Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

By Michael Hawton, MAPS.

We do not need another task force to determine why these young people are behaving anti-socially or to work out what we should do to remedy this problem. Yet another taskforce or commission assessing youth violence will arrive at pretty obvious solutions, one of which is sure to be a recommendation to intervene early before a teenagers’ behaviour gets this bad. This was a key outcome of the Royal Commission into Youth Detention so it is likely to be an outcome of any taskforce inquiry into this issue as well.

Some of the teenagers running riot in Victoria will have an excuse of coming from a traumatic background, but the vast majority of them will have developed longstanding habits of behaviour they have learnt over time. And, if behaviour is learnt, it can be unlearnt.
The problem is that the longer problem behaviour is given to take root, the harder it is to redress. Typically, what starts off as naughty behaviour in a 10 year old will move towards more defiant behaviour in a 12 year old, which will turn into worse anti-social behaviour in a teenager. This trajectory will happen  as sure as night follows day, without any appropriate intervention to break a pattern of behaviour .
So, we need to start early before these kids become teens.
A big part of growing up and maturing is learning to tolerate frustrations (and not to flip one’s lid) and this type of self-regulation is teachable.
By whom? By parents, in the first instance, and by teachers and other adults in the community in the second instance.
Parenting tough issues with teenagers is part and parcel of raising any teenager. Since time immemorial, teenagers have always wanted to seek novelty and to push boundaries.

Socrates said as much:

“Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers.”

Even so, this doesn’t mean though that the young people of today should be permitted to do anything they want.

It helps, of course, if we know what it takes to help young people to learn ‘frustration tolerance’, something which parents can be trained to do with the right parenting education.


What parents need to learn first is what actually constitutes a problem and to be willing to call it out: what are MBAs (minor but annoying) behaviours and what are the ones that they can’t let go and where they need to act. So, a first issue for parents, is knowing when they should act, like when there is an unacceptable risk to the teenager and the parent needs to do something.
The second pressing issue for parents of teenagers involves having an approach plan which they can remember. As it turns out, a lot of parents lack the confidence to manage a tough conversation with their teenager, simply because they don’t know where to begin and how to stop a conversation morphing into a train wreck .

Teenagers can also be helped to restrain themselves. To say otherwise is to say they are completely subject to ‘old’ brain impulses – and this is only probable where a teenager has suffered a brain injury. Impulse control is something parents can help with.

Suggesting another expensive taskforce to look into youth violence is often a solution we turn to when we want to be seen to be doing something. In this case, it is not necessary.

We already have good ways to help parents manage behaviour problems . But, we need to put funds into early intervention to stop latent misbehaviour reaching a flash point, such as we have seen reported in recent weeks.

Michael Hawton, MAPS, is the author of Engaging Adolescents (2017). His parenting books have sold over 60,0000 copies globally including in mainland China. He is a psychologist, a former teacher and father of two children.

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