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Manipulation In Teenagers

teenagers manipulating peer

As much as this can be challenging for parents, adolescence is a time period in a young person’s life to test limits, push boundaries and learn lessons that ultimately help progress the self-discovery process. Teenagers are fraught with surging hormones, physical changes, social and emotional growth, as well as far reaching expectations and a newfound need for autonomy. It is true that some teens intentionally engage in manipulating behaviors, but in many cases this is not done out of malice, and furthermore is often par for the course with a typically developing teenager. Understanding this information, however, does not make navigating your teenagers manipulating behaviors any easier. Becoming aware of the signs of teenage manipulation and certain tactics could be helpful in managing your teenager’s manipulative behaviors more effectively.  


Every teen is different, as is every adolescent-parent relationship. As such, young people will often employ various manipulation techniques that specifically work with their parents. Below are several signs of a teen being manipulative:

  • Lying: overtly lying, telling white lies, and/ or telling lies of omission
  • Steamrolling: constantly repeating the same question over and over again to wear a parent down
  • Playing the victim: used to create doubt (i.e. a teen saying “I am only one that is isn’t allowed to stay out past 10pm, everyone else’s parents let them stay out later.”)
  • Emotional blackmail: when a teen says that if they don’t get what they want they will be upset, or when a teen says they need something in order to be happy
  • Explosive behavior: this is the teenage version of a temper tantrum (i.e. throwing things, screaming, engaging in a heated argument, etc.) 
  • Playing the parents against each other: a teen that asks one parent a question and does not get the answer they want will then go to the other parent and ask the same question and/ or say the first parent approved as long as the second parent would allow it as well 

Although teen’s physical appearance begins to resemble an adult more than a young child, it is imperative to bear in mind that they are not yet adults, and will behave accordingly. Teenagers will continue to use manipulation techniques as long as they continue to work. 

Emotional Extortion

Most teenagers want everything to go their way all of the time. Especially with parents, they have an uncanny ability to circumvent an undesirable answer and wear the parent down using creative, manipulative tactics.  Emotional extortion, according to Psychology Today is manipulation of parental authority through any combination of lying, pretense, and pressuring. The ultimate objective of teenage emotional extortion is to get parents to give in and/ or change their mind. Emotional extortion often comes into play when a young person fails to win an argument with a parent. For example, this can manifest as a teen (that is usually difficult to get along with) expressing affection, appreciation and/ or love to a parent that is sensitive to approval. Which, in turn, could result in the parent changing his or her mind because the teen is playing to his or her emotions and behaving so lovingly. The emotions exploited will vary, as they depend on the emotional susceptibility of the parent. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at or through our contact form.

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