Signs Your Teen May Be Manipulating You (2023)

Manipulative behavior in teens can be concerning. Here are signs of manipulative teenage behavior and how to handle it effectively.

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As a parent, you know that the teenage years can bring some of the toughest parenting challenges.

As your child reaches adolescence, they may start to undergo all kinds of changes, both physically and emotionally. They’re often exploring and developing their identity, which may involve questioning the values you’ve taught.

Even under the best of circumstances, disagreements and sudden changes in mood may be par for the course during this commonly turbulent time.

It may be hard to tell the difference between typical teenage “acting out” and behavior that’s more concerning, like manipulation.

Manipulative behavior might look like:

  • lying
  • emotional blackmailing
  • bullying

If these behaviors sound familiar, they could be signs of manipulation.

In young children, manipulative behavior is usually easy to spot. But as children grow older, their behavior may become more subtle and nuanced.

(Video) 10 Signs You're Being Manipulated

Still, most people can sense something is off when they’re being manipulated.


Your teenager may try to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries or imposing consequences or discipline. They might say things like, “Why do you hate me?” or compare you unfavorably to their friends’ parents.

Playing the victim

Your teenager may deflect blame onto others or refuse to accept responsibility for their mistakes. This behavior can often show up in interpersonal conflict at school but might also come up at home.

Playing parents against each other

A teenager may try to use one parent’s words against the other or try to persuade one parent to join them and gang up on the other.

To avoid this, communicate clearly with your partner or co-parent and work to be on the same page regarding expectations and consequences.

Emotional blackmailing

Teenagers often need and want things from their parents, and they may use your feelings to control your behavior. For example, a teenager may emotionally blackmail you by acting sad or withholding affection until they get their way.


If they don’t get their way, some teenagers might respond by retaliating, which can look like:

  • saying something hurtful
  • giving you the silent treatment
  • refusing to do what you ask

Behaving angrily or explosively

You probably thought temper tantrums ended after the toddler stage, but teenagers may exhibit this behavior, too. Anger and explosive rage can be some of the easiest manipulative behaviors to spot.

It’s common for teenagers to have a conflict with their parents and even to yell sometimes. But if your child’s anger is excessive or frequent, it may be part of manipulative behavior.

Threatening suicide

In extreme situations, a teenager may threaten suicide as a manipulation tactic. However, it’s important to always take such statements seriously: Suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 19.

Get help immediately by calling 911, taking your teen directly to the emergency room, or calling the 24-7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Even if you think your teen is expressing thoughts of suicide in the context of manipulative behavior, it’s still important to take it seriously. This also may be a sign that mental health support is needed, whether or not their expressions are genuine.

(Video) Is your teen manipulating you to get what they want?

The above behaviors don’t necessarily mean that your teenager is consciously trying to manipulate you. To get a better understanding of where this behavior is coming from, it may be a good idea to consider the possible causes.

Conflicts or transitions taking place in your child’s life or yours could be a trigger, including:

  • \divorce, separation, or a new partner entering the home
  • moving to a new house, city, or school
  • conflict with siblings or friends
  • difficulty with schoolwork
  • bullying or social isolation
  • traumatic events
  • the addition of a new sibling or step-sibling at home

If you can’t identify a cause, you may want to consider speaking to your child’s teachers, sports coaches, and any other authority figures in their life to get as full a picture as you can.

In some cases, it may be difficult to understand the reasons for manipulative behavior in your teen, which is another reason getting support from a mental health professional can be helpful.

If you’ve realized that your teenager is trying to manipulate you, you’re probably feeling a real mix of emotions. You may feel angry, sad, confused, or even betrayed.

Try to make some space for yourself to process your feelings, both in the moment and after the fact. Speaking with your partner, co-parent, therapist, or another supportive individual can be helpful in addressing these behaviors in your teen.

(Video) 8 Signs of a Manipulative Personality

Set boundaries

In some cases, the best way to respond is to address the behavior directly.

Consider calmly and firmly setting boundaries with your child by making it clear what your expectations are and what actions are unacceptable. Communicate and consistently enforce consequences that will come with breaking the rules.

It’s common for teens to test boundaries to see where there’s room to expand or break them. Intervening immediately is often the most effective approach:

  • Communicate the boundaries again.
  • Discuss the disobedient or disrespectful behaviors.
  • Enforce the consequences.

