Ep 53: Bad Behavior? Ignore It!

Catherine Pearlman, author of Ignore It, explains how to make bad behavior stop by pretending you don't notice it. Discover Catherine's secret strategies for eliminating annoying behaviors on this episode. Learn what you can ignore and what you can't as well as how to re-engage after the behavior stops.

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Full show notes

Parenting is a hard job on the best of days. It’s even harder when your child gets to an age when they know how to push all the buttons and elicit your worst responses. It seems like the older they get the more immature their tantrums become. You know you have to address their misconduct, but confrontation only aggravates the situation. You don’t want to exhaust yourself giving reprimands to a brick wall. Fortunately, there are teenage behavior management strategies that can help deter your teen’s bad behavior while actually saving you from aggravation.

However, teenagers love to argue for their independence. It can be worrisome when they consistently neglect their simplest responsibilities, like cleaning their room or taking out the trash. When you attempt to address these discrepancies, they might become defensive about their ability to take care of themselves despite the evidence in question. You don’t want this bad behavior to continue, especially as they spend less time at home and eventually face the world as an adult. So, what teenager behavior management strategies can you use to correct your their bad behavior without getting irritated? That’s the topic of this week’s Talking to Teens episode, “Bad Behavior? Ignore It!”

I was joined by Dr. Catherine Pearlman to discuss teenage behavior management strategies in her book, Ignore it! How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavior Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction. After years of working intimately with young mothers as a social worker, Dr. Pearlman founded the Family Coach, a program where she visits family homes during the most stressful time of day and guides parents through problem-solving strategies.

When it comes to these visits, her clients are often shocked by what their told to do about their teen’s reckless and rude behavior: Ignore it.

“Did I Read That Right?!”

You might be asking yourself, “How can that be beneficial? You want me to just ignore when my child acts out?” Actually, yes! You might think that such a request is absurd, but Catherine knows everything there is to know about unconventional, yet scientifically backed teenage behavior management strategies! She can help you enjoy spending more time with your kids using this technique like she’s done with so many other families.

Her method of mitigating bad teenage behavior functions primarily by managing two things:
  1. Reward Systems
  2. Natural Consequences
These two elements are at the core of her teenage behavior management strategies. Reward systems and natural consequences are already woven into how you communicate with your child. It’s just a matter of changing how you use them to create a more reciprocal environment. Here’s how you can start implementing these teenage behavior management strategies in your own home:

Behavioral Reward Systems

Behavioral reward systems are when you consistently encourage a specific type of behavior with a correlated response. If there were a mantra for Catherine’s teenage behavior management strategies, it would be, “Behavior that has a reward is going to be repeated.” So, if teenagers pout or misbehave until you give in, they know to do it again in the future because it produces results. According to Dr. Pearlman, what happens immediately following their behavior will determine if it happens again.

However, rewards come in many different forms; it doesn’t just mean that your teen gets what they want in the end. If you’re arguing about a curfew and your teen knows that you’ve already made up your mind, they might be tempted to use rude behavior to make you upset. If you’re provoked into arguing back or expressing unhappiness, this can be perceived as a reward, thus causing your teen to continue this kind of conduct in the future.

Ignoring bad behavior means that you’re not giving it a reward. When your teen doesn’t get their way, they might try to get a rise out of you by raising their voice, resorting to name calling, or using swear words. If you use effective teenage behavior management strategies and don’t let these tactics affect you, your teen will eventually realize that this isn’t an effective way to communicate. They won’t get what they want, and they won’t get anything in response.

At first, you might get some pushback to these teenage behavior management strategies, but that just means it’s working. If you’ve been negatively responding to your teen’s bad behavior in the past, they understand that throwing a tantrum will, at the very least, garner a negative response. They’ll try to increase the pressure when you start ignoring their tantrums, but without any results, they’ll realize they need to do something else to get their way. This is how you can use behavioral reward systems to mitigate bad behavior.

