Why Teens Manipulate

It’s easy to think of young people, particularly teenagers, as being manipulative. Teens are known for behaviors like emotional blackmailing, guilt-tripping, playing the victim, and telling white lies. But what we think of as manipulative teenager behaviors are usually a teen trying to get their needs met in unhealthy ways.

It’s important for parents to examine the situation and explore what’s causing this behavior. Many teens who display these behaviors have underlying mental health conditions that affect their decisions and behaviors. Trauma is a common reason why teens might be considered “manipulative.”

Let’s take a closer look at signs your child is manipulating you and how to deal with a “manipulative teenager.”


Signs of a Manipulative Child

Signs teens might be manipulating to try to fulfill their needs are:

  • Ignoring parents and the rules they put in place
  • Giving parents the silent treatment
  • Gaslighting parents
  • Retaliating against parents’ rules by being hurtful, mean, or disrespectful
  • Emotional blackmailing
  • Telling lies
  • Acting overly charming and obedient
  • Playing parents against each other
  • Explosive behavior, throwing tantrums
  • Threatening suicide


What Is Emotional Blackmailing?

Emotional blackmailing, sometimes called emotional extortion, is a type of  behavior in which a teen uses guilt, fear, and intimidation to get their way. Teens may emotionally blackmail you by acting as if you don’t care about them and their needs. This could look like the child telling the parent, “You don’t love me as much as you do [my sibling]!” or “You never give me what I want!” Parents then feel guilty and may make decisions based on that feeling rather than on what’s right for their teen and family. Situations like these end up leading to arguments, anger, and explosive behavior from parent or child—or both.


What to Do If a Teen Threatens Suicide as Emotional Manipulation

Parents  and caregivers should always take suicidal behavior seriously. Whether or not a teen is actually suicidal, it’s essential to respond to this threat. Even if the teen is not planning suicide, talking about ending their life may be a symptom they need mental health treatment.

Take the following actions for preventing teenage suicide and accessing help for a suicidal teenager:

  • Do not leave the teen alone.
  • Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including firearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
  • Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
  • Take the teen to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.


Teenager Behavior and Mental Health Issues

Underlying mental health conditions and past trauma are often the root causes of these behaviors. For example, personality disorders usually develop as a result of childhood trauma. Teens with borderline personality disorder or other personality disorders tend to use charm and truth-bending to get what they want. This does not mean all manipulative teenagers have a personality disorder. However, it’s common for kids who have gone through traumatic events to try to get what they want by any means possible. Most of the time “manipulative teens” are acting in a way that got them through difficult times as a young child. They’ve learned to get their way by lying and using other manipulative tactics. Characteristics of a manipulative child often include internalized self-loathing and low self-esteem, which may have resulted from bullying or abuse. Teen manipulation can be a symptom of depression. Teens might try to mask their depression by charming and lying to others. This is known as smiling depression.


Treatment for Mental Health Issues Underlying Manipulative Child Behavior Symptoms

Manipulative teenager behavior can be a sign of a mental health issue, and possible signs of depression, anxiety, and trauma should always be taken seriously. Mental health professionals are trained to work with children and teens who act manipulatively as a way to get their needs met. A teen mental health assessment with a clinician can uncover trauma, anxiety, depression, or other underlying disorders that require treatment.


At Newport Academy, we support young people ages 12–18 to build healthy emotional regulation, form a strong sense of self, and make positive connections with peers and mentors. If you need help finding age-appropriate resources in your area, contact us. We’re here to help you and your child manage manipulative teen behaviors and other behavioral issues that accompany adolescence.

Learn more at www.newporthealthcare.com