Clear communication is often beneficial in setting rules, as well as respecting your teen’s personal boundaries.

Avoid accidental ‘rewards’

It also can be important to avoid rewarding any manipulative behavior. Remember that in some cases, even negative attention can be a “reward.”

Try to calmly get to the root of the problem

Sometimes, focusing too much on the behavior itself can be a distraction from the root problem. If there are any specific issues that you think may be causing your child to act out, try to bring this up in a calm and validating manner.

Consider encouraging them to be honest about anything that’s bothering them, and try to actively listen to what they’re telling you.

Teens may exhibit manipulative behaviors when they need something, such as wanting to feel more loved, safe, validated, or supported, for example.

However, your child’s feelings aren’t the problem. How they may be using manipulative behavior to express their needs can be troubling.

Building a healthy relationship

This behavior isn’t usually something teenagers consciously or intentionally engage in. They may turn to manipulative behavior because they might feel as though it’s the only way to get their needs met.

If you focus on building a healthy, positive relationship in which they feel able to speak their mind, the situation may begin to improve.

Showing your teen that you care about them is one of many ways to strengthen your relationship with them. Some simple ways to show you care and potentially decrease manipulative behaviors can include:

(Video) 5 Signs You're Unintentionally Manipulative

  • spending time together doing activities you both enjoy
  • regularly checking in with them about how they’re doing
  • validating their feelings
  • being respectful of their boundaries
  • setting a good example of the behavior you’d like to see

Focusing on positive reinforcement and a healthy relationship is much easier and more effective than punishing negative behavior.

Provide consistent consequences

Your teen needs to know that trying to manipulate you isn’t acceptable. Try to be calm and caring — but firm and clear with communication about their behavior and the consequences.

Consider holding a family meeting to develop a consensual contract that outlines house rules and repercussions. Choose constructive consequences, such as removing access to TV or their car until they go one week without engaging in manipulative behaviors.

Not enforcing the consequences you’ve laid out may encourage manipulative behavior, so it’s important to consistently follow through. Not addressing manipulative behavior in teens can encourage a pattern that may impact their future adult relationships.

Seek professional help

Sometimes, teens can become manipulative as a response to an underlying issue. If your efforts to get them to drop their manipulative behaviors fail — or they open up about the root cause of their behavior — it can be a good idea to get professional help.

Depending on the situation, you could find a therapist for family or individual mental health treatment.

Try not to let your teenager’s manipulative behavior get to you. As upsetting and overwhelming as it may feel, it can be a natural part of their emotional development, and it doesn’t have to mean anything negative for the long term.

By becoming aware of the problem, you’ve already taken the first step toward a solution.

Be sure to tend to your own mental health as well as your child’s. You might consider attending individual therapy or participating in a support group or online forum to share your experience with other parents.

(Video) 10 Signs Your Parents Are Manipulative


How do you tell if your child is manipulating you? ›

What are signs of manipulative behavior?
  1. throwing temper tantrums.
  2. accusing.
  3. telling lies.
  4. triangulating (pitting other kids or authority figures against each other, while trying to get someone on your side)

What are 3 signs that someone is trying to manipulate you? ›

Signs of Manipulation
  • They know your weaknesses and how to exploit them.
  • They use your insecurities against you.
  • They convince you to give up something important to you, to make you more dependent on them.
Dec 10, 2022

How do you test if someone is manipulating you? ›

Signs of manipulative behavior
  1. Gaslighting, lying, and guilt-tripping.
  2. Refusing to compromise.
  3. Passive-aggressive behavior, including the silent treatment.
  4. Extreme emotional highs and lows that impact the relationship.
  5. Isolating you from relationships with family and friends.
Oct 1, 2022

How do you respond to parental manipulation? ›

A good first step is to acknowledge that you're aware of the manipulation. It's normal to feel upset or pressured, but remember: That's how they want you to feel. Try grounding yourself or using breathing exercises to cool down and relax. Use respectful language and “I” statements to avoid sounding confrontational.

How do you prove a child is being manipulated? ›

Your records should include: A record of all contact you have with the other person, including emails, texts, phone calls, and in-person meetings whether the children are present or not. Be cautious. Don't make contact by phone or meet the other parent alone if possible.

What are the signs of parental brainwashing? ›

  • A Campaign of Denigration. ...
  • Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations. ...
  • Lack of Ambivalence About the Alienating Parent. ...
  • The “Independent Thinker” Phenomenon. ...
  • Absence of Guilt About the Treatment of the Targeted Parent. ...
  • Reflexive Support for the Alienating Parent in Parental Conflict. ...
  • Presence of Borrowed Scenarios.

What are the 4 stages of manipulation? ›

The 4 stages of manipulation
  • Flattery. The first stage is when the person who manipulates puts on a facade of being kind, caring, and helpful. ...
  • Isolation. This is when the person who manipulates may start to isolate you from your friends and family. ...
  • Devaluing and gaslighting. ...
  • Fear or violence.

What are gestures of a manipulator? ›

Manipulator gestures are movements in which one body part "manipulates" or interacts with another part of the body (i.e. one part of the body grooms, massages, rubs, holds, pinches, picks, scratches, etc. another body part).

What are gestures of manipulation? ›

But chances are, our manipulators were giving off these five signs of manipulation.
Signs of a manipulator
  • Foot tapping. ...
  • Chin scratching. ...
  • Hand and neck rubbing. ...
  • Eye contact and movement. ...
  • Shifting body positions.
Oct 26, 2022

What are the 8 signs of emotional manipulation? ›

Common signs of manipulation.
  • You're doubting your own reality.
  • The relationship is very emotionally intense.
  • You fear abandonment.
  • You have a gut feeling that something's wrong.
  • You feel insecure.
  • They want you to depend on them and only them.
  • They keep comparing you to others.
Apr 29, 2021

How can you tell if someone is unintentionally manipulative? ›

"Unintentional manipulation can show up in exaggerating the facts," Silvershein says. "If someone had an early-morning flight that takes off at 8 a.m., they may say their flight is at 6 a.m. since they technically have to leave for the airport at 6 a.m. They know that this story is better and will gain more empathy."

How do you outsmart a manipulative person? ›

6 ways to disarm a manipulator
  1. Postpone your answer. Don't give them an answer on the spot. ...
  2. Question their motivations. Manipulators often hide their real motivations because they don't like to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors. ...
  3. Show disinterest. ...
  4. Impose boundaries. ...
  5. Keep your self-respect. ...
  6. Apply fogging.
Jun 23, 2021

What are signs of toxic parenting? ›

Common Toxic Traits
  • They're self-centered. They don't think about your needs or feelings.
  • They're emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. They share improper info with you, like details about their intimate lives. ...
  • They seek control. ...
  • They're harshly critical. ...
  • They lack boundaries.

What is parental gaslighting? ›

Parental gaslighting is a subtle and covert form of emotional abuse. These parents manipulate to undermine the child's sense of reality and mental stability. Some well-meaning parents may gaslight their children in an attempt to protect them.

What is narcissistic parental alienation? ›

Narcissistic parental alienation syndrome, or parental alienation syndrome (PAS), occurs when one parent coercively tries to alienate their child from an otherwise loving parent. This manipulation then results in the child's dislike or rejection of the alienated parent.

What does child manipulation look like? ›

If your daughter blatantly ignores you, or says, “I've barely watched any”, or starts crying just to get her way she is using manipulation. In a nut shell, if your children are being disrespectful, using mean words, or other forms of power to bully you into giving them their way– they are manipulating.

Why does my child try to manipulate me? ›

It's part of their normal routine. They learn to use their charms and strengths to get their way and negotiate more power in the family. On the one hand, some forms of manipulation by kids are harmless.

What are some warning signs that a child could have a controlling parent? ›

Signs of a controlling parent
  • Interfering in nearly every aspect of the child's life.
  • Criticizing any choice a child tries to make independently.
  • High, truly unattainable standards.
  • Conditional love.
  • Rigid (and unrealistic) rules.
  • Lack of empathy and respect.
  • Unreasonably harsh punishment.

What are toxic parent behaviors? ›

Toxic parents create a negative and toxic home environment. They use fear, guilt, and humiliation as tools to get what they want and ensure compliance from their children. They are often neglectful, emotionally unavailable, and abusive in some cases. They put their own needs before the needs of their children.

What triggers manipulation? ›

People manipulate others to get what they want. This type of behavior may have a number of causes including interpersonal dynamics, personality characteristics, a dysfunctional upbringing, attachment issues, or certain mental health conditions.

