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Dealing With Teen Anger

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 it can lead your teenager to outwardly undermine their own future or even strike out in violence.

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 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 your 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.  You will help your teen find the source of their anger — their unmet wants. And you’ll express a desire to help your teen meet those deeper wants. If these wants simply cannot be met, or wouldn’t be the best thing for your child right now, then a parent can at least express empathy and explain ways for your 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 your own feelings of anger. Shutting down an angry teen resolves nothing, though sometimes a timeout needs to be called when things get too heated.  If no progress is made on your own, you may want to include a counselor or a concerned youth minister to walk this path with your child and ask the hard question.

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.  One day 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 I wouldn’t hesitate to get that help from police, even if you are embarrassed by them pulling up to your home. If their involvement protects you and others in your family, then I would request the police send 10 cars with lights and sirens blasting as they roar to your home, giving your teen an adequate response to his selfish, immature, disrespectful, and out of control behavior.

Keep this in mind.  If your son or daughter spends one night in juvenile detention, 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, “Do not get physical. Period!”

When Anger Begets Anger

And what about you?  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. Personalizing their problem can cause anger to build up within you as well.  Or, it could be that you feel disrespected.  If so, identify your own anger and process it or get help yourself, before attempting to deal with your teen’s.

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 find opportunities to offer grace at a time when it is least deserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


A Calming Prescription for Frustrated Parents

What is it about teenagers that makes it so easy for them to get under our skin?  We love our kids, for sure.  But between the ages of 12 and 20, teens really start to develop and refine the unique ability to raise our blood pressure!  Maybe it’s because we care about our kids so much that they can invoke such strong reactions in us.  I’ve loved every one of the 3,000 kids who have made their way through the doors of our Heartlight campus.  But let me tell you; there were times I was so frustrated with a teen’s behavior or attitude, I was about ready to put him on the next ferry to Iceland and wish him Bon Voyage!

Maybe, like me, you can point to every gray hair on your head and explain how your teen gave you that particular shade.  Or perhaps the constant tension and frustration in your home is tearing the family apart.  You’re fighting with your spouse more.  You’re spending less time at home.  You’re having trouble eating or sleeping.  Maybe the aggravation has built up so much that, although you wouldn’t say it aloud, deep down, you do not like your child right now.

If you’re a frustrated mom or dad, you’re in good company!  Certain teen behaviors increase the agitation between parents and children.  If you want to stop feeling the urge to bang your head against the wall every time you talk with your child, here are some ways to correct their actions.

Selfishness

If the egotism of your son or daughter is giving you ulcers, it’s time to inject a little humility into their lives.  One way to do this is to stop revolving your life around your teen.  If mom and dad act like their kid is the center of the universe, a planet-sized ego will be the result.  So don’t put your child in the center of your life.  That’s a place reserved only for God.  Secondly, give your selfish teen responsibilities.  Let them babysit the kids on your next date night.  Put them in charge of feeding the dog.  Make them responsible for getting up for school on their own, and finishing homework on time.  You’ll be well on your way to curing that selfish teen.

Disrespect

Disrespectful behavior is a sure fire way to get parent’s blood to boil.  If your teen is treating you with disdain, don’t pull your hair out just yet.  The truth is, disrespect problems are really relationship problems.  Work on your relationship with your teen, and chances are respect will follow right behind.

Also, enact fair and reasonable boundaries for your home, with clear consequences.  And, most importantly, follow though!  If the punishment for swearing is a month without a phone, then make sure your teen spends a month without a phone.  If breaking curfew means doing the family laundry for a week, then don’t start running the washer after only three days!  Clear boundaries and deliberate consequences can restore a level of respect in your home, and calm the tension in your family.

Unmotivated

Many moms and dads have come up to me to say, “Mark, our son won’t get off the couch, and it’s driving us up a wall!  What do we do?

I have a donkey on my ranch named Toy.  Now, Toy is a sweet, gentle animal.  But she is stubborn!  She won’t do anything unless she really wants to.  I literally have to dangle a carrot in front of her to even get her to move a few steps.  Now, I’m not comparing teens to donkeys (but if you want to, that’s fine by me!)  But like a stubborn mule, to motivate a lethargic teen, you have to show them what they will get out it.  Give them a reason to get a job, go to class, make some friends, or turn off the TV.  Make them believe that it’s in their best interest to act.  Offer your son or daughter incentives, and it’s likely they’ll motivate themselves.

