by Jay Austin April 15, 2019
An Antidote to Destructive Behavior in Children and Teens
After having the basic needs of food, water, a safe place to sleep, and a predictable environment, children, teens, and young adults must have a sense that they are in control of at least some of their life for good mental health to be fostered.
As a child senses that they are out of control, they will naturally begin to look for ways to take control of others or themselves. When a child is throwing a temper tantrum in the line at the grocery store while everyone else stands and watches, they are screaming out loud and clear, “I am out of control!” They are using this behavior to try and gain control. For example, they might be attempting to control whether or not they get the candy they want, whether they are going to continue to be stuck sitting in the basket, or even whether they are going to have to stand in line for another five minutes waiting on all of these grown-ups to do their thing.
When a teen chooses to get involved in destructive behavior, they are exhibiting a desire to be in control of their own life. In essence, they are claiming authority over their own life, and as a result, they reject the controlling authority of a parent or guardian. This can range from simply skipping a class, or at its most destructive, attempting suicide.
The Tennessean reported in the February 22, 2019 edition that there were “nearly 400 calls about suicide made in Williamson County in 2018". The article goes on to say that, “Data from five of the six law enforcement departments in the county showed that 28 residents died.” In the May 25, 2016 edition of the Williamson Herold, Carole Robinson reported, “The most recent statistics available from the Division of Health Statistics, Office of Policy of the Tennessee Department of Health, show that Williamson County holds the second highest suicide rate in Tennessee for juveniles ages 10-19 for 2014.” In some cases, a suicide attempt occurs due to mental illness, but in many cases, people simply feel completely out of control and hopeless. Some see suicide as the ultimate way to take control of their own life and destiny.
As a parent of two boys living in Williamson County, I am very much aware of the pressures that are put on our children to perform academically, athletically, and socially. I have felt the same pressures in raising my boys. It is a great blessing that our children have the opportunity to grow up with such extraordinary teachers, coaches, church leaders, and instructors. With that blessing, however, there is also a great danger that our children will feel like they are losing control, always in a competition, and comparing themselves to others, ultimately resulting in acting out through behavior to try and gain control.
By being aware of our children's basic human need to be in control, we can intentionally help them discover healthy ways to be in control of themselves and many of their decisions as an “antidote” to destructive behavior when they feel out of control. As well, we can begin to understand their behavior through a different lens. We can begin by asking the question, “Why are they feeling out of control and acting out?”, rather than, "What am I going do to let them know that I am in control and they are not?!".
Many times when a child or teen is feeling out of control and acts out, they are punished by having more restrictions and controls placed on their life. This is why sometimes a child who is grounded and sent to their room as a punishment beats on the floor for an hour, puts their head or fist through the drywall, rips all of the sheets off their bed, pulls all of their clothes out of their drawers, or hides under the bed in hopes that you will think they ran away. They are grasping for something to take control of. I am not suggesting that a child should not be corrected for their behavior. On the contrary, discipline helps to make course corrections for your child. But, when that disciplined is well-planned and combined with your understanding of why your child is acting out, you are able to create an environment for good mental health, personal growth, and character development.
In family coaching sessions, I work with parents in helping them cultivate an environment where their child can have a sense of control, while their unwanted or destructive behavior is redirected. By creating this type of environment, a parent can help a child learn to control themselves even when they sense that things around them are out of control. Long term, this type of training, care, and guidance will allow you to release your child to adulthood with great potential for mental, social, and emotional health. @Jay Austin Christian Life Coaching - CPC, CYPFC
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