How to manage your teens behaviour while still letting them be themselves

Pre-adolescence or pre-teen years happen from the age of 11 or 12-years old. This is an important stage in any developing child’s life.They are going through a lot of physical and mental changes.

According to ego psychologist Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development model, children between the ages of 11-18 are at the stage of developing and asserting their identity. This is known as the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage.

According to clinical psychologist Benedict Mhlongo, “the teenage stage is a very challenging space that is very much perceived through the formation of identity.” Erikson identifies this stage as “turbulent”.


The child’s family and community play a big role in helping a child in this stage develop this identity. If they cannot find someone in the home they can relate to or identify with, they look for external sources for inspiration. This is especially the case for children who grow up in homes without both parents.

According to the Building Strong Families author André Olivier, “a study of violent rapists found that 60% of them came from single-parent homes.”

‘Identity’ Erikson defines as “all of the beliefs, ideals, and values that help shape and guide a person’s behaviour.” If pre-teens and teens do not succeed in defining their personal and self-identity, they struggle to live according to society’s expectations. This leads to behavioural issues.

Mlhongo emphasises that these behavioural issues can pose a big challenge for families, both parents, and children.

According to Healthline, the below behaviours are normal for teens and should not be confused with misbehaviour:

  • Oversleeping
  • Experimenting with drugs and alcohol
  • Moodiness
  • Lying
  • Rebellion

ALSO SEE: Is your teen at risk of committing suicide? What to look out for

When these happen in extremes, this is when parents may be concerned. These may manifest in different ways:

  • When your teen decides to sleep the whole day and isolate themselves from people
  • Binge drinking or using drugs frequently
  • Moodiness leading to violence
  • If your child lies about everything, including the small things (pathological lying)
  • Getting into trouble more at school and even breaking the law

According to Mlhongo, pre-teens and teens are ”susceptible to toxic behavior as a form assertion.”

What can parents do?

“Managing this requires parents to be understanding and to create an environment that is still inviting for mistakes and reflection,” Mlhongo says. Having an open relationship with your teen may go a long way in helping them navigate this difficult phase in their lives.

ALSO SEE: How to encourage a safe space to talk about sex with your children

Being able to make a distinction between what is normal and what is not is also key. If parents try too hard to manage normal behavior it may lead to toxicity as they feel prevented from being themselves.

According to Mlhongo “parents are encouraged to exercise mild authority as teens may interpret this as a dictatorship and feel not understood.” There is, therefore, a fine line between allowing them to be and managing their behaviour.

Sleeping in for instance. Some parents believe in waking up early, and according to Healthline, a teen’s biological clocks work differently. They prefer sleeping between 1am and 10am. Parents who are in the 5am club will encounter a behavioural issue if they are going to force their teen to wake up earlier than they want to, or are physically able to.

It’s important for children to know that their families love and support them during this time. They also need to know that you will listen when they need to talk. Encouraging them to express their feelings is important, especially before they enter this stage. Then speaking end expressing becomes a norm.

If parents still struggle, they can seek help from a psychologist that can intervene.

About the expert:

Benedict Mlhongo is currently a resident psychologist on YFM. He also holds a Masters degree in Community-Based Counselling Psychology from the University of the Witwatersrand. He is a Counselling Psychologist registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa as well as the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF). Learn more about Benedict Mlhongo here.

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