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What Does it Take to Change a Teen's Behavior?

There's an old joke in the world of counseling.

How many counselors does it take to change a light bulb?

It only takes one... as long as the light bulb wants to change.

Many parents bring their teens to counseling and are desperately looking to "change" their teen. Often times, with the best of intentions.

The harsh reality is that teens will only change if and when they want to.

So how do you make them want to change?

It's the million dollar question.

Fortunately, these three principles are the keys to unlocking positive change in your teen.

Here's what they are.

First off, Breathe.

Take a deep breath in. Notice your feelings. What is underneath the wanting your teen to change? Is it a safety issue? Is it what your teen genuinely wants? Where is all of this pressure coming from? Why do they need to be "successful?" Why do they have to live up to the standards that were set by their older sibling?

Sometimes when you feel the pressure to push your teen to success, it becomes less about them and more about you.

You're child is quickly becoming an adult. Their outcome or success milestones that they hit is not a reflection of your parenting. Most of the time, it is more reflective of their temperament and their autonomy (freedom to choose what is valuable) more than anything.

There are a million issues that teens face. It is so easy to get overwhelmed while being pulled into all of those issues, and try and push your child to success.

Stay cool, stay focused, and stay relaxed.

Remind yourself to breathe.

Next, Serve.

Truly serve your teen.

Don't think about what you want for your teen.

Think about what do they want for themselves?

How can you help them pursue their interests and their autonomy. How can you stoke the fires of their lives into flames.

I just recently spoke with one of the parents of the teens that I serve. This particular parent completed a very meaningful and coordinated act within the family to serve the teen who was struggling. This teen felt more connected to the family, and more cared for. It made a huge emotional difference for that kid.

What makes it even more genuine is that the teen never even knew that his parent coordinated it. This parent did it all behind the scenes. These are the kind of parents who have parenting integrity. They do the right things for your teen, even when they are not looking. They don't look for a reward or praise for being "good" parents. They aren't leveraging good things they do for their child to manipulate them.

They serve for the good of their teens.

Serve your teen and see how it unlocks their potential for change.

Lastly, Connect.

Wanting your teen to change without having a good relationship is like asking a fireplace to produce warmth before the fire is lit. You can ask the fireplace to give you warmth until you are blue in the face. If you don't give it some tinder and sparks, the warmth won't come.

If you are wanting the change to come, start putting the tinder and sparks into the relationship with your teen. Connect with them on their level. Let them know that you care for them and also for the things that they care about.

If you can see the world through their eyes and connect with your teen, you will be priming the pump for positive change in their lives.


At the end of the day you cannot force your teen to change. You can push really hard for it, but sometimes pushing really hard only pushes your teen further away. Follow these three principles to help put your teen in the best position for positive change.



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