How to reduce the negative impact and frequency of outbursts of teenage fury.
Any parent of a teenager has to deal with angry outbursts some time. Some kids do it more than others. So how do you deal with it?
What is anger?
Anger is one of many human emotions. No better or worse per se than elation, jealousy, fear, sadness or any other of the countless feelings experienced by us all. The display of emotion, including anger, reveals an emotionally healthy person. We justifiably get angry when we see unfairness, abuse and cruelty.
So we need to see and respond to outbursts of anger objectively. That is difficult. Anger is a very powerful emotion, and if it is not dealt with appropriately it can do a lot of harm. Physically and spiritually.
In childhood we throw temper tantrums (chuck a wobbly) when things don’t go our way. This is not anger. As we grow into adulthood the emotional knee-jerk reaction to a situation we don’t like is replaced by a stronger feeling, one we believe (at the time) we can rationalize and defend. This is anger.
I know. To us they still look like tantrums.
Why do young people get angry?
Anger is born of frustration. At not being able to find a solution. At not knowing how to deal with a situation. At feeling that others (our parents) don’t understand or are being unfair. At realizing that they, the teenager, don’t understand many of the events going on around them, or the reasons why adults do and say the things they do.
This is because they are still thinking in terms of the light and dark of childhood. Hot and cold. As yet unaware that there are infinite increments and combinations of the two. And, indeed, that the road between them has many branches.
When they are young we give our children a sense of self-worth partly by allowing them to believe that the world exists for their benefit. We know as adults that it does not. Adolescence is the path along which young travellers start to become aware of this, and they don’t like it. They are entering unfamiliar territory, experiencing trepidation about the unknown.
So how does knowing this help us?
The way you deal with anger. Theirs and yours.
It requires a four-pronged approach.
- Regain calm when the outburst is happening.
- Meaningful dialogue later when emotions are not running high.
- What you need to do.
- What they need to do.
It is a great start if you have established open dialogue in the early years, and your teenager already knows that you love her/him.
Often easier said then done. Finding a way to control outbursts of anger requires effort from all parties. While there are gainful steps that you can take unilaterally, non-participation from your teenager is an obstacle.
When a discussion is becoming an argument, subduing the anger is more important than being right.
1. Don’t fight back.
First of all, you won’t win – neither of you will.
Secondly, an angry outburst from us teaches that getting angry is OK. Your teenager will often say hurtful things in the heat of the moment. You can’t react. Address this issue later.
2. Don’t belittle the person or put them down.
Acknowledge that while they have a point of view, this not the way to express it.
3. Don’t attack their rationality or logic.
If you point out to them where they are mistaken or misled, this will become the argument. The anger won’t subside, and the original issue will be forgotten.
Usually the best thing to do is walk away, saying that you (both) should talk about it when emotions aren’t so high.
If they go storming off to their room or out the door, don’t chase after them.That will show them that they have the emotional power. They will come back. If they don’t then the problem needs more help than I can give you. They need to know that petulance will not resolve an issue.
Having a ‘Chill!’ word often helps. Find a word that will signal that things are getting out of hand, and that you should both just chill. Perhaps the name of a city, an animal or pet. Any word that is going to be out of place in a heated situation. Say the word, and the other party will understand he or she is in anger territory and take a step back into reason.
A benefit of this is that it usually allows the discussion to continue in a more reasoned manner.
And absolutely DO NOT GET PHYSICAL. Surely I don’t need to expand on this.
2.Having meaningful dialogue later when emotions are not running high.
It is important to address the issue of anger as soon as is reasonable. It must be after emotions have subsided, but while it is at the front of everybody’s mind.
Don’t accept “I don’t want to talk about it right now” without making them commit to a time in the near future. Let them know that you will be bringing it up again. Giving ground might be the line of least resistance right now, but it will make things much harder on future occasions.
3.What you need to do.
It is important to identify what are the triggers of conflict. And for them to know what they are as well. It could be a manner of speaking or a contentious topic. For example, if asking your teenager to clean up after they use the kitchen or bathroom is a trigger, don’t avoid it. Pick your time and try to initiate the topic in a non-inflammatory way.
This does not mean being timid! There a ways of handling these situations and I will address them in another article.
Be aware of physical signs that they are getting angry. A tight jaw, clenched fists, perspiration,
When you see that situation is escalating tell them that you can see that they are getting angry. Then offer to either talk about it later, or say that if they calm down you will continue the discussion.
Teach your teenager that getting angry does not resolve an issue. If they really want to convince you that what they are saying is of value they have to do it in a calm and reasoned manner. Discuss ways for them to (a) recognize that are getting angry and (b) what do do about it.
Let your teenager know how their anger is affecting you. That it is hurtful or upsetting. But don’t make it a guilt trip. Most times your son or daughter does not want to hurt you. Hurting you is not going to further their cause.
Learn to negotiate. I mean, like, have lessons.
4.What they need to do.
The teenager who gets angry must let you discuss this with them and accept the validity of what you are saying. They must become aware that they are getting angry and learn to address it.
Try to help them understand that anger is a normal emotion that in some instances has its place. Let them know that getting angry does not make them a bad person. But it in the family environment it is counter-productive, and if it occurs outside the family it is anti-social. Like all the other emotions we experience, it also clouds their judgement.
Your teenager is not a dill. Or a nasty person. He or she can learn to recognize when a dialogue is becoming an argument. They can take deep breaths, count to fifty, picture a quiet place or do one of a hundred things to stop getting angry. Like reminding themselves that anger is not going to get them the result they are after.
A little mindfulness goes a long way.
These skills do not come easy, but they will get better at them over time.
A replacement activity is great for subduing anger. My favourite is writing. With a pen and paper. This combines employing an activity with the catharsis of expressing their anger. Please remind them of the dangers of posting their anger on social media, where it is displayed to everyone forever.
Listen to music, wash the car, walk, run. Anything that involves movement and thought.
Anger between teenagers and their parents disrupts the harmony of the household, it injures the relationship of the people involved and it is extremely counter-productive.
It is a normal emotion and does not imply badness in the angry person. It is a sign of an emotionally healthy human being.
It needs to be addressed in a calm and rational manner. Most often this strategy is successful.
Having said all that, if your teenager’s anger is emotionally or physically violent, occurs frequently or is extreme in any way, you might have to consider that it needs to be investigated by a professional person. This is way beyond the scope of this article, and I wouldn’t like you to think that herein lie all the answers.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field, only knowledgeable. While I use a search engine for my initial research, I like to go to the original source when I can. Some of the people whose work I have used for inspiration and direction are:
Chris Hudson. Really an expert on teenage behaviour and a wonderful communicator. I recommend that you visit his site at understandingteenagers.com.au
and for all matters regarding children from newborn to adolescence, raisingchildren.net.au
I pick up little bits and pieces from all over the internet.
Disclaimer: I disdain plagiarism. If you feel I have misused, misquoted or stolen material you have published please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org