Dishonesty

A dishonest teen is a major frustration for any parent.  It’s hard to build trust or strengthen a relationship with someone who cannot be taken at his word.  If you wonder why your teen is constantly lying to you, let me offer a little insight.  Teenagers live in a performance culture.  Every day it’s a competition with others to climb up the social totem pole.  So when your son or daughter feels that they cannot match up to their peers or earn their respect or value, they will lie to bolster their self-image.

For many teens, a lie is also a way to protect their relationships.  They’re fearful that if mom and dad knew what they did, said, thought, or failed at, you would turn your back and stop loving them.  Lying is a deceitful way (in more ways than one) for your teen to hold on to precious connections.

Lying is not only frustrating to parents; it’s also destructive to a family.  As with disrespect, this behavior has to be dealt with head-on and immediately.  Start by reaffirming as often as possible that there is nothing your son or daughter could do to make you love them more or make you love them less.  But explain that lying destroys relationships, and that it cannot happen in your family.  Even if the truth is something you don’t want to hear, thank your daughter when she does share honestly.  Commend your son when he tells you the truth.  And be a good example.  Plant yourself firmly in the truth, and force your kids to do the same.

Anger

When your teen gets angry and then you get angry, it snowballs into mounting frustrations, raw nerves, and stressful family life.  If dealing with an angry teen is making you see red, let me share some tips for cooling down the situation.

First, anger is a reaction to a need that’s unmet.  A teen is not getting what he or she wants, and the result is rage.  So when your kid starts the next outburst, calmly ask, “What is it that you want?”  Get your teen to verbalize what is making them so angry.  Once they share, try to work out how both of you can make it happen.  Sometimes it’s not a reasonable request, and you have to honestly tell your child, “I don’t think that’s possible right now.”  Other times, it’s a need that can be met very simply, and the anger is readily defused.

Second, don’t wait for the next eruption to see what your child needs.  Spend regular time catching up with your teen and asking, “What is making you the most happy right now?  What is frustrating you the most right now?”  If you let your child bottle up everything they are feeling, it will only make the resulting explosion that much bigger.  Communicate openly, ask clear questions, and you’ll be able to decrease the level of frustration in your home.

Mom and Dad, maybe your teen exhibits some of these behaviors, or perhaps shows signs of all of them!  No doubt this can be frustrating.  But remember this; God is teaching us right alongside our kids.  Just like teens need to mature and grow, so parents are maturing and growing with them.  Use those aggravating moments at home to stop and think, “What is God trying to teach me right now?”  The sooner you answer that question, the quicker you’ll learn the lesson God has for you.

Also, don’t play doctor in your home.  A physician’s job is to always be hunting for problems.  Unfortunately, some parents act the same way.  Even when family life is great, they are turning over every rock and leaf looking for the next issue.  If your home is experiencing a time of peace, enjoy it!  Praise God for it!  And if you are experiencing some hard times right now, focus on the problem at hand and don’t go searching for new difficulties to fix.  That will only lead to frustration.

Finally, pray every day.  Don’t let a day go by where you don’t bring your kids, spouse and home to the Lord and ask for protection, healing and direction.  Let God’s peace take the place of frustration in your heart.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Is Your Teen Driving You Crazy?

There is much in the news these days about cars accelerating out of control, leaving the driver and passengers helpless to know how to slow down or stop their runaway vehicle.  That’s kind of what it is like in a family with a teenager who is out of control. The whole family gets swept along for the not so joyful ride.

Is your family experiencing a frightening ride with an out of control teenager? Are you at a loss to know what to do, or don’t know how to react when your teen’s behavior makes every wrong turn and is accelerating toward disaster?

Typical adolescent behavior includes moodiness, hyper-sensitivity and irrational thinking — no cause for much alarm.  But there are other behaviors that are warning signs of a bigger problem than you may realize. These attitudes and behaviors are often triggered by a child’s feeling of being disrespected or abandoned in some way at some point in their life, and the level at which those feelings impact their actions, relationships and decisions in the teen years becomes abnormal.

Do you understand the difference between normal and abnormal teenager behavior? If not, here’s a handy tool we’ve developed to describe the behaviors that may mean that there is more going on than the normal bumps of adolescence:

BEHAVIORAL WARNING SIGNS

Instructions: Enter how often the behavior is experienced: 0=Never  1=Sometimes  2=Frequently  3=All the Time

[___] Your teen refuses to abide by anything you say or request. These behaviors may put your teen or your family in danger or high risk, and lead to constant fear or stress in the home.

