THE BLOG
03/16/2015 08:12 pm ET Updated May 16, 2015

Two Simple Questions You Must Ask Your Troubled Teen

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Remember when your child was an infant? All of the sudden you heard a squalling coming from the bassinet. (Amazing that such a loud, obnoxious sound could come out of such a little body, huh?)

You approach the flailing, red, bundle of screaming and in the process of trying to figure out the reason behind the unhappiness, you join the millions of parents around the world in the universal Search for the Reason for the Crying game.

Round 1: Are you hungry? (Chances are this is it. But if you just finished a feeding, the answer is probably no, so you go on to Round 2.)

Round 2: Is it "gas"? (If you just fed him/her, this might be it, but if after you do the burping or the pressing-the-little-legs-toward-the-chest move hoping to squeeze some of the air out the screaming continues, then that's probably not it.)

Round 3: Do you need a diaper change? (If you don't smell anything, you'll likely do the ever-popular but always stupid put-your-finger-in-the diaper maneuver. Oh, that split second where you are not sure what you will end up with on your finger is not for the faint of heart, is it?! Or, if you are feeling more athletic, maybe you'll go for the hold-the-baby-above-your-head and sniff his/her butt test.)

All clear? (Whew!) But the crying continues. So off you go to the Bonus Round.

Bonus Round: Maybe the baby is "overtired." (This was one of my grandmother's favorite ones. Not sure what "overtired" means. Maybe it was her way of saying "effing tired" before the F word became so mainstream. Or maybe it's just a catchall for when you have no effing idea why the baby is crying.)

And on and on it goes, until you hit upon the magic answer, usually signified by an end to the screaming.

I remember those days. I'd look deep into my baby's red sweaty face and ask, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Or, "FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, PLEASE TELL ME! WHAT DO YOU NEED"?

But you can ask all you want; you won't get an answer. So you have to play detective. And sometimes end up a detective with poop on your finger.

Fast forward 13 years....

Your teen is yelling. Slamming doors. Or crying. Or failing all her classes. Or getting into fights. Or drugs. Or cutting her arm with glass.

Maybe you think it's because of her hormones.

Or because he has ADHD.

Or because she is hanging out with bad kids.

And in my line of work, my experience has shown me that these above things may in fact be true. But they often aren't the real underlying reason. Often there is something else going on.

Like maybe she never sees you and misses you.

Or he feels overwhelming stress because he's the "man of the house" after the divorce.

Or maybe she is being bullied.

Or just broke up with her first love.

Or a million other reasons.

The bottom line is he or she is feeling some emotions that he/she has no idea what to do with. So it comes out in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

The only person who knows the real reason, the real root of the problem, is your teen. And until you can identify what exactly it is that is going on, things can't get better.

So, just like all those years ago, you have to play detective.

It's simple. Just start with these same two questions from years ago:

What do you WANT?

What do you NEED?

Unlike that infant, if you ask a teen these questions... and if you sit still across from them, electronics put aside, dishes put aside, homework forgotten, and shut your mouth and open your ears and listen... they will tell you.

For more help parenting teens, check out Joyce's blog at www.joycelinder.net. or her book "Parental Guidance: a School Counselor's Guide to Understanding and Raising Today's Tweens and Teens".