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Teen violence and anti-social behaviour

The path to becoming an adult is an exciting and busy time for teenagers. It is full of new experiences and challenges as teenagers begin to find out who they are and become more independent.  It can also be quite a testing time for parents. Many will have to cope with the mood swings and arguments that come with raising a teenager.  Once you’ve got through to your teen, it’s well worth it. Until then, if you are having a tough time coping, that’s totally normal. Here you can find all the guidance and support you need to get through this tricky but rewarding period.

Teen violence and antisocial behaviour

Read time: 3 minutes

Remember that as they become more independent teenagers are exposed to more risks. Like alcohol or pressure from peers to act in ways that seem out of character. These risks can make them more vulnerable to other risks. Exploitation or violence, for example.

At the same time teenagers have lots of expectations on them - from home, from school and from their peers. We expect them to act like young adults, yet they are often treated like children. So if you're concerned your teen does have a problem or is in trouble, it's important that you seek help. Don't just wait for them to grow out of it - you could be leaving them vulnerable.

The good news is there is lots of help available. And there is lots of information here to support you.

Teenagers are at an age where they want to be free and rebel against the rules. For many parents, this can often result in heated talks and arguments. This can be a testing time but is a usual part of family life.

But where do you draw the line between a teenager who wants to rebel, and one who argues too much and is even violent? Sadly, some teenagers will push the limits too far. In rare cases, this can result in:

  • Verbal abuse, including shouting and swearing
  • Threats and scary behaviour
  • Violence, such as damage to property and even hurting other people
  • Further antisocial behaviour, like getting drunk or vandalism
  • Criminal behaviour

When teenagers behave like this, it can be very upsetting and frightening for parents. As well as their teenager's behaviour, a lot of parents find it hard to cope with their own feelings. Many will begin to doubt their own parenting.

You should never take your teen's behaviour to heart, even if they make you out to be the enemy. It's also important to remember that no matter how bad you feel it is, help is at hand to turn things around.

Reasons for violent and antisocial behaviour

The reasons behind violent, antisocial, and criminal behaviour in teens are rarely simple. It is well known that most teens aren't the chattiest when it comes to talking to their parents! These behaviours are often caused by strong pent-up emotions. If your teen finds it difficult to talk about these emotions they can build until they react in a negative way.

Could your teen be reacting to feeling under pressure at school? Or maybe they have recently gone through a stressful time at home? Often, helping them to speak about what's going on is key to getting to the root of their behaviour.

Other reasons for these behaviours include:

  • Negative relationships. Could your teen's behaviour be the result of peer pressure or bullying? Or might it be due to a friend?
  • Influences at home. If your teen has seen or felt violence, they may believe it is the correct way to deal with conflict. Has your teen been around violence of any kind?
  • Mental health issues. Aggressive or antisocial behaviour could be a sign of a mental health problem. Depression, for example.
  • Criminal exploitation. In extreme cases, teens may be forced into crimes by gang members. This is very serious and needs police attention.

Top tips when dealing with violent and antisocial behaviour

Read time: 2 minutes

Whether your teenager has shown aggressive, violent, or criminal behaviour, similar rules apply. Consider the following when trying to tackle their behaviour:

  • Stay calm. It might be tricky, but it's important to be patient and positive. You may be angry but matching your teen's level of anger will only make things worse.
  • Give them space. Remember, your teen is likely having trouble dealing with difficult feelings. Give them space. Once they have calmed down, try to talk to them about what they are dealing with and offer to help.
  • Listen. If your teen is willing to talk, listen. Don't judge or interrupt them or tell them what they should be doing. The goal here is to help them open up so that you can work out the causes of their behaviour.
  • Help them help themselves. Encourage your teen to spot the triggers causing their behaviour. Then help them express these feelings in a different way. Exercise can be a great place to start.
  • Be consistent. Your teen is more likely to listen if their parents/guardians send the same messages about rules. Talk to the other adults in your teens life. Discuss how you can improve and provide reliable structure.
  • Don't take it personally. Your teen's behaviour is probably caused by a range of issues outside of your control. Once you have worked out what these issues are, you can provide support. Until then, don't take it to heart, even if you are the main target.

