Let me just say it up front: Living with toxic parents as a teenager can be unimaginably hard. There are subtle toxic parents, but there are those who are downright abusive.
I tackle this post with two important assumptions:
- Your parents are no doubt and 100% toxic. There’s a load of resources floating around the internet that teach you how to identify toxic parents. Be sure they’re indeed toxic.
- You still live with your toxic parents. But this post still mostly applies even if you don’t.
I also divided this post into two parts: How to deal with your toxic parents as a teenager, and the things you can do in the background.
Remember, time can go so fast and when you reach 18, you are officially an adult (in most states) and you can finally leave your toxic home.
I know how painful living with toxic parents can be. My heart goes out to you and I wish you nothing but good luck and all the beautiful things in life.
How to Deal with Toxic Parents as a Teenager
Part 1: How to deal with your toxic parents
1. Lie low. Keep the peace. Literally.
Your family is toxic and dysfunctional. Understand that things that happen within your family are not normal, as in not “healthy and spontaneous and geared-towards-growth” normal.
Therefore, you have to be used to acting in stealth mode, doing “abnormal” things, and that’s okay.
Try to avoid the spotlight. (Of course, this is easier said than done.) This does take effort but, like habits, it can become second nature.
Don’t reason with them. Learn conversation diversion tactics. Keep your room and things clean and tidy. Follow house rules.
You are literally coaxing them to think that you are a fine kid. You need this to avoid further toxicity. Think as if you’re managing the toxic energies in the household, but to your benefit.
2. Limit your exposure to your toxic parents by keeping yourself busy outside the home.
Feel free to join groups in your community. It could be the church, academic organizations, sports clubs, the gym, hobby clubs, etc.
Not only are these groups fun, but you also guard your mental and emotional health by literally getting away from your toxic parents.
You could even gain your parents’ favor if they know some people in those groups.
Just beware of the groups you’re joining, on which I’ll elaborate later.
3. Set and uphold strong boundaries.
Another one that seems impossible with toxic parents, but setting boundaries becomes easier as you grow up.
The thing about boundaries is that it may be hard to learn them—and accept that you need them—due to your upbringing. You have been conditioned to live without boundaries—toxic parents need that to violate them in the first place.
But now that you’re a teenager, you can learn the skills in finding your way to somehow enforce your boundaries. Hopefully your toxic parents will get used to it.
4. Be mindful of what you share with them.
It can get lonely to feel entrapped in such a family, but it’s not a reason to share personal and sentimental stories with them. Maybe try that with friends you find from the social groups I previously pointed out.
Remember, it’s all a game now. You have to try to win their favor most of the time. This entails telling them what they only want to hear. Be your toxic parents’ “friend.”
Because they will use anything to get to you and hurt you. Therefore it’s a terrible idea to be telling them of things dear to you.
5. Set your expectations ridiculously low.
Toxic parents get into a good mood, too, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that every time it happens, they’re changing for the better.
Toxic people very rarely change. To change, they have to realize what they’re doing wrong first, which they likely fail to do so.
To avoid unnecessary hurt and drama, just set your expectations so low that whatever they do (within limits) won’t evoke any bad feelings from you anymore. It is a superpower.
6. Grow a thick skin.
It’s going to get better. But as you’re still in this game of living with toxic parents, you need to toughen up. I advocate getting in touch with your emotions, but you also have to focus on protecting yourself.
If any, this skill will further help you in life. You’ll need a thick skin to get what you want. Consider this phase your training.
Part 2: Things you can do in the background
1. Understand your teenage years.
Adolescence is a challenging period of your life.
Your body is literally changing—hormonally, biologically. You are discovering things about yourself you think your parents, let alone toxic parents, would not understand. You’re becoming more self-conscious. You’re now looking for your tribe—your teenage peers. You’re getting anxious about the world that seems to be getting even bigger.
You are prone to mistakes, bad decisions, and outbursts. Risky behavior is just dormant, waiting to rear its ugly head.
My point is that even though your teenage years could be the most colorful phase of your life, these changes can also bring out the worst in you. These changes are beyond your control, but if you take this to heart moving forward, you can use them to your advantage.
For example, when you’re having an unstable mood, do not engage with your toxic parents. You may leave the house temporarily to cool down. Yes, your teenage years should be yours, but it’s just a different story with toxic parents.
2. You are not the problem.
You’ve probably developed that inner critic in your head, which says nothing but all the negative things you learned from your parents.
