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Manipulation, a technique utilized effectively by spies, marketers, and terrorist recruiters, can be used to devastating effect by teenagers.

Mind you, not all manipulation is used for evil purposes: Teenagers may simply do it to receive love and attention.

Otherwise, the word terrorist is used advisedly here. Some teens may use severe measures to get what they want, particularly if they have suffered trauma or intense stress. This can lead to what psychologists call emotional terrorism or blackmail. It is a severe form of psychological manipulation that uses implied or overt threats and/or punishments in order to control another person’s behavior. With teenagers this threat or punishment can also involve forms of self-harm such as abusing substances. Parents and loved ones can find themselves being held hostage to such behavior. The emotional terrorist uses the victim’s empathy against themselves.

The Teenage Brain: A Work in Progress

Add to this situation the onset of hormonal and brain changes, underdeveloped judgment, overdeveloped peer pressure, reduced risk aversion, and a hunger for new experiences and feelings. Adolescent brains are also wired to be over-receptive to short-term rewards and peer approval. This can lead to risky behaviors.

Also in this stage of development teens can exhibit narcissistic behavior. For most of us, it tends to peak during the young adulthood years. Generally speaking, millennials are no more prone to narcissism than their grandparents1, though not everyone agrees with this. A culture of overzealous parents convincing their children they are special and the rise of social media hasn’t helped. Features of narcissistic behavior include self-centeredness, manipulating others, a sense of entitlement, vanity, materialism, and self-deception.

With puberty begins a reshaping of the brain. Lots of changes are happening and they can have serious impacts on behavior – neurons and synapses grow and are sloughed off, the limbic system transforms, and the production of hormones explodes including those for stress, growth and sex – the production of testosterone in boys increases by 10 times. During this upheaval adolescents are especially vulnerable to addiction; most addictions get started in adolescence. Teen brains are more susceptible than adult brains to alcohol-induced toxicity and marijuana’s blocking of cell signaling. Pleasurable new experiences – like music, internet porn, and drugs – can quickly become habits. Substance abuse will effect brain development and can effect changes in perceptual skills, thought and reasoning.

The Teenage Narcissist and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is often about avoidance – avoidance of pain, of shame, or any uncomfortable feeling. It is also a selfish, self-centered act – much like narcissism. Like the narcissist, the substance abuser and addict feels that the needs of those around them come second to meeting their own need, which, when it comes to substances, can be an overpowering desire. The need is all consuming. This can be particularly problematic with stimulants like meth and cocaine. Stimulants enhance a person’s perception of their own “specialness,” control, and self-delusion. This self-delusion can make the addict even more resistant to treatment. Their puffed-up sense of self can make them believe that addiction and substance abuse, if they can admit to it, is something they can handle on their own.

In the end, narcissism, like addiction, is an empty and lonely place to be. Being oblivious to the needs and cares of others can be isolating and desolate. In the long run, it fails to serve the individual.

Rebellion, It’s Not All Bad

Defiance in teenagers is nothing new. Laws regarding the handling of recalcitrant teens go back to at least biblical times. Rebellion is nothing unusual and most teens will go through it. It can involve anything from listening to music parents don’t approve of, to skipping classes and substance abuse. Pressure from peers can be powerful at this time. To wit: Kids are six times more likely to have a drink if their friends often drink alcohol.

With the right encouragement, this teenage rebellion can be made into something more virtuous and wholesome.

A new study2 found that if teenagers imagine healthy behavior as an act of defiance, they can act in their better interests. The study focused on changing teenagers’ attitudes about consuming junk food and the perception of being manipulated and duped into submitting to an overbearing authority. This philosophy has been used successfully, with the help of teenage consultants, in an anti-smoking campaign. This philosophy works not only with teenagers, but with adults too: Adults will work harder when they believe they are serving a higher purpose.

Squashing Rebellion Also Has Consequences

Overprotecting teens can also have deleterious consequences. According to a study, parents who undermine their children’s ability to practice self-directed, independent decision making by using guilt, withdrawal of love, or emotional manipulation can affect a child’s ability to keep and balance relationships when they reach adulthood.

Helicopter or overly intensive parenting can also backfire. The stress of parents, especially if they are bring home their anxieties from work and trying to find time to parent, may transfer to their children, affecting them negatively. Also, trying to influence behavior with punishments, or even rewards, may not result in the desired behavior. What is likelier to happen is that the child will work harder to avoid getting caught the next time. This can make your children into sneakier adults, too3.

The influence of parents as role models naturally wanes in the teenage years. But strong family support is still an important aspect of teenage development. A study4 found that teenagers without adult supervision tend to engage in more risky behaviors. Conversely, teenagers that received consistent and fair discipline engaged in less risky behaviors. On the other hand, teens that have had absolute independence from parental authority are most likely not to listen to their parents if they used threats of punishment for controlling behavior. Such intermittent authority fosters a lack of respect when parental authority is eventually exercised.

Role modeling by parents is an important way of signaling to children what’s appropriate in terms of behavior, activities, and beliefs.

Rebelliousness and the Coolness Factor

Popularity can become highly coveted in the teen years, sometimes to a fault. Teens who try to act above their age to gain popularity are more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol as well as criminal behavior5. Adolescents haven’t yet reached the appropriate emotional and behavioral maturity that comes with adulthood. These behaviors include using alcohol and drugs, staying out late, smoking, and having sex. If these behaviors work for them in the shorter term, they require more and more extreme behaviors in the longer term to maintain the coolness factor.

What works best?

Investments made by parents into early relationships with their children will result in better lives and outcomes. To this end, the relationship with a father can be especially important. But to experience maltreatment as a child, from either parent, a child is twice as likely to be depressed as an adult.

Depression increases risk of substance abuse, other addictive behaviors, and suicidal thoughts.

The good news: According to a recent survey teens are actually drinking less, abusing fewer prescription and synthetic drugs, and smoking fewer cigarettes.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

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