Parenting an adolescent often feels like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. Since they’re going through physical and emotional changes, they’re more prone to emotional outbursts, aggression, impulsivity and risk taking. They experience and respond to life way more intensely than adults and this can lead to self-destructive behaviors.
Teens who lack positive coping strategies and stable support from their parents, families and friends often end up using self-destructive behaviors as a way of coping with the emotional upheaval brought about by the developmental challenges of adolescence.
Some of the most common self-destructive behaviors in teens include alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders, promiscuity, gambling, rebellion towards authority as well as acts of self-mutilation e.g. cutting. These activities make them a danger to themselves and others around them.
If your teen is grappling with this, it is important to understand that these acts are only symptoms of an underlying problem. Self-destructive behavior often points to a deeper unresolved traumatic or painful issue that your child is yet to identify, process and come to terms with. Dealing with the root cause of the resentment, impulsivity, anger and rage will go a long way towards healing your teenager.
Dos And Don’ts
You should also understand that your troubled teen might interpret your efforts to help as unnecessary judgment and criticism. Though well-intentioned, your assistance might be met with more anger and hostility.
Dealing with a self-destructive teen can seem like navigating a maze. Here are some dos and don’ts that can help:
Minimize or invalidate their feelings or self-harming by saying they’re just doing it to get attention. This behavior is a cry for help and you should pay attention.
Try to motivate your teen to change their behavior by guilt-tripping them. This only creates more guilt and feeds their self-destructive tendencies.
Turn into a helicopter parent by constantly going through their stuff or intrusively checking them for signs of self-mutilation. This will not only leave you tired and exhausted but will also have no impact on their habits.
Try to be your teen’s therapist as you lack the objectivity and skills for this role.
Let your teen know that you love them and will support them regardless of the challenges they’re going through.
Show your care and concern for your teen by discussing their problems in an honest and compassionate manner, free from criticism and judgment.
Get professional help for your teen by enrolling them in a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens. Such institutions have the requisite experience and staff to help your teen get over his self-destructive behavior.
Participate as much as you can in any family therapy sessions or other activities included in your teen’s therapeutic treatment program.
Finally, don’t forget to get adequate care and support to enable you to process your own feelings and set firm boundaries in order to regain and retain your emotional health.