Why Teens Misbehave

Parenting is challenging under the best of circumstances. But when our children and teens misbehave it can be particularly frustrating, especially if the negative behavior persists. 

At TreeHouse we utilize an Adlerian Approach to address misbehavior both in our work with teens, and as we provide educational support to parents. What is especially helpful about this approach is that our feelings provide us with cues as to the type of misbehavior we are dealing with. 

Once the misbehavior is identified you can determine a simple plan of action to address the behavior. 

This first chart helps us to identify the goals of misbehavior by identifying your feelings, what you typically do, and how your teen responds. This will help name the goal of misbehavior. Note that the “flip side” is identified as well. This the way to address the behavior proactively.

 How does teen usually respond?


 Identifying the Goals of Teen Misbehavior
 How do you feel?
 What do you usually do?
How does teen usually respond?
Goals of misbehavior  "Flip Side" of the goals
 Annoyed  Remind, nag, coax
 Stops temporarily. Later, misbehaves again.  
 Attention Involvement
 Angry, threatened
Punish, fight back, give in
Continues to misbehave, defies you, or does what you've asked slowly or sloppily
 Very hurt, angry
 Get back at teen, punish
Misbehaves even more, keeps trying to get even
 Revenge  Fairness
 Hopeless, like giving up
 Give up, agree that teen is helpless
 Does not respond or improve
 Displaying inadequacy
 Being competent

The next chart addresses how to deal with the goals of misbehavior for your teen. It identifies the goal, provides examples, steps you can take, and affirms ways to encourage positive goals and beliefs. 

These simple changes can revolutionalize the way you parent and provide you with practical help to improve your teen’s behavior and help them engage with life more positively.  

Dealing with the Goals of Teen Misbehavior
 Examples of misbehavior
 What can you do?
Ways to encourage positive goals and beliefs

 Active: Clowning, minor mischief, unique dress

Passive: Forgetting, not doing chores, expecting to be waited on

Don't give attention on demand. Ignore when possible. Don't wait on teen. Give positive attention other times.
 Notice when teen contributes. Show appreciation for positive behavior.

Active: Disobeying, demanding, shouting

Passive: Being stubborn, ignoring you

Refuse to fight or give in. Withdraw from power contest. If possible, leave room. Let consequence occur for teen.
Let teen make decisions. Express confidence in teen.

 Active: Being rude, saying hurtful things, being violent

Passive: Staring hurtfully at others

Refuse to feel hurt or angry. Don't hurt teen back. At other times, work to build trust. Help teen feel loved.
 Be as fair as you can. Treat teen as equal. Respect others so teen has this model.
Displaying inadequacy
 Passive only: Quitting easily, not trying, escaping with drugs or alcohol
 Do not pity. Stop all criticizing. Notice all efforts, no matter how small. Don't give up on teen.
 Focus on teen's strengths, talents. Notice when teen makes wise choices. Encourage teen.


Dinkmeyer, Don, Gary D. McKay, and Joyce L. McKay.  Parenting Teenagers Systematic Training for Effective Parenting of Teens.  New York:  Step, 2007.  Print.