Parenting Help for Your Teen’s Out-of-Control Behavior

If you’re looking for solid parenting tips or advice to help navigate your child or teen’s difficult behavior, read Scott Sells’ acclaimed book, Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager. This book is rife with help and includes complete details for successful parenting techniques. The below are condensed examples and tips taken from the book that may give you a good place to start. We recommend setting up a meeting with a licensed counselor to learn how to implement new parenting techniques to see real change. Learn how to get in contact with our office.


If you are in need of a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, here’s what you can try. Dr. Sells presents a complete strategy for stopping this problem on pages 122-137 of his book, Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.

Clearly Define Disrespect to Avoid “Literal Disease”

The first step is to find your definition of disrespect. What might be disrespectful in one household may not be in yours. A common pitfall is to simply tell your teen, “From this point on, there will be no more disrespect.” This definition is too broad and open to interpretation.

For example, you may implement the rule of “no disrespect,” but fail to specify what your teen does or says that is considered disrespectful. Your teen now has the perfect loophole and can argue, “It’s not in the contract!” When this happens it is as if your teen is a shark, smelling blood in the water. You, the parent, quickly become the victim in the feeding frenzy

2.School Problems

We have combined school problems here to include both truancy and failing — for two reasons. First, they both involve the school system at some level. Second, both behaviors have the effect of making you crazy and putting your teen in control. Missing school makes you anxious and fearful because your teen is unsupervised. Getting D’s and F’s makes you so angry and frustrated that you will lose your cool.

For a complete description of how to stop this problem, please turn to pages 138-154 of Dr. Sells’ book, Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.

1. Work Closely With the School

You can stop ditching school and failing grades, but to do so you must work in close collaboration with school personnel. To get the school to help, proactively call your child’s principal or guidance counselor to set up a meeting.

Typically, Required Teacher Conferences (RTC) are dismal and nonproductive. However, this meeting will be different. You will come prepared with a written one-page outline of how you and the teacher can collaborate together. For example, one parent wrote in his outline:

“I am giving each teacher two post cards with my return address. If you have any behavior problems with Jason or if he misses any assignments, please drop these cards in the mail and I will respond immediately.”
If email with your child’s teacher is possible, this will be a much easier and faster way to be in communication with the school.

For an example of a parent-teacher contract click here.

2. Go to School Dressed As a Nerd

If nothing seems to get your teen’s attention, you can go to your big guns. However, only use this strategy if nothing else works, and in conjunction with your child’s school. It will shock your teen into submission, but you must use it with caution.

Using this strategy, you would go to school dressed as a nerd. This strategy is effective because teens are extremely self-conscious during adolescence. They want to look “cool” in front of their friends. Rest assured, your teen will definitely not like the idea of her mommy or daddy following her to each class and sitting right next to her. She may “play possum” and act like she doesn’t care, but you can be sure that she DOES care. This is especially true if you are a mom and come to school in fuzzy slippers with rollers in your hair or a dad who comes dressed in colorful golf pants, nerdy glasses, and greased back hair.

3.Running Away

Running away is a powerful weapon. Your teen realizes that even the threat to run will make you back down out of fear; fear that if you push too hard, your teen will run and possibly come to harm on the streets. You are held hostage to this threat and are tempted to stop enforcing rules. For a complete description on how to stop this problem, please turn to pages 154-170 of Dr. Sells’ book, Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.

1. Find Out if Your Household is Toxic

Often, it can be said that the teenager is “running away” from something. For example, your teenager might be running away from a parent who is overly harsh or punitive or another parent who is abusing drugs or alcohol. Sometimes teens will run just because they want to or they don’t want to follow rules. However, this is the exception, not the rule. Most teens run from something toxic. To find out if your teen is running away from something, please answer these three questions:

PLL_check“What are the reasons your teenager might want to run away?”

PLL_check“Is there anything in your household that makes things stressful or uneasy (disagreements in parenting, inconsistent discipline, drug or alcohol problems, sudden death in family, etc)?”

PLL_check“What are all the things that would need to change to make your teenager want to stay at home on a permanent basis?”

2. Stealth Bomber Consequences

Even if your teen is running from something toxic, you still have to stop the behavior. A band-aid must first be applied to stop the bleeding (i.e., the running away) before you can clean the wounds underneath the surface. One of these band-aids is called “the stealth bomber.”

Like the stealth bomber, your teenager will not see these consequences coming. He will be stunned by the creativity. Stealth bomber consequences include:

PLL_checkUsing a “wanted poster flyer” with an unflattering picture of your teen and a small cash reward for information leading to his whereabouts. These flyers will be hung all over your teenager’s school and around town.

PLL_checkPoisoning your teen’s safe houses – the places he goes when he runs. Using picket signs, notarized letters, and other means to turn up the heat on the parents of these safe houses to make your teen unwelcome.

PLL_checkUsing the pawn broker strategy to sell, pawn, or remove your teenager’s prized possessions (stereo equipment, tennis shoes, makeup, roller blades, or telephone) if he continues to run away.

