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Dealing with Troubled Teens

Today’s question is from a worried and concerned mother, whose son has shown dramatic changes when he hit his adolescence. From being a compliant religiously inclined boy, he has turned out to be rebellious often misbehaving with his parents, demanding things he knows are well beyond the capacities of his parents and hitting and bullying his siblings. The mother has tried to be friendly, open and understanding and even get close to him, but nothing seems to be working.  (Summarized on request of the questioner)
Children can be a blessing as well as a test from Allah سبحانه و تعالى. The test part becomes very apparent when children enter teenage. This is because they are in search of their own identity and come across so many different perspectives. They tend to get a super-hero complex thinking that what they are feeling is something novel and it is upon them to change the situation for the better.
This, however, does not justify your son’s bad behaviour with his parents or his siblings. The fact that this has been increasingly going on for the past couple of years means that somewhere this behaviour was encouraged and nurtured through the years. So, we must begin with the open mind that for the behavioural changes you want to see in a child, parents will also need to make some changes in the general structure and hierarchy of the family.
A note before we delve deeper – I have tried to generalize the problem as much as possible. However, at some points I will be directly addressing the person asking the question and the specificities of her child’s behaviour. If you have any further questions, please comment below or e-mail us, In Sha Allah.

Introspect: Evaluate Your and Your Child’s Islamic Knowledge

A teenage child’s impulsivity and resentment towards parents, constantly going against their wishes is because of either, lack of Islamic teachings and weakness of faith or psychological and behavioural problems.
You have mentioned that your son has memorized the Qur’an, Alhamdulillah, Ma Sha Allah – but has he understood what he has memorized? Has he studied the Qur’an? Because, lack of Islamic teachings, might also mean that your child has a distorted understanding of the status of parents according to Islam, and the rights that parents have over their children.
A hadith as narrated by Abu Hurayrah رضي الله عنه that he, the Messenger of Allahﷺ said, “No son can repay his father unless he finds him enslaved and buys him, then manumits him.” (Muslim)
Similarly, another Hadith in At-Tirmidhi, narrated by Abdullah ibn Amr رضي الله عنه  who quoted Prophet Muhammad صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ said, “The pleasure of the Lord is in the pleasure of the father, and the wrath of the Lord is in the wrath of the father.
Whatever is the misunderstanding and differences between the son and the parents, he is obligated to deal with them with kindness and consideration. Even if they differ in the fundamentals and foundations of the religion.
It is his obligation to speak gently and humbly with humility not just in your words but entire body language.
As noted in Surah al-Isra,
And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], ‘uff,’ and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.
And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small’”
[al-Isra’ 17:23-24]
So, I would encourage you to make sure that he knows his duties and obligations. But don’t approach him with his obligations without making sure that you have fulfilled some of your obligations as your parents, because, your children have rights over you.
It was narrated from ‘Abd-Allaah (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Each of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The ruler who is in charge of the people is a shepherd and is responsible for them. The man is the shepherd of his household and is responsible for them. The woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and child and is responsible for them. The slave is the shepherd of his master’s wealth and is responsible for it. Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Parents have to take care that they are teaching their children the duties of Islam and other virtues that are recommended in Shariah and worldly matters that they need to live a decent life in the world. It is very important to teach things such as correct Aqeedah, free from shirk and innovation. Then teach them good manners and characteristics and everything is good.
Every father and mother should train their children in good manners towards Allah, His Prophet, Qur’an, and the Ummah along with everyone they know and who has rights over them.
It is also important to discipline children and teach them what he needs to know of religious duties. They should bring them up with good manners in all things, eating, drinking, dressing, sleeping, going out of the house, entering the house, riding vehicles, etc.
Also, consider questions such as, have you overburdened your child with your expectations? Or have you favoured him over other siblings? Have you let his mistakes slide just so that he would do the things you want to? What kind of role models does he have around himself? Is he imitating someone’s behaviour? What kind of company does he keep? Are his friends from high-class society who are misguiding him?
A zeal to succeed blindly in Dunya, usually, comes out of ignorance of deen, however, there might also be a case that the situational and environmental factors give rise to such behaviour and blatant misguidance.

Observe: Is Your Teen Troubled?

Rebellious behaviour and disagreements with parents is a part of adolescence, especially, when they are trying to assert their own identity and independence, as we discussed before. The problem in the present day is that teens are not given enough responsibility that helps them transition to healthy adults. However, before we embark on how to treat your child, let’s just clarify whether he is a troubled teen. Because troubled teens show such behaviour as a consequence of some underlying serious problems. Here are some symptoms and signs that indicate to troubled teenagehood:

  1. Changing appearance when it is accompanied by problems in school or social setting. Especially, when accompanied by signs of self-harm or extreme weight loss or obsession with a certain body image. Note that this does not include trying to keep up with the latest fashions.
  2. Constant escalation of arguments, violence at home, skipping school, getting in fights with family and non-family, breaking laws. All this going beyond normal arguments which get resolved quickly.
  3. Rapid mood changes and changes in personality, including persistent sadness, anxiety, falling grades – or even failing subjects, sleep problems. Such signs may indicate depression, anxiety, or other emotional problems.
  4. Experimenting with addictive or mood-altering substances to “forget the pain”
  5. Sudden changes in friend circles, especially, when friends encourage bad behaviour.

