical schooling and have the skills, and ability to get a job. They both have debt that they need to pay and neither of them want to. In fact my 19 yr old told me the other day, if I don’t see it or hear from them then it will go away. I tried explaining to them that it doesn’t go away and that in the future it will hamper them getting a loan for a home or a car. They both live away from home, the 20 yr old doesn’t work just plays video games all night and sleeps all day, the 19 yr old, works part-time but that doesn’t even pay enough for rent, insurance and food. As a parent I just don’t understand the lack of not wanting to pay your bills, have your own space and do your own thing. What can I do to help them see that they need to care!

  7. BlnkFanMom Report

    Dear Nurseethics,
    Please do not stop communicating, I’m going through the same thing with my 21 yr. old. Judging from her list of accomplishments she’s pretty bright and has the ability to see the ‘big picture’ in terms of what she wants out of life. Being able to understand what kind of person she wants to be is something that’s a little more involved. Apparently you’ve done superb job so far, now she is looking to you for fine tuning. Don’t let her down, show her that she’s not wrong about her looking to you as a mentor. Now is not the time to lose your cool. Hang in there be the glowing example that she has admired and imulated up this point. She just testing her perameters.

  8. nurseethics Report

    I have created my own monster. I am a 58 year old RN who has been trying to successfully manage my personality disorder for years. Often times my anger, guilt, and shame over-take me (divorce). My 16 year old daughter raises her voice to me (I raise mine to her), she snaps at me, she always has to add a negative adjective to remarks. I see red, raise my voice, she raises hers, and the battle goes on. I am parenting exactly as I feared I would. She is a 4.0 GPA, cheerleader, music, friends, and works a part-time job to maintain her car.
    It is our interaction with one another that is destroying our mother-daughter relationship, and I am responsible for it. She stated to me “well, take a look at my mentor.” So now, rather than talk with her, I avoid. It is easier to just stay to myself with my own thoughts. Any tools for me or words of wisdom would be appreciated.

  9. amissvilleva Report

    I have identical twins that have been accepted to a US service academy for college. When arriving one twin took on the challenge the other didn’t make it through indoetrination and came home. Rather than face up to her fears or felling she is acting out verbally and emotionally and is not addressing the situation. She does not want to talk about it at all, and throws tantrums when I try to hold her accountable. She has the oportunity to return next year if she gets her act together. How do I get Her to see she’s giving up a $300,000 scholarship to things her way the hard way. We are now requiring her to pay for her education which is a challenge she is prepared for and will have to work and go to school at the same time. I fear she is effecting her twin who is may want to come home also. They miss each other teribbly. They have such potential leaving would be such a wast.



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