These consequences are effective and hit your teen’s “Achilles Heel.” Faced with such bitter tasting consequences, your extreme teenager will often choose to stop running away rather than continue with these kinds of consequences. Please see a professional counselor before putting these consequences into place

4.Alcohol and Drug Use

If you have an out-of-control teen, there is a high likelihood that he or she will experiment or abuse alcohol and/or drugs. A major reason for this problem is that your teen does not think he has an alcohol or drug problem. How many teens who use drugs or alcohol think they have a problem? We’re guessing zero. The major difference between teens and adults is that adults have usually experienced the ill effects of drug or alcohol abuse, while teens have not. Because of this key difference, traditional 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous fall short. Teens cannot get past the very first step of admitting that they have a problem.

Here are a few recommended strategies to stop your teen from using whether or not she thinks she has a problem. For a complete description on how to stop this problem, please turn to pages 189-215 of Dr. Sells’ book,
Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.

1. Make Your Teen Take a Pee Test

You can now purchase drug monitoring kits or Breathalyzer tests very cheaply. The importance of objectively monitoring your teen’s use and abuse cannot be underestimated. Otherwise, you will get into bitter arguments when your teen comes home and you try to “guess” whether he is high. Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager tells you what to do if your teen refuses to take the drug test.

2. It Takes a Village to Raise a Drug Addict

If you have a difficult time being tough, do not go it alone. An alcohol- or drug-using teen will sense your lack of confidence and eat you alive. The answer is to bring in reinforcements. Calling friends, neighbors, or extended family members to become “your village” will help you play parent instead of friend. These reinforcements will also give you the backbone and strength you need to change. It will blow your teen’s mind if he comes home and sees a roomful of strangers coming together to support you as a parent. He will quickly realize that there is strength in numbers. For more information on how to set up a village see Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager.


When your teen threatens you with violence through words (“I’m going to hurt you bad;” “I’m going to punch the wall;” “I’m gonna kill you”) or actions (kicking holes in the wall, breaking glass, picking up a knife, cutting herself), it becomes a safety issue. Harming someone can lead to serious injury or even death.

For a complete description on how to stop violent behavior, please turn to pages 216-238 of Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.

Your teen’s chances of committing an act of violence are twice as high if she exhibits the following risk factors:

PLL_checkComes from a family with a history of criminal violence

PLL_checkHas a history of being abused

PLL_checkBelongs to the outsider group that gets picked on

PLL_checkBelongs to a gang

PLL_checkAbuses drugs or alcohol

These odds triple when you add the following factors:

PLL_checkUses a weapon

PLL_checkHas been arrested

PLL_checkHas neurological problems that impair thinking or feeling

PLL_checkHas difficulty at school and attendance problems

If your teen exhibits one or more of these risk factors, you can either take a hard line approach, like calling the police and filing charges, or a more creative and less known approach. This approach is called “being unpredictable.” It is extremely playful and will blow your teen’s mind.

For example, one father stopped his teen’s violence cold by purchasing a wig and breaking into a song every time his teen got angry. Another parent purchased squirt guns. He and his teen went into the back yard to drench each other in a water fight before things got overheated. These interventions may seem crazy, but they work and they work well. Please see pages 216-238 of Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager, and consult with a professional counselor before putting the tough and playful consequences in place.

6.Threats of Suicide

Suicide is the most serious and deadly of the extreme behaviors. If your teen is violent, she may hurt someone but live to face another day. However, if your teen successfully implements violence against herself, she dies. With this problem, there are no second chances.

Your teen’s threats of suicide may be emotionally based or based solely on manipulation. Emotional suicide means that your teen is severely depressed and finds no reason to live. Manipulative suicide means that your teen is using the threat of suicide as a ploy to get you to back down. She has no intention or desire to kill herself. The scary part is that, even if the suicide attempt is manipulative, your teen may still kill herself by accident.

To stop this problem, you have one of only three solutions. A 24-Hour Watch in which all freedoms are taken away and your teen is literally watched 24 hours a day. She may need to get her stomach pumped and, if necessary, sign a no-harm contract. These are such serious interventions that you must read about them in detail. Do not try these methods unless you are under the supervision of a qualified counselor. For a complete description of how to use these strategies, please turn to pages 239-252 of Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.


A 1999 review of research studies on teen pregnancy by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that teens with behavior problems are the most likely group to initiate sexual intercourse and have unintended pregnancies. Yet, these teens are the least prepared group to become mothers or fathers. Raising a child takes patience and resources that are acquired with age, education, and maturity. Out-of-control teens often do not possess these resources.

To deal with this issue, of course, there is the obvious. Talking to your kids about sex is still the number one way to prevent sexual promiscuity or teen pregnancy. How and when we talk to our teens about sex is critical. (See pages 171-188 of Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager to see how this done.) There are also nontraditional methods as well, such as: contractual contraception, volunteer work, or special outings. For a complete description of how to use these nontraditional methods, please review Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager.