Teenage anger can be frightening. Parents find toddler tantrums hard enough to deal with, but when their child becomes taller than they are and throws their weight around it is time for some serious thought into how to manage the situation.
It may be useful to imagine their anger as a balloon. Many things happen which put air into the balloon. It’s important to work on ways to deflate the balloon without it bursting, so here are some ideas on how to help your teenager keep their anger under control.
1. Model good anger management
Make sure when you are angry that you express it appropriately and ask assertively for what you want to change the situation. Talk to your teen about how you cope with angry feelings and what you do to release them
2. Help teens to express anger appropriately
Show your teenager how to manage angry feelings. Tell them that it is OK to be angry, but not to harm people or property. Talk about all the different ways people manage their anger and find what works for them. It could be punching a punch-bag or pillow, going to the gym or doing some vigorous exercise. It may be retreating to their room and listening to music, or a relaxation CD. Or, your teenager could say a mantra in their head such as ‘keep calm’, ‘I can stay in control’ or ‘I can handle it’. Alternatively, they might imagine a pause button on a remote control and physically press it. It is important that teenagers have somewhere private to go to when they feel angry. If they have to share a bedroom you may need to plan ahead for when they need some time alone.
3. Keep a sense of perspective
Be aware of other influences, not just home life. Parents often feel that the behaviour of their teen is a reflection on their (poor) parenting. Remember that your teen spends much of their time with friends and other teens. Take any angry outbursts seriously but don’t take it personally and blame yourself. Some of the nicest parents have problem teenagers.
4. Set clear boundaries
Have rules, rewards and consequences. If you are a single parent you can do this on your own, or discuss them with other adults you respect. If you are a couple, you can do this together. Work out what rules are really important to you. Work out the benefits to your teen for sticking to the rules and the consequences if they don’t. Make sure the consequences are fair and appropriate (such as not having time to do things for them if they don’t help out, clearing up any mess they make or buying cheap, value food if money goes missing from your purse!)
Try to have no more than ten rules at any one time- but they can change over time. Comment when you notice your teen sticking to the rules. Let the consequences do the talking when they don’t. Sympathise when your teen has to suffer the consequences. You can let the rules be the ‘bad guy’ and you can empathise and commiserate with them when they don’t get it right. (But no patronising, sarcasm, criticism or nagging –just natural consequences for poor behaviour).
5. Reward good self-control
Try to give a random reward when your teenager does behave the way you want! Make the rewards something that really appeals to your teenager without compromising your values. Give them a random reward, and tell them it’s because you’ve noticed how hard they’ve been trying to control their temper. Rewards can be a powerful motivator and much more positive than consequences.
6. Recognise the pressure your teen is under
Teens may find the pressure of study, work, friendships, responsibility, and teenage hormone surges overwhelming. Teenagers can feel great one moment and then down the next. No one would enjoy working all day and then having to do more work in the evening. Their friends may also be having big issues and teens often don’t have the maturity to know how to help.
7. Empathise with struggles and difficulties
Ask your teen about areas of conflict. Find out what they are struggling with and ask if there is any way you can help. You may have forgotten how difficult it was at school and the ‘terminal embarrassment’ that teenagers suffer from. The desire to be seen as cool, intelligent, successful, part of the gang or attractive. The list is endless. And be open to being singled out as one of their sources of conflict!
8. Make it a priority to spend time with your teen
Spend time to listen and talk with your teenager. Find time each day to ask them about their day. Make them feel important enough to be worth you asking about them.
If you can, arrange to go out with your teen – for a coffee or a walk – or anything that appeals to them. Having happy family times together is also really important.
Mealtimes are a great time for sharing and listening. Plan to eat meals together as often as you possibly can. Research has shown this simple measure can have a huge impact on all kinds of teenage issues from anorexia to alcohol consumption.
In Faber and Mazlish’s book ‘How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen so Teens will Talk’ they suggest when talking to teenagers:
- Instead of giving orders, describe the problem.
- Instead of attacking the teenager, describe what you feel.
- Instead of blaming, give information.
- Instead of threats or orders, offer a choice.
- Instead of a long lecture, say it in a word.
- Instead of pointing out what’s wrong, state your values and/or your expectations.
- Instead of angry reprimands, do the unexpected.
- And instead of nagging, put it in writing (using a humorous note).
9. Be open to negotiation
If your teen complains about restrictions or punishments try to work something out. The best way is to compromise if they can show they are responsible about the existing rules. For instance, if your teen needs to be back by 10, let them know that if they manage to get in by 10 for three nights out, that you will extend the curfew by half an hour. But that if they can’t, you will need to stick to the original time. Let them earn their privileges.
