By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.

I don’t know how to handle my teenage son’s attitude. He can be so fun when he wants to be, but other times, his attitude is the worst! I can remember being similar when I was a teen, but now as a parent, I don’t know what to do. I often wonder if I should just let it go, since ultimately he’ll grow out of it (right?!?!), or should I do more to address his moodiness? ~ Mom of a Teenage Grouch

Dear Mom,

Life with teenagers can be quite a roller coaster of emotions, for you and your child! As you mentioned, some of this is “just a phase,” just like you remember going through a similar time as a teenager yourself. However, there are steps you can take to foster a more positive connection with your teen, as well as help him to manage his emotions—and attitude—in a healthy way.

Before you address any of this with him, take a longer walk down memory lane. Try to put yourself back in your own mindset when you were a teenager, as this can help you understand more of what your son may be going through. What was it that made you grumpy back then? What was it that your parents did or said that got you upset? What was it like for you back then to be facing so many changes in your body, your friendships, and your mind? When did you feel happy and connected to your family? Spending some time thinking back on your own experiences may help you gain some more empathy for how your son is feeling, as well as offer some insights on ways that you might address this concern with him, especially as you consider how you would have liked your own parents to treat you when you were that age.

Next, spend some time building up your skills and knowledge related to parenting teens. Many parents spend lots of time reading books and web-sites before their baby is born and in the early years, and then start to just wing it as their child gets older. However, you don’t need to just make it up as you go along, and gaining more insights into parenting teens can help you understand your son and know how to respond to him. Some useful resources are offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association. Also, be sure to check out our resources on parenting teens from the Healthy Relationships Initiative, as well as our past TMoM blog post on talking with teens.

Now, equipped with new knowledge and understanding, it’s time to get practical with considering how best to address your son’s attitude toward you. Every teen is unique, so you’ll need to experiment a bit to figure out what works best for your family. However, a few helpful strategies to consider are below:

  1. Commit to choosing your battles. If you try to correct your son’s moodiness or negative attitude every single time it happens, it’s likely you’ll drive him further away and build a lot of tension between you. Try to be strategic in determining which incidents you’ll address, and which ones you may let slide.
  2. Set some limits. To help decide which incidents to address, set some absolute boundaries that you won’t allow your son to cross, such as if he reacts to his moodiness by saying hurtful or mean things to you or someone else. Once you’ve identified the lines you do not want your son to cross, make sure you explain them to him clearly so that he’ll understand.
  3. 3. Help your son understand the consequences of his behaviors. Try not to just tell your son what he can and can’t do, but instead find a time for a more in-depth discussion of the impact of his behaviors on you and the family, as well as why you are concerned about them. You may share how it makes you and others feel, as well as your concern about making sure he is growing up to be the kind of person that other people will want to be around. The key is not to focus just on immediate consequences (such as a punishment), but focus more on helping your son think critically about how he can choose to have a positive or negative impact on others. If it doesn’t seem to sink in right away, remember that you’re planting seeds that eventually will take root if you’re consistent with your message over time!

Finally, although some teen moodiness is developmentally expected, do stay mindful of any potential deeper mental health issues, and seek help if you become concerned your son may be facing depression or anxiety. Even if there are no serious mental health issues, it always can be helpful to offer teens the opportunity to speak with a counselor so they’ll have someone outside the family who can help them process the many changes and emotions they’re experiencing in this complicated phase of life.