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In my late teens I felt trapped between my childhood and ever-growing adult opportunities. Like a toddler, I explored many new things: opposite sex relationships, driving, and college and career choices. Even though I still needed my parents’ guidance, I sometimes found it unpleasant.
During one isolated and rebellious encounter with my father, I screamed, “I hate you!” Because I was generally a compliant kid and it never happened again, Mom and Dad weren’t overly concerned; they just chalked it up as teenage frustration.
It’s a different story for some parents who experience regular confrontation with their adolescent. If this describes your situation, perhaps you’re asking, How can I tell if my teen is just angry or is an angry teen?
In his book, The Angry Child: Regaining Control When Your Child is Out of Control, Tim Murphy Ph.D. says if you feel caught in a vicious cycle of shouting and using threats to get what you want from your children and to achieve peace in your home, anger is a problem you’ll want to resolve.
Dr. Murphy also writes, “When parents feel overwhelmed by their child’s anger, when that anger seems a way of life, the child has crossed the line from feeling angry to being an angry child.”
If this sounds like your relationship with your son or daughter, you both might feel like tossing up your hands. That’s understandable. But don’t give up! Here are some suggestions to help you tame the anger monster in your household.
Ask yourself, “What have I been modeling?”
As a public school teacher I learned a valuable lesson: If my students were too loud, it was generally ineffective to yell or use anger to get them to quiet down. In fact, the louder I became, the less they listened.
However, if I quietly said, “If you can hear me, raise your hand” my students would freeze, shoot their hands in the air, and become silent so I could calmly give instructions. My quiet but firm demeanor showed I was in control and demanded respect; whereas anger never demanded respect and always showed I was out of control. For the mother who yells increasingly louder and louder to get her daughter’s attention, her daughter learns that her mommy doesn’t mean business until she screams.
Not only are kids less likely to listen when parents are angry, but anger is also contagious. Think about the last time someone verbally attacked you. Did you find yourself fuming? Did you want to yell back? Did you feel frustrated? It stands to reason that teens whose parents use anger as a regular way to communicate may find that their teen is angry, too.
If anger has been a regular way to communicate with your teen since he or she was small, keep in mind that your son or daughter probably won’t immediately respond respectfully once you make a concerted effort to tone it down. Be persistent. It takes time to undo bad habits and for all family members to adjust to new relational rules.
Take a personal inventory
During Sharon’s growing up years, her father was emotionally absent. As a result, when she became a teen, her frustration about being ignored came boiling to the surface. Not surprisingly her dad had no idea why his once-respectful daughter was suddenly filled with rage.
Although most parents mean well and have the best intentions toward their kids, there may still be times when they don’t treat their children with the respect they deserve as human beings, or are unknowingly unfair. The result can be an angry teen.
Have you unintentionally caused your teen to feel unwanted, controlled, manipulated or ignored? Have you kept your promises, been realistic in your expectations and avoided intimidation, bullying or comparing your kids? Have you tried to listen and avoided using your children to meet your own needs?
If you think you may have contributed to your teen’s frustration, remember no one is a perfect parent. With humility, hope and God’s guidance, there is always the opportunity for change. Because God created family, His desire is that you grow in your love relationship with your teen. This may mean journeying through some unfamiliar and perhaps frightening new relational territory by learning to communicate in a fresh way. The main thing to remember is to keep the communication lines with your teenager open.
Sometimes you may need to show tough love
If your teen is often disrespectful and angry and refuses to change in spite of your kind and patient efforts, you may need to show tough love.
In her book, Don’t Give Me That Attitude, Michele Borba, Ed.D. says that parents need to clearly convey that expressing anger inappropriately through yelling, screaming, raging or verbally attacking others will not be tolerated. Then it’s necessary to establish and explain clear consequences that will be enforced when your teen violates your anger policy. This may involve removing a privilege such as driving or participating in a special function. No matter what, remain consistent in your message that displaying anger in hurtful ways is not okay. The result will be a teen who can control himself and love others, laying for him a great foundation for a lifetime of healthy, rewarding relationships.