Manipulative Teenagers: Signs to Recognize and What to Do
Teens really know how to push our buttons. Just like toddlers, they want to get their way all the time, and they often come up with creative and ingenious ways to wear you down. Unfortunately, this can cause them to pick up or become reliant on manipulative tendencies.
Teens can also resort to manipulation to cover their butts when in trouble, to get love and attention, to feel more powerful or to gain control in a world mainly controlled by adults. The main reason they keep using manipulation tactics is that it works.
Let’s take a look at some of the signs of a teen being manipulative:
- Guilt-tripping. Common examples include statements like, “You love (the sibling) more than me”, or “Why do you hate me?” Taken to the extreme, some teens might even make suicide threats.
- Playing parents against each other. A good example is your teen telling you, “Mom said I could go out with my friends as long as I ran it by you,” when nothing of the sort was said.
- Playing victim. Your teen uses this to create doubt. They might say something like, “I’ll be the only one not wearing these sneakers in school,” or “Linda’s parents always let her stay out past 11.”
- Strategic lying. This-for-that when negotiating for something. For instance, your teen might promise to do all their chores for the next month, if you just let them go out. Once you do, they forget all about their promise.
- Guilt-tripping down. Your teen becomes sullen, silent and refuses to talk once you refuse to give in to her demands. She might refuse to respond to you in any way.
- Retaliation. In response to not getting their way, some teens decide to retaliate by doing or saying something hurtful or by not following through with whatever’s expected of them — like household chores.
- Anger or explosive behavior. This is similar to throwing a temper tantrum only on a bigger scale. Your teen might yell, throw things or get into a heated argument with you.
Dealing with Manipulative Teenagers
Parents often have a lot of stressors to deal with and you might be tempted to give in to your manipulative teen just to keep the peace. However, there are better ways to help your teen overcome these tendencies and learn healthy ways to communicate, interact and cope.
Instead of always letting your teen have their way, consider doing the following:
Denying them an audience.
If your teen realizes that their manipulative tactics work, they’ll keep using them. Take back your power and control by denying them an audience once the drama starts. If your teen pitches a fit or starts to throw things, calmly explain that you’ll discuss the situation once they’ve calmed down, then walk away. Do this enough times and they’ll realize their behavior isn’t working for them.
Empathize and listen to them.
Encourage your teen to ask for what they want directly rather than whining, fighting or trying to manipulate you. When they eventually ask for what they need or want, listen to them and take their requests into consideration. This doesn’t mean agreeing with them or giving in to their demands but giving them some honest thought. Doing so might even reveal a more acceptable solution for both of you. Once your teen knows he can come to you directly without you overreacting, he’ll do it more often without resorting to manipulation.
Set limits and consequences.
Hold your teen accountable for their actions by setting rules and consequences for not adhering to them. Involving them when coming up with rules makes it more likely that they’ll follow them. Also ensure that you set effective consequences, by making it something your teen will be motivated about, e.g. loss of screen time or limiting car use or some other privilege. Most importantly, be consistent when imposing these consequences and eventually your teen will learn that manipulation doesn’t have the intended results.
Seek professional help.
Sometimes teens become manipulative as a response to an underlying issue. If all your efforts to get them to drop their manipulative ways fail, it’s a good idea to get some professional help. Therapeutic boarding schools or residential treatment centers provide a great environment to help you and your teen work through any issues under the guidance and supervision of qualified teen counselors, therapists or psychologists.
When dealing with a manipulative teen, it’s imperative not to allow them to get under your skin. Maintain control and instead focus on teaching them healthy ways to communicate their needs.
Devine, Megan. LCPC. (n.d.). “Why Don’t Consequences Work for My Teen?” Here’s Why…and How to Fix It. Empowering Parents. Retrieved on 19th December, 2019 from https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-dont-consequences-work-for-my-teen-heres-whyand-how-to-fix-it/
Pickhardt, C.E. Ph.D. (2015). Why Listen to Your Adolescent? Psychology Today. Retrieved on 19th December, 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201501/why-listen-your-adolescent
Zomosky, L. (2010). 6 Ways Your Teen Is Playing You. WebMD. Retrieved on 19th December, 2019 from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/6-ways-your-teen-manipulates-you#4
Jacobson, T. (2020). Manipulative Teenagers: Signs to Recognize and What to Do. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/manipulative-teenagers-signs-to-recognize-and-what-to-do/