No one enjoys being manipulated by their partner, friends, or coworkers. We often develop a keen sense of awareness of what manipulation may look like by those around us. But we also usually don’t think that manipulation could be coming from within our very own family.
The adolescent years can see your children changing in many emotional and physical ways. They also begin to develop their own identity. A part of this may involve questioning some of the values you’ve worked hard to instill.
Even in the best of moments and circumstances, rapid mood swings and disagreements may become a reality for parents of a teen going through this turbulent phase. It can often prove difficult to tell the difference between what is considered to be typical teen moodiness and to act out and behavior that is much more of a concern, like manipulation.
What might manipulative behavior look like? How can you address it? We’ve got tips to help you.
Identifying manipulative behavior in your teen
Are you unsure whether the behavior that you’re seeing in your teen is manipulative? Manipulation can take on different forms based on several factors, including the gender of your teen. Teen girls may take a different approach to manipulate their parents than teen boys.
There are a few commonalities that you may see across the board, including the following:
- Emotional blackmail could include trying to guilt-trip parents or others into doing what they want. Teens may try to make parents feel guilty if they set boundaries or establish consequences.
- Bullying is closely connected to emotional blackmail. Teens may browbeat and try to bully those around them into doing what they want.
- Playing parents and other caregivers against one another.
- Lying. Manipulative teens will often skirt the truth or tell outright lies to get their way.
- Playing the victim. While both teen boys and girls can take this action, it’s seen more in teen girls. Refusing to accept responsibility can become a concern both at school and at home.
- Retaliation. If teens don’t get their way, they may respond with retaliation. This could mean saying hurtful things, giving parents silent treatment, and showing explosive or angry behaviors and outbursts. Hurting siblings or causing property damage.
- Making threats to hurt themselves. In some more extreme situations, your teen may threaten to harm themselves, or they may speak about suicide. While it could be a manipulation tactic, parents must seriously take these expressions and threats. If you believe your teen has hurt themselves or has taken something, don’t hesitate to call law enforcement for help or rush them to the emergency room. Get immediate help from mental health professionals.
Once you’ve identified the manipulative behavior, you can start to work on steps to remove it from your family.
What could be causing manipulative behavior from your teen?
In order to better understand where your teen’s manipulative behavior could be coming from, it can be a good idea to give thought to some of the possible causes of the behavior. Of course, your teen’s situation will differ from the situation faced by another family, but some of the common causes include the following.
- Changes in the household dynamic, which could include a separation, divorce, or a new adult coming into the home.
- New siblings or step-siblings coming into the home.
- Moving to a new city, home, or school.
- Conflicts between siblings and friends.
- Having a hard time with schoolwork and other responsibilities.
- Being bullied by peers or adults in their life.
- A traumatic experience that they haven’t been able to work through.
It can prove challenging to truly identify the cause of your teen’s manipulative behavior. Take the time to speak with your teen’s teachers, school counselor, coaches, and other adults in their life.
Handling a manipulative teen
If you’ve realized that your teen is trying to manipulate you, you may feel various emotions. You could feel betrayed, angry, confused, sad, and frustrated. Addressing the manipulative behavior is the best way forward for you to work through those mixed emotions. Just how do you do that?
- Establish boundaries
- Remain calm and patient
- Communicate constantly
- Remain consistent
- Immediately address situations when boundaries are crossed
- Enforce established consequences
- Respect the personal boundaries your teen sets
- Avoid rewarding manipulative behavior
Take the time to work on building your relationship with your teen. This will take time and effort from both of you. Teens often resort to manipulative behavior because they aren’t getting their needs met. If you can focus on rebuilding a positive and healthy relationship with your teen, you may find that the situation starts to improve.
- Spend more time together doing things that he enjoys
- Check in with him regularly to see how he is doing
- Validate his feelings
- Respect his boundaries
- Be the example of positive behavior that you want to see
- Focus less on punishing poor behavior and rather on positive reinforcement
Presenting a united front with consistent consequences
One of the problems parents face with manipulative teens is that they often try to pit parents against one another. You may find that your teen is manipulating your spouse but taking a completely different approach with you. This does have the potential to cause friction in a relationship.
Your teen needs to be aware that trying to manipulate parents and pit them against one another is unacceptable. Be firm and open when you communicate with them about their behavior and the consequences of their poor behavior. Try to take a calm and caring approach so that your teen doesn’t feel attacked.
Discuss the situation with your parenting partner to ensure you are both on the same page when it comes to your teen’s manipulative behavior.
A family meeting might help ensure that everyone in the household understands the rules of the house and the potential repercussions of breaking those rules. The consequences should be constructive and age-appropriate for every child and teen in the home.
Be consistent and follow through. If you and your parenting partner don’t present a united front and enforce the consequences that you’ve established, you may be encouraging the manipulative behavior of your teen.
Be aware that if you don’t address your teen’s manipulative behavior, you may be inadvertently establishing a pattern that holds the potential to impact their future relationships.
Getting professional help
Your teen’s manipulative behavior may respond to one or more underlying issues that they are struggling with. Suppose your attempts to address their manipulation are unsuccessful, or your teen is open with you about what they are struggling with. In that case, this might be the right time to get help from professionals trained and experienced with manipulative teens.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and upset when struggling with your teen’s manipulative behavior. Part of it may be a regular aspect of their emotional development, and it may be something that they outgrow in time with the proper guidance and therapy.
By being aware of the situation, you have taken an excellent first step towards finding a solution that will work for your teen and other family members.