Helping Teenagers Break Bad Habits

Bad habits are something that every human being on earth will have to face. Everyone can think back on their own life and figure out a bad habit they’ve broken and a bad habit they currently have. One of the most basic goal of a human being is to be comfortable and that is often where bad habits get their basis. The teenage years are a very common starting point for these bad habits because it is a transition period in a young person’s life. They are transitioning into being independent and making their own life choices and their brain is developing more every day. Sometimes this can create a lack in one area or another. Most bad habits can be traced to a lack of some kind whether it be emotional, nutritional or even anxiety related.

As the parent of a teenager, you have to walk a fine line between being a parental figure and allowing your teenager to explore their own life. This can lead some teens into developing bad habits that need to be curbed. The best way to identify if a bad habit needs to be broken is if it is doing the teen damage. For example, biting their nails is not an attractive habit but it’s not really doing any damage to the child. What should be looked at instead is their ability to cope with stress and anxiety, since that is what is most likely fueling the habit. On the other hand, excessive eating can negatively impact the teenager’s health and weight and cause them harm. The second question that the parents must ask themselves is, does my child want to break this habit? You cannot force them into stopping a habit that they don’t wish to stop and so it’s important to see if they have the motivation to work with you in overcoming it.

Some bad habits are so destructive that as the parent, it cannot be controlled or stopped by your intervention alone. This includes the use of alcohol or drugs. These habits are best curbed early and may require the intervention of a professional. Don’t be afraid of calling on help to save your teenager’s life. This is not something that you can handle alone, so seek advice from the professionals as soon as possible.

The best way to stop a bad habit is to prevent it from ever starting. Your teenager needs to have clear boundaries about what you will tolerate as their parent and what is crossing the line. It is vital that in addition to setting the boundaries, there needs to be clear consequences for violating those boundaries. As the parent, you need to live up to those consequences too. If your teenager knows that you won’t actually do what you’re threatening them they have no incentive the follow your guidelines. Having these clearly defined limits on acceptable behavior will help your teenager control their own behavior.

The second thing that parents have to do to help their teen’s break bad habits is to be aware of what’s going on in their lives. Track their progress in school since a sudden drop in their grades might be an indication that something is wrong. Be aware of their health. If they are suddenly gaining weight without any change in physical activity they may be developing bad eating habits that need to be curbed. 

Once you have identified the bad habit that needs to be broken, discuss it with your teenager. Do so in a calm and rational manner, no yelling. At this point you need to be a team with your teenager in working to breaking their bad habits. Discuss ideas about what they can do to make themselves more aware of this behavior and how to stop it. The first step to breaking a bad habit is to recognize that it is one. Once you have brought attention to the behavior, your teenager can start to figure out when and why they do this. Do they bite their nails when they’re bored or anxious? Is there a way they can remind themselves not to do that and do something else instead? What are they going to do instead? All of these things should be talked about and a plan made.

It is okay to have a substitute behavior in the first several weeks or months. Maybe when your teen feels like biting their nails they can chew a piece of gum instead. It’s a much healthier alternative and a good replacement behavior. Ideally, the replacement should be abandoned after the initial difficulties in breaking the habit or else it may become a bad habit in itself.

As a final step, you should be understanding. It is not easy to break a bad habit and your teenager may not be successful on the first try. It might take some time. If you, as the parent, are an understanding ally then they are more likely to be successful. It is also your parental duty to try and satisfy the lack that the bad habit was filling. Figure out what that is with your teenager and how you will work on improving that in the future.