[___] Your teen displays behavior that is a marked change from what has been normal for them in the past (slipping grades, sleeping too little or too long, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, aggression, depression, anxiety, hating what they once loved or loving what they once hated, always wanting to be with friends away from home, or avoiding friends altogether and spending too much time alone).

[___] Your teen is increasingly disrespectful and dishonest and no longer veils his or her feelings nor cares about the consequences of misbehavior. Seemingly a loss of a conscience or moral compass.

[___] There is a blatant ignorance or profound rebellion toward the boundaries and rules of your home. This can be shown in passive aggressiveness or open defiance that is unusually excessive for your teen.

[___] Outright or veiled threats of suicide; participation in self-mutilation or eating disorders or cutting (Important: Get immediate professional help!)

[___] Excessive risk-taking, running away, dangerous drug or alcohol use (confirmed by drug tests); blatant sexual promiscuity, or same-sex relationships.

[___] Threatening or out-of-control treatment against people, pets, or belongings, or your teen exhibits a vengeful spirit and destroys things to “pay back” a perceived mistreatment by others. Disrespect for all forms of authority.

[___] Your teen thinks he or she is the center of your family, while at the same time showing a growing hatred for the family, evidenced by a blatant disregard for their feelings, time and possessions.  Demands for money or outright theft of money or family possessions, or using things without permission and then claiming they were lost.

[___] You cannot keep your teen away from peers who are obviously leading a lifestyle counter to your beliefs, and your teen is buying into their destructive behavior and attitudes.

SCORE:  ________(total of the numbers you entered)

If the score is 15 or more, there is probably more going on in your teen’s life than you can handle on your own or through the normal tools of parenting.  Your child needs some professional help, and things have escalated to the point that it could even mean that your child needs to be treated for a time away from your home, at a therapeutic facility like our Heartlight program.

If the score is less than 15, it doesn’t mean that you are off the hook.  Things can escalate quickly and the errant behaviors will expand to other areas; so if you’ve written a “2” or “3” next to any of these warning signs, you need to work hard to do to get that particular area under control before it spreads.

Keep in mind that misbehavior in teenagers is usually nothing more than a flag they are waving high in the air to tell the adults in their life that something is wrong. Their actions are likely being sparked by something in their past, like: abuse, a split in the home, a death of a loved one, a mental illness, or a chemical or hormonal imbalance. They could also be the result of hidden substance abuse, excessive feelings of guilt, or bullying by peers. Sometimes the causes are so tragic and personal that a child would never think of telling anyone about them, but they bubble or explode to the surface through their actions instead. Or, they may not even know why they are acting the way they are.  In those cases, it is best to get a professional counselor involved, who can deal with these issues privately and skillfully.

Other Signs

Some teens act out their issues and stresses in less apparent ways, but these are warning signs as well. Those include: frequent sadness, crying for no reason, withdrawal from friends and activities, refusal to eat or over-eating, sleeping too much, feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, talk of death, suicide or ending it all are all signs of depression. A depressed teen may not be making a fuss in the family, but the issues and outcomes can be just as serious.

Another type of warning sign is your own feelings.  Pay attention to them.  If you’ve caught yourself thinking: “Our family cannot live like this any longer,” or “I can’t put a finger on it, but something is wrong with that kid,” or “I can’t sit by and watch him destroy himself,” then you already know that something needs to change.  And if you have the feeling that something is going on that you just can’t put your finger on, you’d be wise to put on your detective hat and get to the bottom of it, because your gut feeling is probably right.  You may be able to stop the problem well before it gets out of control.

Take Action

So, are you ready to put the brakes on the joy-less ride your teen has you on?  You’re in charge, even when it seems your teen is “hogging the road.”  It’s up to you to take notice and take appropriate action when your teenager appears to either be accelerating out of control, or spiraling downward with anxiety or depression. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Being sensitive to them can prevent more serious and potentially lifelong dangers.

Sadly, every day, I meet good kids from great families with wonderful parents who are dismayed by their teen’s journey down the wrong road.  The stress of it has torn their family and even their marriage apart in the process.  I trust you will not allow things to get that far before you deal with the problem, or seek the right kind of help, if that is needed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.