Natural Consequences

Defined as the logical result of an action, natural consequences work when your teen has an understanding of cause and effect. Dr. Pearlman describes this tactic as “the best thing that ever happened to parents” because you don’t have to do any punishing; the consequences of your child’s actions speak for themselves.

Ignoring your child’s irritating conduct helps them connect the dots between “bad behavior” and “this isn’t working.” This teenage behavior management strategies can also be employed outside of arguments to curb bad behavior. For example, if your teen hasn’t cleaned their room and they’re inviting some friends over, they may ask you to do a quick sweep so things will look nice when they arrive. They might make outlandish statements like, “My life will be ruined if anybody sees my room like that!” If you give in and clean their room, agreeing that they need to get to it later, they’ll latch on to that reward in the moment. But if you let them face the consequences of their actions, your teen is more likely to learn from the negative consequences.

Parents that are worried about the negative impact of natural consequences unfolding at crucial moments in their child’s life might be hesitant to use this approach. That’s why it’s important to apply teenage behavior management strategies like the ignoring method early on when the stakes are relatively low.

When your teen forgets a minor homework assignment at home or neglects their chores so they can’t hang out with friends, these are good examples of “ignore it!” testing ground. If you start off small, your child will incorporate better behavior early on and be ready for more important tasks in the future.

To Talk or To Ignore?

One example of how rewards and natural consequences work in the “ignore it!” method to manage bad behavior is with negotiations. When you’ve made a firm decision, whether it’s limiting cell phone time or setting a curfew, you want to stick to it. Naturally, your teen will try to make their case to keep their phone or stay out later with friends.

Dr. Pearlman advises to get input prior to when you make your decision so you know how everyone feels about an issue. You can have a formal family discussion or even start a group text to simplify things. She mentions that this is an aspect of teenage behavior management strategies that bring everyone’s opinion into the fold and bolster collaboration. Once you’ve heard them out and had a discussion, you should be able to reach a verdict and put the matter to rest. But if your teen is still unhappy with the final result and they start to argue, this could potentially set up a streak of acting out until they get their way.

The problem here is that you want your directive to stand and arguing can be so exhausting. When your teenager doesn’t like a decision, they’ll use bad behavior to make you angry, which can be rewarding to them. One of Catherine’s teenage behavior management strategies is resisting any rude or combative conduct that comes your way. In other words, just ignore them!

When they raise their voice or start to curse but they don’t receive any response, it will defeat the purpose of those actions altogether. This lets your teen know that their bad behavior isn’t going to get them anywhere, reifying the natural consequences of their actions in the moment. Ignoring the bad behavior informs your teen that behaving responsibly and respectfully is their only option left. Catherine’s approach is great because it’s noncombative and internalizes these teenage behavior management strategies, so it’s long-lasting. Because the natural consequences of bad behavior operate internally (meaning your child comes to the realization on their own), they’ll be able to carry this mindset to other conflicts in their life.

What NOT to Ignore…

However, you don’t want to ignore your child completely when they want to express themselves. Rewarding good behavior and engaging your teen in the right way is just as important! In the podcast, we discuss how to reengage your teen by rewarding good behavior, specific instances of when you should NOT ignore things, and applicable tactics to stick to the “ignore it!” method in the moment. There are so many more applications of Catherine’s teenage behavior management strategies that we talk about in the podcast. To hear more about these and related topics in the full episode!

Speaking with Dr. Pearlman was so exciting and informative. Her teenage behavior management strategies are awe inspiring and her experience in behavioral sciences provides a grounded approach to family bonding! I learned so much listening to her, and I know you will, too!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Dr. Catherine Pearlman
Dr. Catherine Pearlman
Author of First Phone & Ignore it!, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Freelance journalist @latimes, @cnn, @USNews, @wsj, https://t.co/rBSG0TZ9fj
Ep 53: Bad Behavior? Ignore It!
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