Family Life

You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Dealing with Defiance

There are days when parents feel like time flies when it comes to their children. Their children were once little, full of energy, and occasionally acted up, but overall, they idolized their parents. However, once they hit their preteen years, things changed. 

As children grow into young adults, they begin to experience this need for independence. They want to do more, go to more places, see what all life has to offer them. Unfortunately, preteens are stuck at an age where they are no longer little kids, but also not yet young adults, causing a growing frustration that leads to resentment and defiance at those who they see as hindering them, their parents. This causes preteens to lash out, question decisions, and makes parents question how to address this new attitude toward them.

A Part of Development
Depending on how well-behaved children are when they were younger, the defiance and resentment coming from them as a preteen may come as a surprise to some. While some may see this change in behavior as abnormal, others may see it as their behavior continuing as it always has. But, whatever the case, what parents really need to know is that this is perfectly normal. 

In his 28 years as a Licensed Professional Counselor, Leroy Scott has seen many cases where preteens can act in defiance of their parents, and it is not always because of their behavioral issues. 

“While there are cases that can be attributed to mental illness, ADHD, birth order or parenting, defiance is generally a natural part of development. It’s a way for them to test and properly integrate into society while developing their own levels of control,” explains Scott. 

However, while this is how preteens learn to interact with the world, there is no sole parenting technique that will work for all forms of defiance a parent may see. Ultimately, it depends on the characteristics of the preteen themselves and parents learning how to address their behaviors.

Preteens Push the Limit
Though natural, this is not cause for parents to let them do whatever they please. This is also a way for them to test the boundaries to see what limits they can push, and which ones that should not be crossed. 

As a parent, it is important that you always maintain control during their moments of defiance, while also letting your preteens test their limits as well. 

“Parents need to observe what boundaries their preteens are testing,” says Scott. “In order to see why they are acting out, they need to try to understand what they want without resorting to extreme measures.” While Scott is saying that parents can’t be too hard on their preteens, they also can’t be too soft either, and they need to set boundaries. 

As a mother of two sons, Rachel Artigues had decided to set boundaries her own way to both discipline and set a standard for her sons.

“Initially, I became upset when they began to become defiant, but I realized that it couldn’t continue,” she says. “They could generally sense what they could get away with, but I couldn’t let it continue further on. I decided that when they acted up too much, I would take away things that they appreciated, like their phone and games.” 

Keith Jones, a local father to three daughters, did the same. 

“I would send them to their rooms and take away whatever privileges they had, especially the television,” he says. 

While preteens act out in defiance, parents need to establish that privileges that are given to their preteens can also be taken away from them if need be. 

Jones especially saw this with his middle daughter. “While the other two knew when they did wrong, my middle was more aggressive and pushed harder,” he says. “She liked to use the argument where if Mom told her no, she would then ask me or vice versa,” he explains. “We handled it by having both parents there to confront her and admit what she had done wrong.” 

Because his middle child was more aggressive, Jones had to adjust how he handled her defiance, like how parents may have to adjust how they handle their own preteens should they act similarly. If this doesn’t work and the preteen just won’t respect boundaries set up for them, sometimes extra help may be needed.

When to Ask for Help
“Sometimes too defiant preteens need help,” says Scott. “If needed, parents should reach out to professionals and try not to depend on systems alone, such as schools or other family members.” Sometimes extra help is needed.

Ultimately, what parents need to understand is that it is about compromise. 

“There needs to be a mutual expectation from both parents as well as the preteen,” says Scott. Both must have an expectation out of each other and respect those expectations to the best of their ability. 

“There must be a steady boundary but also mutual respect on both sides,” says Artigues. “When parents show respect to their children, this in turn teaches them to respect others.” 

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