Often times the behavior of our teenagers can leave us confused and overwhelmed. We scratch our heads and desperately seek answers from wherever we can find them. Whether the behavior is fighting with you and their siblings, harming themselves, withdrawing in a depressed manner, or just simply being angry all the time, we want to know why so we can help them. Some people say every behavior has a goal, that either consciously or subconsciously, there is a goal behind every behavior. Although I believe this is partly true, I think it is more accurate to say that every behavior is related to a need or goal. It is a subtle change I know, but I think it changes the way we look at our kids and their behavior.
Every Behavior is Related to a Goal or Need
Let’s look at this idea a little more closely. Instead of thinking “My kid is acting out to get attention”, we can say, “my kid is acting out because he does not feel seen”. Or instead of, “my kid is cutting because she is depressed”, we can say, “my kid is cutting because she needs to regulate her emotions”. I also think it is important that we look at the behavior as being related to a goal, and not always goal oriented. A good example to help illustrate this is depression. One reason a kid is depressed could be related to the need to feel valuable. By being depressed your kid is not trying to become more valuable, but the feeling of worthlessness is fueling the depression! I think it is also important to realize that there might be several goals or needs at play in a single behavior.
How Does This Help?
At this point you might start to wonder why I am spending so much time on semantics. Does it really matter if it is goal oriented, or goal related? I believe it will have a profound impact on our teenagers and their behaviors if we change our thinking in this way. Instead of thinking of them as using behaviors to manipulate us, we will see them as not knowing how to handle the hurt they are feeling from an unmet need. If we shift our thinking in this way, we will hopefully search from a more compassionate perspective, and hopefully find a more successful way of interacting with them and their behavior. Maybe instead of punishing the behavior out of them, we will seek to understand the related need and help them learn to meet it. Going back to the depression example, we could look for ways to make our kid feel valuable and have purpose, instead of focusing on demanding they stop hiding in their room. I must make an important note here. I am not trying to say feeling worthless is the only related need to depression. As I said earlier, there could be many different related needs that could be at work. Our job is to try to help our teenagers learn and meet their unmet need in a positive way.