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.org. You 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.