What are tactics used in manipulation? ›

Manipulation is when a person uses controlling and harmful behaviors to avoid responsibility, conceal their true intentions, or cause doubt and confusion. Manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting, lying, blaming, criticizing, and shaming, can be incredibly damaging to a person's psychological well-being.

What are common things manipulators say? ›

7 things manipulators say to make you feel that you are the bad person in the room
  • “You misunderstood what I said” ...
  • “I don't like drama” ...
  • “You are too sensitive” ...
  • “I didn't say/do that” or “It wasn't my idea, it was yours” ...
  • “I see you want to start a fight” ...
  • “You are so negative”
Dec 13, 2021

How do manipulators play the victim? ›

Manipulators often play the victim role ("woe is me") by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances or someone else's behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from someone.

What are three manipulative skills? ›

Types of Manipulative Skills
  • Bouncing.
  • Catching.
  • Dribbling (moving a ball with the feet, as in soccer)
  • Kicking or rolling (a ball)
  • Lifting.
  • Pushing and pulling (the object might be a wheeled toy)
  • Striking (such as swinging a baseball bat or golf club to hit a ball)
  • Throwing.
Sep 22, 2021

What are the 5 stages of manipulation? ›

Stages of manipulation and coercion
  • Targeting stage. The alleged abuser may:
  • Friendship-forming stage. The alleged abuser may:
  • Loving relationship stage. Once they have established trust, the alleged abuser may:
  • Abusive relationship stage. The alleged abuser may:
Sep 13, 2022

What is a manipulative message? ›

A person making this type of statements is trying to control an outcome. Says there is a tone in the text. There is usually not enough of a message to infer a tone. This comment is designed to put someone on the defensive.

What are the five manipulative movement? ›

Manipulative movements involve the body as well as objects. Examples of manipulative movement include throwing, catching, kicking, hitting, striking, dribbling, punting, and volleying.

What does narcissistic manipulation look like? ›

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse, and it's a hallmark of narcissism. People with NPD may tell blatant lies, falsely accuse others, spin the truth, and ultimately distort your reality — especially in response to perceived challenges of authority or fear of abandonment.

How do you tell if someone is using you emotionally? ›

9 signs someone is using you in a relationship
  1. The conversation is always about them. ...
  2. They always let you pick up the check. ...
  3. You always have to come to their rescue. ...
  4. They never say thank you. ...
  5. They're always asking for favors. ...
  6. You start to resent them. ...
  7. Your emotional needs are never considered, let alone met.
Nov 1, 2018

How do I know if I'm being emotionally manipulated? ›

"If you have voiced a concern but still feel frustrated, anxious, and pacified, you [may] have been emotionally manipulated," says Porche. "If you feel one way and someone is trying to convince you to feel another way, you are [likely] being emotionally manipulated.

Can someone be manipulative and not realize it? ›

According to therapist and relationship expert Ken Page, LCSW, everyone can be manipulative from time to time, sometimes without even realizing it. "We are all human, and all of us manipulate because it's a human defense mechanism," he says.

What is an example of emotional manipulation? ›

Some of the most common include: Using intense emotional connection to control another person's behavior. For example, an abusive person may try to manipulate a person by moving very quickly in a romantic relationship. They may overwhelm their victim with loving gestures to lower their guard or make them feel indebted.

Do manipulative people know they are being manipulative? ›

Even some manipulators are sometimes not aware of their actions, so it can be really confusing to figure out when someone is a victim of manipulation. Manipulators often use fraudulent ways of gaining power over someone's emotions.

How do you reveal a manipulator? ›

Some signs of a manipulative person may include:
  1. persistent excessive attention, love, and flattery.
  2. persistence despite boundaries.
  3. time pressure (to get you to act)
  4. incongruence between words and actions.
  5. you feel guilt, shame, or generally “off” around this person.
Sep 21, 2022

Which personality disorder is manipulative? ›

One of the most common ways of characterizing patients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder is that they are manipulative. Clinical usage of the term varies widely but clearly carries a pejorative meaning.

Are my parents toxic or am I? ›

Some of the common signs of a toxic parent or parents include: Highly negatively reactive. Toxic parents are emotionally out of control. They tend to dramatize even minor issues and see any possible slight as a reason to become hostile, angry, verbally abusive, or destructive.

What are things toxic parents say? ›

The most common toxic behavior of parents is to criticize their child, express self-wishes, complain about the difficulties of raising a child, make unhealthy comparisons, and make hurtful statements1.

