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Signs of Manipulative Behavior in Teens

During the teen years, young people become focused on their quest to become autonomous adults. As they start testing their parents more, they may also adopt some tactics to achieve their desired freedoms. These can take the form of manipulative behaviors. Parents wishing to learn how to handle life with a manipulative teenager, please read on.

What is a Manipulative Teen?

Teens looking for ways to circumvent their parents’ will are not at all unique. This is common behavior during the phase of life when teens yearn for more freedom, but come up against resistance. They find that parents are not so willing to allow all those freedoms and become very creative ways to achieve the desired outcome.

However, a manipulative teenager may use an array of bullying strategies to get their way. These teens may weaponize emotions or lay thick guilt trips on parents in an effort to wear them down. Manipulative teens become laser-focused on attaining their desired objective and will go to great lengths to do so.

What Causes a Teen to Manipulate Parents?

There are many reasons why a teen might become manipulative. Sometimes the behaviors are a form of acting out in response to some event or situation that is causing strife. These might include parents getting divorced, moving out of the area during high school, or social conflicts like being bullied. The teen may have a hard time managing emotions due to these events or conflicts. In turn, they may use the negative emotions and become manipulative to gain a sense of power over the situation.

There are other motivators that are more aligned with the teen’s desire to gain new freedoms. They may have a new boyfriend or girlfriend and want the freedom to spend more time with them than their parents feel comfortable with. They may want to join friends for an event that their parents do not approve of.

Signs Your Teen is Manipulating You

Consider some of the ways a teen may attempt to manipulate a parent:

  • Lying. A manipulative teen is highly adept at gaslighting. When a teen meets resistance, they gaslight to make the parent doubt themselves to try to get their way. Also, teens will lie to parents, making promises they do not intend to keep to get the parent on board.
  • Angry outbursts. Explosive anger, stomping up the stairs, and slamming doors are common manipulation techniques. The teen may even physically threaten the parent who dares to deny their requests.
  • Emotional blackmail. The teen may try coercing parents to give in to their demands or requests using emotional blackmail. Something along the lines of, “If you don’t let me go to the party, no one will ever hang out with me again.”
  • Manipulates with guilt. The “If you loved me, you would…” or “You favor (younger sister)” lines use guilt to persuade. A more drastic technique is to threaten suicide or some form of self-harm if the demand is not met.
  • Tries to wear you down. Some determined teens relentlessly harass parents without reprieve until they give in to their demands. They may mistreat the parent or withhold affection until the parent acquiesces.

5 Ways To Deal With a Manipulative Teenager

Parents may be faced with a teen that is determined to get their way no matter what. If so, they can wrest back some control by using these tips when dealing with manipulative teens:

  1. Have consistent consequences. Set clear boundaries with the teen and communicate the consequences if they don’t honor them. Most importantly, be very consistent in enforcing the consequences when the teen tests those boundaries.
  2. Take a pause. Try to avoid knee-jerk responses when the teen is using their manipulation tactics. Instead, take a beat to break the momentum of the moment, and respond in a calm manner.
  3. Encourage honest discussion. To minimize the need for your teen to lie to you, cultivate a relationship that is open and honest. Start creating this type of relationship in early childhood.
  4. Stop playing along. Teens can be a force to be reckoned with, even bullying a parent into submission. Take back control of the parent-child relationship and refuse to passively play along.
  5. Seek professional mental health support. A parent may begin to notice that their teen is simply not themselves; that their behavior is out of character. The teen may be going through a rough patch due to a difficult life event and may benefit from therapy.

Possible Underlying Issues to the Behavior

When a teen begins to display signs of manipulative behaviors, there may be something more to it than the typical desire to spread their wings. The behaviors may be totally out of character, or if there are other symptoms present. If so, parents may want to have the teen evaluated by a mental health expert.

Reasons for the changes in behavior may be due to:

A mental health struggle. The teen may be dealing with a mental health condition that is fueling their rude or bullying behaviors. These might include:

Depression. Signs of depression include:

  • Sadness or low mood.
  • Changes in eating habits and sudden weight loss or gain.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Lack of interest in activities they normally enjoy.
  • Low energy, fatigue.
  • Being very sensitive.
  • Irritable and angry.
  • Trouble concentrating that causes decline in grades.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • Slowed motor and cognitive functioning.
  • Talks about suicide.

Oppositional defiant disorder. Signs of ODD include:

  • Hostility
  • Defiance
  • Rejects authority.
  • Refuses to follow rules.
  • Spitefulness
  • Verbal aggression.
  • Very negative attitude.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Argumentative
  • Combative
  • Stubborn behaviors.

Anxiety. Signs of anxiety include:

  • Always on edge.
  • Irritable
  • Has a sense of doom; irrational fear.
  • Muscle tension, headaches, stomach distress.
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Highly self-conscious.
  • Withdraws from friends and social events.

Substance abuse. The teen may be pushing boundaries because they are struggling with a substance use problem. Signs of substance abuse include:

  • Visible signs of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Finding the substance in their room, or drug paraphernalia.
  • Hanging out with a different group of friends.
  • Missing school.
  • Falling grades.
  • Avoiding activities they once enjoyed.
  • High-risk behaviors.

You may believe your manipulative teenager is acting out due to a mental health issue or substance abuse. If that is the case, get them help as early as possible.

BNI Treatment Centers Leading Residential Mental Health Treatment for Teens

BNI Treatment Centers offers inpatient mental health treatment designed for teens from ages 12-17. To learn more about our residential program, please call us today at (888) 522-1504.

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