Dealing With Teen Anger
- Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Anger in your teenager can take on many faces. It can be a seething anger kept quietly below the surface, or a tidal wave unleashed on everyone around them. Anger can manifest itself in a covert refusal to comply with your household rules or wishes, or outright acts that can ruin their relationships, undermine their own future or bring harm to themselves. And if left unchecked, it can lead to violence and trouble with the law.
Anger in teenagers usually comes from some unmet need or heart-longing. Such “wants” can be immature and selfish; like wanting more material things. Or the more complicated want for control and independence. But these can also be a smokescreen for deeper wants, like the want for love, acceptance, or even the want for more clearly defined rules to live by. Or, it can be a want for life to be the way it was before a major event took place, like the breakup of the family, the loss of innocence, or a betrayal. Anger can also come from the want to not be ridiculed or bullied, or the want to be “normal” as defined by today’s teen culture.
A wise parent will discern the difference between temporary and immature fits of anger and the kind of anger that bubbles up from somewhere deeper in a teenager’s heart. They’ll help their teen find the source of their anger and fill that need in a more healthy way. And they’ll express a desire to help their teen meet those deeper wants. If they simply cannot be met, or wouldn’t be the best thing for the child right now, then a parent can at least express empathy and explain ways for the teen to better handle their anger.
Lessons of Grace
Parents are responsible to create an environment where solutions to inappropriate anger can be found, even in the face of their own feelings of anger in return. Matching a teen’s anger, tit for tat, resolves nothing and sometimes a timeout needs to be called by the parent if things get too heated. If no progress is made on your own, you may want to include a counselor or a concerned youth minister in the discussion, who can walk this path with your child and ask the tough questions.
It reminds me of a teen I recently worked with. He was angry all the time. He spewed anger on everyone and everything around him. In one of his fits he took a baseball bat to the side of my van. At that moment, I was pretty angry myself. I could have had him arrested, but I could see something in his eyes that said a different approach was needed. So I sat him down and simply told him that he was forgiven. I talked about how he needed to work out his anger differently from now on. He would still be held responsible for his actions and would have to work off the costly repairs, but he wouldn’t be arrested — this time. As I talked, tears came to his eyes. He had never experienced that kind of calm forgiveness in the face of his anger, and he couldn’t believe I didn’t have the police waiting to take him to jail. Giving him grace, at just the right moment, went a long way to change the direction he was headed.
Anger that Won’t Release
Maybe your teenager’s anger is the type that won’t let up, no matter what you say or do. He wakes up angry, goes to bed angry, and lets everyone know he is angry. If so, I would strongly encourage you to get him into anger counseling. Angry teens release their anger somewhere and cause serious issues for your teen’s future. So get them help in managing it if they are consumed or overwhelmed.
If you have a child who is so out of control that he becomes physical or abusive, then you need outside help, and do it now. If you feel threatened, or your teen is destroying things in your home, I wouldn’t hesitate to get that help from your local police, even if you are embarrassed by having them pull up to your home. Their involvement will protect you and others in your family, and bring a level of seriousness to your discussion. In fact, I’d request the police to send ten cars with lights and sirens blasting as they roar to your home, giving your teen an adequate response to his seriously out of control behavior.
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