Treating symptoms doesn’t often cure behavior issues with teens. According to Adlerian theory, teen discipline problems will continue until parents address the underlying reason for the problem – what Adler called, “the belief behind the misbehavior”.
Teenage Behavior Problems Stem From Underlying Issues
Some parents address the same teenage behavior problems over and over with little results. Other parents’ efforts seem to stop one misbehavior, but another behavior problem surfaces soon afterwards. A new behavior may look different on the outside, but often is still related to the same underlying belief. When parents treat only the symptoms and not the cause of teen discipline issues, teens usually continue to misbehave. Adlerian theory tools can help parents get to the root of the problem.
Adlerian Theory about Teenage Behavior Problems
Teens are trying to determine their value in a relationship. All teens want a feeling of “belonging and significance”, one of the main concepts in the Adlerian theory of behavior. The idea of “belonging and significance” is Adler’s way of saying that teens want to contribute in meaningful ways to others and feel needed in relationships. Although teens appear to focus on “taking” from parents, teens (as do all people) want to give in their relationships as well.
Contributing to a group or relationship helps teens feel valued. Most teens don’t realize this need for contribution and instead adopt alternative beliefs about relationships. Adler called these alternative ideas, “mistaken beliefs” because teens are mistaken about how to achieve significance and value in their relationships. Preventive teen discipline includes offering opportunities to teens for meaningful contributions to their family and to other groups.
The Mistaken Beliefs Behind Teen Discipline Issues
Adler divided the mistaken beliefs into four categories: Undue Attention, Misguided Power, Revenge and Assumed Inadequacy. Teens may focus on one or more of the four mistaken goals and are usually unaware of their mistaken beliefs. The mistaken goal categories and their respective underlying beliefs behind the misbehavior are:
- Undue Attention: I count or belong only when I am getting attention, when others notice me or when I keep others busy with me.
- Misguided Power: I count or belong only when I’m boss, in control, or proving no one can boss me.
- Revenge: I don’t belong or count and am hurt. I’ll hurt others as I feel hurt.
- Assumed Inadequacy: I don’t belong or count, no matter what I do. I give up.
Adlerian Theory’s Mistaken Goal Chart
The mistaken goal chart helps parents understand some of the basic concepts of Adlerian theory for teen discipline. One important Adlerian concept is that punishment only stops behavior in the moment and doesn’t address the root of teenage behavior problems. Punishment doesn’t teach teens how to give and contribute to the relationship. If a parent is dealing with a teenager who believes they only belong when a parent is doting on them (Undue Attention), punishment will not change the teen’s belief.
The mistaken goal chart helps parents determine a teen’s mistaken belief by targeting the parent’s feelings when the teen misbehaves. The parent’s feelings are clues that point a parent to identify a teen’s mistaken goal. Parents can look through the categories of feeling words and choose the words that best describe their feelings when a teen is behaving. Feeling words on the mistaken goal chart correspond to each of the four mistaken goals for teens.
Addressing Beliefs Behind Teenage Behavior Problems
The mistaken goal chart also offers suggestions to help parents deal with the beliefs behind teen misbehavior. For the mistaken goal of undue attention, suggestions include that parents spend one on one time with a teen on a weekly basis as well as give a teen opportunities to contribute to the family.
Parents wonder why teens continue to misbehave. Teenagers, like all people want to feel they are valued for their contributions in relationships at home, at school and with friends. When parents use the mistaken goal chart to understand why a teen is misbehaving, they can change their teen discipline strategy to focus on a solution that teaches responsibility instead of punishes teens and deals with the underlying belief behind the misbehavior.