7 ‘Be’s’ for Responding to Unwanted Teenage Behavior

As I was getting ready for bed, I glanced at the spot in the kitchen where our kids charge their phones overnight. We have a rule that you cannot have your phone in your room overnight. There are a variety of reasons for this, but that’s another topic. What I noticed was that one of my daughters’ phones was missing from its station. Immediately, I felt myself getting angry. I went upstairs to her room and woke her up, confronting her immediately and telling her she’d lost her phone for a week.

As you might imagine, this didn’t go particularly well. Not everything I did was wrong, but most of it was. I’ve learned from this experience and many more that there are some critical things to keep in mind when dealing with unwanted teen behavior. Here are 7 “be’s” for responding to unwanted teenage behavior.

1. Be clear.

Brene Brown has famously said “clear is kind.” I love that and think it’s particularly true with teen behavior. We thought we had been very clear about the “no phones in the bedroom overnight” rule. However, COVID had changed a lot about how we allowed our kids to engage with technology around the house, and that had muddied up some boundaries. We needed to clarify where restrictions had been loosened and where they hadn’t. If you are frustrated with teen behavior in your home, first make sure your expectations are clear.

2. Be kind.

Speaking of kindness, sometimes, with our kids, we assume different rules of engagement than with other people. Waking my daughter up to lecture her on her disobedience wasn’t kind. It was petty. Jesus of Nazareth once said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The “others” here includes your teens. Just because I’m angry doesn’t give me the right to be a jerk to anyone, much less my teen. Even when you’re frustrated with teen behavior, work at responding with kindness.

3. Be humble.

Sometimes you don’t know what’s going on. As parents, it’s easy to assess a situation and jump to conclusions. I assumed my daughter was simply disregarding our rule because she wanted to scroll social media. I was wrong. But I had already told myself a different story, so there was no room for conversation, just accusation. When dealing with teen behavior, making assumptions always makes it worse. Be humble in your approach.

4. Be quiet.

I don’t know about you, but when situations like this happen, I spend most of my time thinking about what I’m going to say. But if I plan out my speech prior to listening to my teen, I may very well be addressing a situation that is imagined. After I went through my angry tirade, my daughter tearfully shared that she’d been struggling to sleep and had found an app on her phone that was helpful. When dealing with teen behavior, don’t begin with talking. Begin quietly, listening to what’s really going on.

Bad teen behavior isn’t an excuse for bad dad behavior.

5. Be respectful.

Did you know your teen is a person? Sometimes we forget. We treat our teens in ways we would never treat another person. I can’t imagine a scenario when I would feel it’s appropriate to wake someone up to lecture him or her. How rude and intrusive is that? And yet I did it to my daughter. Circling back to “do to others,” if we want our teens to treat us with respect, we must begin by respecting them. Bad teen behavior isn’t an excuse for bad dad behavior. If we want respect, we must first give it.

6. Be generous.

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to assume the worst motivations in others, including my teens. But what I’m learning is that if I am generous with my assumptions, assuming the best possible motivations instead of the worst, it gives me the opportunity to enter into these situations much more curiously and graciously. This prevents me from unnecessarily hurting feelings or burning bridges. And, of course, if I’m wrong, there’s still ample opportunity for correction. Approaching my daughter assuming the best would’ve helped us have a much more productive conversation. Work at responding generously even to bad teen behavior.

7. Be loving.

One of my favorite scriptures is in this tiny book called 1 Peter. It reads, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Your teen will definitely commit a multitude of sins. While she needs clarity, boundaries, and, yes, even discipline, she needs them all in the context of a deep and obviously loving relationship. That’s the response I lacked with my daughter, and what I believe these “be’s” help us move toward. When you’re responding to unwanted teen behavior, before you do or say anything, ask yourself, “What does love look like here?”

Sound off: What other “be’s” would you recommend when responding to unwanted teenage behavior?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How do you think I should respond to behavior I don’t approve of?”