If you need professional help

If your teen's behaviour is too difficult for you to handle alone, don't be afraid to ask for help. If your teen has agreed that their behaviour is a problem, consider counselling. Your teen's GP or school will be able to explain what help is available - referral to the Surrey County Council Children's Social Care Target Youth Support Team, for example.

Are you worried your teen's behaviour is caused by a mental health issue? If so, your GP may refer them to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

If things are really bad and you are scared you or a family member might get hurt, don't be reluctant to call the local police on 101. They have experts for this sort of situation who can give advice.

Don't be afraid to reach out

Parents are often hesitant to seek help when their teenager has been violent or threatening. Many are afraid of being judged and thought of as a bad parent. Others feel like they have lost control and are simply too scared to ask for support. But no parent should be made to feel like this.

Violent and antisocial behaviour by one person can affect the whole family. If your teenager's behaviour is leaving you tired and hopeless, don't be afraid to speak up. A good place to start is by speaking to a charity helpline. They can give fair, private support to help with the emotional impact of your teen's behaviour on you. And remember to look after yourself.

Information from external websites

Childline have a page for your teen on dealing with anger. They also have an informative page for your teen on crime and the law.

Family lives has a helpful article on teen violence and a useful article on dealing with anger in teenagers. It also has a helpful article on conversation not confrontation. There is also a section explaining parenting orders.

NHS has a good article on teen aggression and arguments. They also have a page on how to deal with challenging behaviour.

Relate has loads of information on teenage behaviour. You might want to look specifically at the article on teen aggression and violence or at crime and anti-social behaviour.

Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.

You might find it helpful to read a Relate counsellors answer to my teen was violent to me and I don't know what to do.

The Mix offers non-judgemental advice to teens in trouble.

Young Minds has an information for your teen on anger and information for parents on how to support your teen with anger.

Struggling and need to talk?

For you

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your teen call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)

For your teen

Child and Family Health Surrey offer a text service called ChatHealth, a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm). All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.

Childline have a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.

The Mix has a free helpline for under 25s who need help but don't know where to turn. Your teen can call 0808 808 4994 (7 days a week from 3pm to 12am. You can also web chat 7 days a week from 3pm to 12am, however chats may not be connected after 11:15pm).

Useful videos on challenging teenage behaviour

This video from Family Lives looks at teen violence at home.

View on YouTube

EHCAP shares a fantastic video that uses the hand model to help you understand what is happening in the brain when we lose control of our emotions - as useful for understanding your own emotional responses as it is for understanding your teens.

Family Lives has a useful video on understanding your angry teen. You might also want to watch their video offering you 6 top tips for keeping your cool

Young Minds share a video on responding to anger in children.

The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Childline offers a calm zone where your teen can access loads of resources to help when they feel overwhelmed. They also have a toolbox to help take their mind of things and manage their emotions.

Kooth is a free online counselling and emotional well-being platform for children and young people aged 11 - 18. Accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop 365 days a year on Monday to Friday from 12pm–10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 6pm until 10pm.
Your teen can sign up here

You might want to suggest your teen tries the MeeTwo App. it is free, and allows peer to peer support for 11-25 year olds in a forum monitored by trained adults. If your 14 year old posts a question, only other 14 year olds will see the post and be able to respond. Adults monitor questions and answers and hand the question to a counsellor if they feel the child needs more than peer support.

Download Meetwo from Google Play

Download MeeTwo from App Store

NSPCC has a section on talking about difficult topics that includes a handy section of recommended books on parenting teens (scroll down to purple box at the bottom of the page).

Covering a range of topics, Surrey Family Information Service have developed a handbook for parents of 11-19 year olds.

Young Minds has a helpful guide for your teen on dealing with anger. They also have a parent guide to supporting your child with anger. And share 6 top tips for dealing with difficult teen behaviour.

Surrey Mindsight CAMHS offer top tips for your teen on managing anger to print out.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to three online guides that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts.

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guides.

Access to the guides is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021