10. Stay quiet and just listen
Encourage them to talk about negative feelings, anger, their opinion and things they disapprove of. When a teenager tells you about things that make them angry this should not be seen as disrespectful. Don’t reprimand them or punish them. Allow them to complain, disagree and disapprove as long as it is not nasty, flippant or sarcastic. It is also important that teenagers understand that it is OK to describe their frustrations in private and to talk assertively to the right person when they feel angry. But it is not OK to bully or belittle other family members.
11. Try to understand things from your teen’s perspective.
Teenagers need to break away from their parents and become independent adults. They need to make mistakes, and you can’t protect them from that. Sometimes you need to cut them some slack and let them know you will still be there to help them pick up the pieces. Avoid an ‘I told you so’ attitude. Teenage lessons are hard enough without rubbing it in.
It is very empowering to know that your parent is willing to stand alongside you and be there, without judgement, when you make a mistake. Another important point is not to keep bringing up past bad behaviour and mistakes. When a mistake has been made and your teen has made amends and apologised, don’t to bring it up in conversation again. Let bygones be bygones.
12. Help your teen problem-solve and find solutions.
When your teenager tells you something is wrong sit down with them and come up with a whole range of possible solutions. Write everything down, no matter how silly (or unacceptable) it sounds at first. Let your teenager come up with their answers first, and then add a few of your own. Ask your teen to look at the list and choose which solution they want to try first. If their solution involves you, only agree to it if you are happy to – you can always negotiate a compromise. Be there to back them up and find out if their solution worked. If not, look at the rest of the ideas and ask them to choose their next strategy. And so on.
13. Don’t give attention for bad behaviour
You may have heard the saying: What you focus on, grows. If you pay attention to the bad things your teenager does, they will do more. So, try to notice & comment on their good behaviour. It is easy to ignore your teen when they do what you expect them to, and then nag and criticise when they don’t. However, change your focus. Notice when they follow the rules, and comment on their achievements, successes and steps in the right direction.
Don’t stay silent when they help out at home or get to college on time. Just appreciating your teen and thanking them can be a reward in itself. When you first start doing this your teenager may feel awkward or say that you are patronising them. Please don’t stop –they will learn to accept it, and a stream of comments about what they are doing well will have a positive impact eventually.
14. Give at least five positive comments to every negative one
Don’t constantly nag and complain about everything. In some households, teens suffer from a constant stream of negativity from the moment they get up. If you were constantly belittled, nagged, criticised and threatened your life would be pretty unbearable.
In his book ‘The seven principles for making marriage work’ Daniel Goleman found that people needed five positive comments for each negative comment for their marriages to last. Can you imagine how much more important it is for a teen with all their insecurities and anxieties to have a stream of regular positive comments?
15. Ignore passive-aggressive behaviour
If you ask your teen to tidy their bedroom and they do it but put music on very loud, ignore the music and thank them for tidying up. If you ask teen to help out, and they do it, but moan constantly and mutter how they would rather be living somewhere else, ignore the comments and give them a polite thank you at the end. When they talk like this they are letting air out of the balloon and provided they don’t hurt people or property – let it pass.
16. Consider depression
About twenty percent of teenagers will experience teen depression before they become adults. Untreated depression can lead to trouble at school and in jobs, risky behaviours, sexual promiscuity and suicide, so it is worth taking your teen to the GP if you are concerned.
17. Give them a way out.
When tempers flare parents often give an all-or-nothing ultimatum or threaten their teens. It may not be physically possible to stop your teen, but you can tell them that you will be talking to them when the situation has calmed down to discuss consequences.
18. Keep trying
Sometimes parents just want to throw their children out of the house at the earliest opportunity. But parents who persevere and hang in, and continue to work with their teens are the ones who generally manage to save their relationship.
It is true that teenagers often find their own parents the most embarrassing, difficult adults on the planet. Try to empathise with them, whilst keeping the perspective that you are trying to do your best for them, and love them regardless. Having said this, no parent should live with violence or continual threats of violence. Sometimes teens need to live away from home if they cannot keep from harming people or property.
19. Keep your sense of humour
It is hard not to be overwhelmed when a teen exerts control over the household. But take a step back and learn to laugh about the sheer insanity of your teen’s behaviour. (Keep a diary – it could be worth thousands when you write your memoirs!) Make sure that you take time out for yourself and continue to find time to have a laugh with your friends too.
20. Show your love and caring.
Sometimes a little gesture of love can go a long way:
- Buying your teenager’s favourite food.
- Sitting on their bed when you wake them up and chatting to them.
- Putting your arm around them or touching their arm.
- Smiling when you see them.
- Telling them about how you felt the day they were born
- Or writing them a little note
These may help your teenager to feel loved and cherished. When it comes to anger, prevention is better than cure, and everyone benefits from some warmth and closeness.