Dealing With Teen Anger
- Mark Gregston Heartlight Ministries
- 2009 23 Jun
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.
Keep this in mind. If your son or daughter spends one night in juvenile detention as a result, and learns a good lesson from it, it is far better than spending a lifetime in prison. One night locked up is better than being locked out of your home in the future because you fear he or she may bring harm to you, your possessions or your family. The message has got to be, “Don’t get physical. Period!”
Is It Wrong For A Teen to Disagree?
It’s okay to have disagreements with your teen as he matures. Did you think there would never be conflict in your discussions or that your teen’s growing independence wouldn’t cause him to question your values? Could your teen actually think a bit differently about things than you do? You bet he does.
Since it is inevitable that you will argue about some issues, why not use those times as an opportunity to honor your teen’s independent thinking and also allow them time to process your side of the argument. They’ll never listen to your side unless you honor their need to explain their side.
My point is this: Don’t allow conflicts to create a roadblock to future growth in your relationship. It’s okay to feel anger in discussions at times. But scripture reminds us to “Be angry, but do not sin.” So, never allow an argument to get physical, disrespectful, or demeaning (from either of you!). Know when to take a break, and when to stop until emotions can calm down and the discussion can continue on more respectful terms.
My goal for every argument with a teen is this: At the end of the argument, I want there to be an opportunity for us to hug one another, even if I didn’t change my mind at all. That’s the goal. Even if we can’t agree, I still remain in charge, and we can at least agree to disagree because it was all talked out.
The stance that you take in the heat of the battle is a reflection of who you are in real life. How you communicate during conflict teaches something very important to your teen. The messages that you will want to convey include:
- It’s okay to not agree with everyone.
- It’s okay to not follow what everyone else is thinking.
- There are times that we have to stand up and fight.
- We can have conflict, and still remain friends.
- And sometimes…I’ve heard your side of the argument, but for your own good, you simply need to follow the rules.
When Anger Begets Anger
Does your teen’s anger issue make you angry, too? When your teen is angry all the time, it is natural to assume it is a direct reflection on your parenting, so it becomes personal. Or, it could be that you feel disrespected and that makes you angry. If you feel anger building up, take a timeout. You may need to get some help yourself, before attempting to deal with your teen’s anger.
You may also feel angry with God for what you see as something He controls, or at the very least should have protected you from. It’s not God’s fault, but it is a human response to blame Him. I tell parents that it is okay to get angry with God. He is a big God, a mighty God. He can take it. But it is not okay to sit in the squalor of that anger and let if fester into bitterness. And it is not okay to take your anger and frustration out on your spouse, your dog, your other children or anyone else.
If you are trying to teach your teen how to deal with anger, lead the way with your own actions. Demonstrate calmness in your own times of frustration and as long as the discussion remains respectful, be sure to hear them out, even if you don’t agree.
Let me repeat this, because it is important. Never allow your teen’s anger to get physical. They need to know there is a line they must never cross, including taking out their anger on you, your pets, your possessions or your home. Demonstrate respect to them, and make sure they know there will be consequences to pay for being disrespectful to you. And always be ready to offer more appropriate and respectful ways for them to deal with their anger, so they know better the next time. Finally, when they do take steps to deal with their anger in more healthy ways, be sure to thank them and congratulate them for acting more mature.
Posted June 26, 2009.
Mark Gregston is the host of Parenting Today’s Teens radio and the Founder and Executive Director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling program for struggling teens which can be reached at 903-668-2173.
Mark’s Podcast: parentingtodaysteens.org
Mark’s Blog: markgregston.com
Mark’s Books and Tapes: heartlightresources.com