Handling an Angry Teen
- Friday, April 29, 2011
When your thought patterns rub up against those of your teenager, you can either take it personally and get upset yourself, or you can use it as an opportunity to help bring healing and a new perspective to your child.
Teens get angry for a number of reasons; from fear, feelings of injustice, insecurity, loneliness, overactive hormones, lack of sleep, peer bullying, a growing need for independence and just trying to make sense out of life. Parents get angry when their teens behave in ways that aren’t appropriate or if they feel their children aren’t showing them proper respect. If parents don’t understand that their teenager’s anger may be about something totally separate from them, they might go about lighting the fuse in the dynamite by reacting too harshly. So, guess which party needs to “man up” and defuse the situation?
You don’t have to throw up your hands in resignation and despair if you’re dealing with an angry child. I want to share with you four powerful techniques you can use to defuse anger—practical steps that actually work in the real world.
1) Be a Model. Many times in the heat of anger a person realizes they’re going too far, but they don’t know how to back off and cool down. It’s an important ability for either party, but it is learned by the parent modeling it to their children. For instance, when I’m talking to a child who is angry, I look for a way to identify with him. If he accuses me of not understanding, I say something like, “You’re right. I didn’t listen well enough. I was wrong. Tell me again.” What I’m trying to show them is what it looks like to cool down, step back, and say, “I was wrong.”
One of the most important things to remember is that feelings aren’t something you can control or necessarily reason with. You can’t argue them away, even if you are completely right. In fact, the more right you are about the other person being wrong, the more angry they will get. If a pot is boiling over on the stove, telling it to cool off doesn’t help. You have to turn down the heat and let it cool.
The “stand your ground” drill sergeant approach of “yelling and telling” doesn’t work. That just models shouting and will turn your home into an unending scream fest as your teenagers gain the confidence to respond in kind. Correcting an angry teen with equal or greater anger is like throwing gasoline on a raging fire. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Instead, remain calm. Spend time listening and trying to get an idea of what they really want. Remember that anger is a symptom—so don’t try to beat it, treat it or cover it up. Find the disease—the disappointment that is driving the anger, and focus on dealing with that.
2) Make Your Home a Respite. Kids enter a jungle when they walk out the front door. School has always been a tough place. My nicknames in high school were “eagle beak” and “chicken legs.” Today the bullying is far worse, in and out of school through online chat rooms, cell phone texting, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where insults can reach the teen (and the world) wherever they are.
So, in our homes we can show our teens that even if they’re upset with us, or the whole world seems to be upset with them, we still love them and accept them unconditionally. When we’ve seemingly become the focus of their anger, it can really cut against our grain personally, but we need to wear our parent hats and avoid being defensive. In fact, don’t even try to quash their anger. If you do, they may well try to seek other ways to deal with their frustration, like drinking or taking drugs to cover up having to think about it. Rather, having a safe place to “blow off steam” and talk about it allows them to process what they’re feeling. After all, they probably aren’t even angry at you, they’re just taking it out on you because you are a convenient target.
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