What are examples of Parentification? ›

What is an example of parentification? Parentification can take the form of responsibility for life tasks (caring for a sibling, cooking and cleaning, or paying bills) or age-inappropriate emotional support (listening to adult problems, offering advice, or mediating with another family member).

What is malicious mother syndrome? ›

What is Malicious Parent Syndrome? Malicious Parent Syndrome (MPS) is a type of vengeful behavior exhibited by some divorcing or separated parents. It occurs when a parent deliberately tries to place the other bad parent in a bad light and harm their child's relationship with them.

How narcissists gaslight their children? ›

Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.

How does a narcissist show in parenting? ›

Narcissistic parents maintain their power by triangulating, or playing favorites. They may have a golden child who they compliment excessively, for example, while speaking badly about another child in the family. This can make children feel uncomfortable, disloyal and psychologically unsafe.

What is the mother of a narcissist like? ›

She assumes that everyone is just an extension of herself, and therefore, she can control everyone else. She uses criticism, blame, and degrading insults to control her children. Insecurity, shame, and self-loathing are common feelings experienced by adult children whose mothers are narcissistic3.

How does a narcissistic mother behave? ›

A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, seek admiration from others, believe she is above others, lack empathy, exploit her children, put others down, experience hypersensitivity to criticism, believe she deserves special treatment, and worst of all, maybe naïve to the damage she is causing.

At what age do children start manipulating their parents? ›

Preschool age is described as a sensitive period for the development of children's manipulations. Examples of children's tricks and gimmicks are correlated with the age characteristics of the child of 3-7 years.

What is considered child manipulation? ›

A manipulative child often exploits situations or people to get what they want, be it their favorite food, toys, or attention and praise from parents, caregivers, siblings, and friends. Manipulation is the act of gaining control over someone or making someone give in to one's demands by using skillful tactics.

What are manipulation tactics? ›

Manipulation is when a person uses controlling and harmful behaviors to avoid responsibility, conceal their true intentions, or cause doubt and confusion. Manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting, lying, blaming, criticizing, and shaming, can be incredibly damaging to a person's psychological well-being.

Is my child gaslighting me? ›

When a loved one is gaslighting you, they're trying to subtly manipulate you into their point of view or to do something they otherwise couldn't convince you to do. Some classic gaslighting signs are as follows: Frequent lying on the part of the manipulator. You feel less confident over time when you're around them.

What does emotional manipulation look like? ›

Emotional manipulation occurs when a manipulative person seeks power over someone else and employs dishonest or exploitive strategies to gain it. Unlike people in healthy relationships, which demonstrate reciprocity and cooperation, an emotional manipulator looks to use, control, or even victimize someone else.

What are autism manipulative behaviors? ›

In this case the child who is manipulating starts by making a calm but unreasonable request, given the circumstances. When the person's requests/demands are not met several behaviors can occur such as: Yelling, banging, stomping, property destruction. Tactical ignoring of tantrums is a common management strategy.

How do you outwit a manipulator? ›

6 ways to disarm a manipulator
  1. Postpone your answer. Don't give them an answer on the spot. ...
  2. Question their motivations. Manipulators often hide their real motivations because they don't like to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors. ...
  3. Show disinterest. ...
  4. Impose boundaries. ...
  5. Keep your self-respect. ...
  6. Apply fogging.
Jun 23, 2021

How do you stop a manipulator in their tracks? ›

How to Deal with Gaslighting and Stop Your Manipulator in Their...
  1. Try to Recognize What's Happening. ...
  2. Confront Them About Their Behavior. ...
  3. Compile Proof. ...
  4. Decide Whether the Relationship Is Worth It. ...
  5. Lean on Friends and Family. ...
  6. Prioritize Self Care. ...
  7. Seek Professional Help.
Aug 27, 2020

What does gaslighting a child look like? ›

Here are a few examples of gaslighting behaviors. A parent might tell a child, “you're not hungry; you're tired” when he or she begs for a snack in the grocery store. Or, the parent might say, “you're being too sensitive” when a child complains that a sibling hurt his or her feelings.


1. 6 Signs You're Manipulative Without Realizing It
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4. 5 Signs Your Child Has Virtual Autism and What Parents Can Do
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5. 11 Signs a Child May Become a Psychopath | Psychopathic Risk Factors
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6. What To Do If Child is Manipulating You | How to Understand Children's Difficult Behavior
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