Turn that narrative around. You happen to be born to toxic parents, and that’s simply what it is. Learn to slowly silence that inner critic. There’s a new world of self-discovery waiting for you.
3. Beware: You are likely to gravitate towards teenagers/people who are toxic or who have toxic parents as well.
I wish I had known this in my youth.
Because you’ve been a helpless and dependent child, you have developed patterns in your personality that are mostly molded by your toxic parents. And toxic people can easily pick up on those patterns.
Choose your friends wisely. The pain of your childhood may blind you. You may get generally impulsive with your peers because you feel the freedom and love that are lacking with your toxic parents, but these peers could be the toxic people you wish to avoid in the first place. The attraction is only natural because of your circumstances.
Be aware of that “quirk.” Toxic parents have taught you to see people differently but thanks to this age of information, you can now correctly educate yourself.
4. Find people you trust. Build your support system.
Start with the network you already have. They could be your friends or relatives. It could be the school counselor or therapist or your teachers. Or a youth pastor.
Finding trusted people is easier at this stage of your life—take advantage of it. You’re going to need these people especially in your situation. What’s more, adolescence is a time when lifelong friendships can form.
Feeling a sense of belonging is great, but having a real family that deeply cares about you is a blessing. Don’t pass up the opportunity!
5. Accept, grieve, and take care of yourself.
This won’t be easy, but by accepting and grieving over the fact that you didn’t have the parents you needed, you can move on and take care of yourself.
Keep working on yourself. Get enough sleep. Be wary of the ugly side of social media. Get yourself a hobby. Read books. Commit to regular exercise. Fight the inner critic.
You have a chance of taking charge of your life despite your family background. Whatever happens, prioritize your needs. You want to go through this difficult situation but in a healthy and productive fashion.
6. Work your way to becoming self-sufficient. Plan your exit.
In most states, 18 is the age you’re officially an adult and can legally leave your toxic home.
Until then, work hard until you can finally be on your own.
Do well in school. Achieve good grades. School might feel like a drag but trust me, it’s only a short time compared to the life ahead of you. Skip the parties. Focus on your studies. Don’t think school isn’t that important. Your performance in school is important. The skills and discipline you learn will largely influence your future.
Then apply for scholarships. You may need to get a job to support yourself—do it. This difficult phase will teach you invaluable life lessons.
Remember, you have a full life ahead of you. Time flies so fast and you’ll be on your own sooner or later.
7. Seek professional help if you can.
Your support network might not give you everything you need, with which a mental health professional can help (a shrink, therapist, counselor, etc.).
You’ve been through a lot and you deserve all the help you can get.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for it. In the grand scheme of things, people only think about themselves. Don’t worry much about what they think. Other people get treated for their mental or emotional issues as well. It’s fine.
8. Know where to get help in case of an emergency.
Be sure you’re able to contact a friend or relative or anyone from your support system in case things get out of hand. Some toxic parents can get abusive and it’s amazing how atrocious they can be.
If the first adult does not seem to listen to your cry for help, keep telling other adults until someone responds.
You may also contact your health care provider, a local child welfare agency, or the police department.
Keep your phone safe and always with you.
If you cannot approach anyone, you may contact Childhelp USA: call or text (800) 422-4453. Or the National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline, (800) 799-7233.
For outside the U.S., visit Child Helpline International.
Do toxic parents still love you?
Your toxic parents may believe they genuinely love you. And indeed, it may be true. Love, however, is shown mostly through actions. Unfortunately, toxic parents show other (toxic) behaviors that are more dominant than love.
I address this topic in another post, Do Toxic Parents Love You? I encourage you to read it.
The bottom line is that I believe your toxic parents do love you, but because they have unresolved issues—which mostly root from their own childhood—they cannot show you acts of genuine love. Instead, what you see are symptoms of those unresolved issues.
Only a very few toxic parents realize this and are willing to make amends with their children. If this happens to you, then I’m seriously happy for you. But as always, set your expectations low.
The definition of love may depend on the person, but we can also take that love means treating right the people you care about. The actions say it all. But perhaps, above all, only you can answer whether your toxic parents still love you.
- Abuse: What You Need to Know. Nemours Children’s Health.
- Adolescence. Psychology Today.
- Child abuse: Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic.
- How to Deal with Toxic Parents. Healthnews.
Image Credits: Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash