My Teen is Making Poor Choices. What do I do?

My Teen is Making Poor Choices. What do I do?

I was on the phone with one of my close friends. She was struggling with her teen daughterElla, who keeps making choices that are not in her best interest, choices that keep getting her in trouble at school and at home. My friend was at the end of her rope.

Ella’s behavior is making her two sisters angry. They were thinking, “Why do you keep messing up? Why do you keep upsetting mom? Why can’t you just do the right thing?”. My friend has spent many hours in tears, feeling like it is all just too much. I wanted to help. Here’s what I suggested:

I said...Ella knows that she is not making the best choices for herself. She knows that she is making her sister’s angry. She knows that she is making you cry, and she is most likely beating herself up about it. She feels like a “screw up” (I might have used more colorful language).

When girls feel like all they do is mess up, make mistakes, disappoint and anger people they love, they see themselves in a one- dimensional way...as a screw up. And when they see themselves that way, they continue to operate from that place and make choices from that mindset.

I told my friend that Ella needs to hear from her that she is not a screw up, that her decisions are not the totality of who she is but only choices she made in the moment. Our choices do not need to define who we are. I told my friend that Ella needs her to help her see herself for who she really is, and she needs to be reminded daily. 

My friend asked, “How do I do that?”. Here’s how...you fill her up daily with comments about who you know her to be. You notice every choice, decision and moment in which she is doing something you like and want more of. You point out the good! You say:

  • You know what I love about you...
  • You know what I like about you...
  • You know what I admire about you …
  • You know what I respect about you...
  • Thank you for... (picking up your backpack, putting your plate in the dishwasher, making your bed, not yelling at your sister, letting me hug you, smiling, telling a great joke, watching TV with me, being your kind-hearted self, etc.)
  • You give her a new narrative about herself. Help her tell a new story about who she is. Remind her that she is inherently good and forever loved no matter what her choices are. 

    When our teens believe that they are valued, wise, capable, imperfect and fully loved, they make more decisions that are aligned with those beliefs. They make more self-honoring, self-respecting choices.

    So, go ahead and fill up their love tanks. 🙂

    Barb Steinberg
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