The Importance of Structure in the Face
of Behavioral Disorders
By Tyler Jacobson
With teens struggling with behavioral disorders like Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and other disorders, it is natural for parents to feel overwhelmed. But when parents become overwhelmed, often the structure of the home disappears, allowing disordered teens to spiral further out-of-control.
If you are ready to transform your parenting and help your teen regain control of their behavior, it is critical that you understand the importance of maintaining the structure. Along with this, I will be covering how to implement a healthy structure for your troubled teen to help you develop a clear idea of where to start.
Struggling Teens Need Reliable Structure
While it may be easier to provide reactive discipline for teens with behavioral disorders, it is essential that your troubled teen has structure. Even teens who aren’t suffering from behavioral problems can struggle with all the changes they are undergoing, from their physical and mental growth to the hormonal changes coursing through their bodies.
But for those with the additional hurdle of behavior disorders, research has shown that these teens need structure to succeed. Children who have emotional and behavioral disorders who don’t receive the structure and support they need often struggle with academics, with many dropping out of school, and many of them have trouble maintaining jobs.
Along with these issues, teens with behavioral disorders who lack structure growing up often have difficulty with functioning in society in general. This dysfunction extends to both public interactions and private relationships.
As most parents want what’s best for their children, it is obvious that one of the best things you can do if you have a child with a behavioral disorder is provide them with a strong structure. That way, your teen can learn to manage their disorder while they have the support of living at home with you.
Steps to Implement Structure For Teens With Behavioral Disorders
When you are ready to implement the structure your teen with behavioral disorders, there are various steps you should take as you create your troubled teen’s newly structured life...
- Set Clear Rules and Consequences
If you haven’t yet, it is time to set down clear rules that you expect your teen to adhere to. Along with these rules, you will want to also lay out clear expectations. As it is unlikely that you will be able to create a rule for every situation that your teen will find themselves in, having straightforward expectations can help build an internal structure for your teen as they have to make choices.
For instance, say a family has a rule that none of their children should smoke cigarettes, cigars, or use chewing tobacco. While these are good rules, what about vaping?
Plenty of vaping products have nicotine, and it is likely that the intent of the family was to prevent their teens from abusing mind-altering substances altogether. So, instead, defining the clear expectation that your children aren’t to abuse substances, you can help your troubled teen stick to the spirit of the structure.
Also, as you make the family rules and expectations clear to your teen, it is best if you cover the consequences of disregarding the rules and expectations. That way, your teen knows exactly what the result of their actions is when they choose to disobey.
- Maintain Consistent Discipline
An important aspect of maintaining structure for your teen is to provide consistent discipline. If your teen has the impression that the consequences that you outlined are subject to change, then the benefit of creating that part of the structure is negated. That’s why it’s so important to choose consequences carefully.
Some parents rely on threats that they have no intention of going through with, which can lead teens to disregard their parents’ authority altogether. So, how do you go about maintaining consistent discipline?
Well, one way is to allow for natural consequences. For example, say your teen has ADHD and often forgets to bring lunch to school, so you either have to bring lunch to them or bring them money for your teen to eat. But, all this teaches a teen is that you will always bail them out of their mistakes.
Instead of doing this, the next time you remind your teen to take their lunch to school, tell them that if they forget, you will not be bringing it to them. You may need to coordinate this with the school, as many schools allow teens to rack up a bill for school lunches that you will need to cover at the end of the year. But, the next time your teen leaves their lunch at home and contacts you to bring it, you can make it clear that the natural consequence of that action is that your teen won’t have lunch that day.
As long as the natural consequence doesn’t put your teen in danger, choosing to discipline this way can be very effective.
- Assign Your Teen Responsibilities
Part of providing your teen with greater structure is assigning them responsibilities. Teens with behavioral disorders often struggle with maintaining responsibilities, but if they can learn to master themselves and their responsibilities while living at home, these teens have a far greater chance at succeeding as adults.
When it comes to choosing what responsibilities to your teen, consider what they are already good at and work from there. Since you want your teen to succeed in sticking to their responsibilities, start by giving them only a couple of things they need to do, then add to their tasks when they prove that they are able to manage what you have assigned.
- Develop A Good Routine for Your Teen
Teens with behavioral struggles often struggle to maintain healthy routines. These routines can be as simple as getting up for school, attending all classes, and doing homework once home. But as a routine like this can appear as an “all work, no play” situation to troubled teens, it is important for you to build some fun into their routine.
Supplying your teen with a balanced routine will help your teenager to eventually learn how to build their own healthy routine in the future. So, as you consider how to structure their daily routine, keep their future in mind.
By providing your teen with a structured, safe environment, they will be better equipped to recognize and manage their behavioral disorder and become the person you had always hoped your teen would be.
From the mountains of Utah, Tyler Jacobson writes about his experiences as a father and husband. By sharing the struggles and solutions his family has faced, Tyler hopes to help other parents looking for a way to better their lives. You can connect with Tyler and read his helpful insights on Twitter.
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