Troubled teens, especially, ones with deep underlying causes for behaviour need professional help – a counsellor, therapist or psychologist or even a mental health professional from social service. It is very important that the causes of such behaviour are recognized and resolved at a young age itself before it becomes a problem in adulthood.
But remember that just going to a therapist will not resolve all the problems. The family dynamics, especially, parents’ behaviour needs to be changed to accommodate the teen.
Even though each teen is different – and they tend to withdraw from their parents. They are dependent on parents and need their love and approval.

Understand: Teens have it tough, too!

Okay, so, adulthood is hard. But teenage is a transition period where you are not completely an independent and responsible adult, neither are you completely a child. This makes it very difficult for the teen to decide how to react to things – or what role to play in that situation.
Remember to try and understand things from their perspective and don’t treat them as children, especially, when they are on the path of adulthood.
Don’t hide things from them, explain them the difficulties of life – without lording over them the sacrifices you have made for them, show them what the real world is, explain how to deal with it. Remember your own teens – and acknowledge that things are drastically different from what they used to be when you were young, and you need to update your ideas based on the same.

Dealing with Anger

Anger is an ugly emotion – especially on someone else. Here are some tips on how to deal with angry teens.

Establish boundaries, rules and consequences:

Make it a point that you and your son is calm, explain to him that there is nothing wrong with feeling anger or being angry – but as an adult, your child needs to learn how to handle it and express it appropriately. Lashing out, beating your siblings is not acceptable.

Establish consequences of the bad behaviour – take away their privileges, make them realize that it is completely unacceptable.

Try to understand the reason behind the anger:

Is your child depressed? Sad? Being bullied? Or under peer pressure? Try to recognize what triggers his anger and then work towards resolving the core of the problem.

Find alternative and healthy ways to relieve anger:

Teenage is full of hormonal changes. Teenage boys, in particular, have pent-up energy which, if not handled properly comes out in the form of violent outbursts and anger. Exercise can be a wonderful way to effectively deal with this pent-up energy – running, biking, sports, gym, swimming, etc. can help him deal with the pent-up frustration.

Be the calm one:

Give your child the time to relax and cool down. More often than not, teenage children react violently and then regret their anger or misbehaviour afterwards. However, the chances of this happening are reduced when the parents get angry along with the child. When he is getting angry, you have to be the calm one. Both parents should manage their anger and stay calm – not only avoid further escalation of the problems but also be better role models for the child. If necessary, you should find alternative ways to express your anger as well.

Connect with your teen:

Even though a teen’s anger or indifference towards the parents, what they crave the most is love, approval and acceptance from them. Your approval can do wonders for your child’s behaviour problems.
Here are some tips to connect with your teen:
Be aware of your own stress levels: don’t approach your child when you are stressed and angry.
Be there for them: Do not hold grudges with your child. When they do approach you, do not turn your back to them as a payback to their misbehaviour.
Find common ground: Find that one safe topic that you can talk to your teen about and build upon it.
Listen without judgments or giving advice: Do not go correcting your child when he starts to speak to you. Offer your advice only when they ask for it.
Expect rejection: Your attempts to connect may be met with negative reactions. Stay relaxed and let him cool off.
Try to add balance to the teen’s life.
Try and put balance to your teen’s life by making some rules that are applicable not just to him but everyone in the family.
Create structure – regular mealtimes with family, a fixed bedtime, family time and so.
Reduce screen time – not just violent videos and games but it is very important to limit your time. Social media comparisons and the constant bombardment of the online world can lead to anger, anxiety and depression. Cut down your screen time as well as your child’s. Keep a detox day where you and your family do not have access to phones and go back to the old days with board games or simply talking to each other.
Proper Diet
Encourage Exercise
Ensure enough sleep
At the end of this, remember to put your trust in Allah and stay strong. Take inspiration from the trials and tribulations in the lives of the Prophets and the assurances that Allah gives in the Qur’an. This time won’t last forever. Take care of yourself and remember to stay strong through the turmoil that is being posed to you.
May Allah make it easy for all the mothers and fathers who are trying hard to bring up righteous children and grant them the reward for their struggles and efforts. Aameen.
Email your queries to us through our Contact Us page and we will forward it to the relevant counselor.
Team IR

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