Parents of troubled teens may feel as though their teen is using extreme behaviors or going into “crisis mode” as a means of manipulation. They may feel frustrated and not want to “give in” to their teen’s behavior by giving their teen the desired attention or object. Many parents are afraid of reinforcing crisis behavior and their kid goes without their needs being fulfilled. However, without focusing on why the teen is being manipulative, we may be missing out on learning opportunities that can be highly reinforcing for the teen. We might be missing out on what the behavior of manipulation is attempting to communicate: “I have an unmet need.”
When our needs are unmet, we may feel a loss of control over our environment. For teenagers, they may not yet understand how to ask for what they want or need. They may not even fully understand what they need or struggle in communicating what their wants are. Manipulation is often a way of controlling the environment when a teen feels like they are in a crisis. They may not know any other way of getting what they want and they go into a crisis to get their needs met. While we may want to be strong parents and not “give in” to our teen’s manipulation, we also do not want to miss out on helping them understand how to properly get their needs met.
When a teen feels the need to control their environment by manipulation, they may already be in a crisis. The manipulation is their way of communicating that they fear losing control or have already lost control. When a crisis is occurring, a teen may use manipulation to get themselves out of a crisis or avoid a crisis situation. Conversely, when our kids are being manipulative, they are expressing that they are already in a crisis and this is their only way out. When we see manipulation, a crisis may be occurring or when we see a crisis, we might expect some sort of manipulation. Troubled teens may be engaging in dangerous behaviors like drug and alcohol use, cutting, or promiscuity as a way of expressing that they have unmet needs.
Struggling With Manipulation and Power Struggles
Dealing with manipulation can be difficult. No one likes to feel like they are being “played” or that someone else is “getting the upper hand.” Manipulation feels unfair and makes us as parents feel like our authority is not being taken seriously. When we get into “power struggles,” we can miss out on understanding what is being said by teens using manipulative behaviors. “Power struggles” occur when our need to be authoritative is challenged or our control of the situation feels threatened. When we get into power struggles as our teens are in a crisis, we may be missing our opportunity to teach our teens appropriate ways of getting what they want. We can avoid power struggles by focusing on finding compromises with our teens.
Compromising in a Crisis
When we see manipulation or crisis occurring, we can get through the situation with patience and understanding. Our teens may be lacking in the skills necessary to get their needs or expectations met. Try to keep these conflict resolution steps in mind when facing a crisis:
1.) Stay Calm
By remaining calm when our teen is getting upset, we can prevent further escalation of the crisis. We may need to take deep breaths or, if our partner is available, “switch out” when we need a break.
Teach our kids to remain calm as well. They may be experiencing a heightened state of fear during this time. We can try calming activities with our kid, like taking deep breaths or counting down slowly from ten.
2.) State How We Feel and Why
We can offer our own perspective on the situation by stating how we feel in “I”-statements (“I feel ______ because ______”)
Encourage our teens to offer their perspective and state how they feel.
3.) Look for Possible Solutions
We can brainstorm solutions to helping our teen get their needs met once we have taken time to understand what is happening from their perspective.
We can role-model on how to find solutions and also encourage our teens to find their own solutions.
4.) Agree on a Compromise
Once we brainstorm solutions, agree to a compromise.
We can reinforce the work completed in resolving the situation with verbal praise, like “Great job working this out!” or “I’m proud of you for coming up with solutions!”
We need to follow through with the compromise! Otherwise, our teen may not trust this process.
When our teens are using manipulative behaviors, they are most likely already in a crisis. We can use this moment to teach them skills in how to state their needs, create solutions, and compromise.
Fire Mountain understands that dealing with manipulation can be difficult and make us feel like we have no control as parents. When teens or children are using manipulation, they are most likely in a state of crisis and need our help to find solutions. We can use this as an opportunity to teach important problem-solving skills, like brainstorming solutions and agreeing to compromises. Often when we see manipulation happening, our kids are attempting to control their environment. A lack of control can often cause or be the result of being in “crisis mode.” Remain calm during this time and try not to react to the behavior but to what the behavior is communicating. Fire Mountain is here to help parents and teens struggling with problematic behaviors. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.