We spend a lot of time worrying about our adolescent children. We’ve watched over them, nurtured and protected them and guided them along life’s path for the past 15 years or so. Now it seems like we don’t even know them anymore. They’re isolated, withdrawn and angry. We’re met with sighs and eye rolls or complete resistance on our best attempts to get through to them. They may be failing in school, or fighting. They may be oppositional or even aggressive. We worry they may be doing drugs or drinking, hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” They think they’re so grown up and we know they’ve got so far to go. Teen angst is just a part of growing up. It doesn’t have to be all fights and stress though. I’m going to give you some strategies for coping with your angry adolescent.
First, you need to realize as parents that this process that you’re going through with your teen is something that has to happen. It’s how you manage it, and how you respond to it that makes or breaks your future relationship with your young adult child. If you start working with your teen before they reach this angsty stage in life, you can avoid a lot of pain and hurt in the family. Educating yourself now is the best way to have a smoother transition from teen to adulthood with your adolescents.
Separating from parents is normal and necessary. Think back to when you were a teen. How did you break away from your parents? What was it you did that was rebellious, how did you assert your own identity and become who you are? It’s no different for your teen. The circumstances and society we live in may be different for them and there are other pressures brought to bear on them that you probably didn’t have and others that were the same. If you can put yourself in your teen’s shoes for a moment, you might gain a deeper understanding of what they are going through. Teens are under tremendous stress and have a great deal of anxiety and self-doubt about stepping into their adult roles.
Much of this posturing and oppositional behavior is them trying it out so to speak. What does it feel like to be independent, strong and on my own? It’s your reaction to this that has the most impact. Young people want to be heard, respected, and treated as adults, but they still want the security of knowing Mom and Dad are there for them if they’re needed. They may act big and tough, but mostly are riddled with confidence issues and self-doubt. They still need you even though everything they’re showing you says they don’t. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk for parents, but if you handle it well, you can make the transition into adulthood a lot easier for your teens and yourselves.
Have Patience – Remind yourself that this will pass. It may seem like forever, but in the scheme of things, it’s a blip on the radar of your child’s lifetime. Try not to over-react, throw your kid out, send them to juvie, or all of the millions of things you might think of or threaten them with when it gets chaotic in your home. Step back, take a breath, count to 50 (ten is often not enough), and remember that you made this person; you brought him/her into this world. They are a part of you and need you now more than ever to help them through this difficult time. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for bad behavior or rule breaking, quite the opposite. Simply do your best not to lose your mind or your temper when you’re dealing with your angry adolescent. Do your best to redirect and diffuse tense situations. A time out works for toddlers, and time alone often works for teens. Give them (and yourself) some space to cool down hot tempers and then approach difficult subjects when emotions are not running quite so high or hot.
Don’t take all the feelings onto yourself. When your teen says “I hate you” or “you suck” realize they really don’t. They’re definitely the ones hating life right now and you don’t suck. If they’re saying these things, it probably means you’re doing your job as a parent pretty well and you should be happy to hear these insults! It’s when they’re quiet that you should be more concerned.
Set Boundaries – Teens need structure and boundaries especially when they feel like life is out of control or they’re floundering without clear direction. Set reasonable boundaries and hold your teen to them. Require them from a young age to be responsible for checking in, letting you know where they are, keeping in communication, keeping up with school work and doing their required chores and contributions to the household. They may rage against it at times, but having structure and knowing they’re being held accountable to curfews and other house rules will help them stay honest and feel a part of the family. This is the part where it’s critical for the two of you to be a team when it comes to parenting. If you are raising your child as a single Mom, get support elsewhere. Try not to do this alone. This is the time that trying it on your own is much harder. Join a support group of other Moms or Dads if necessary.
You don’t want to simply cut them loose. You want to keep tabs on them while letting them explore life as a teen. Enforcing boundaries shows you care, and want them to be safe and happy. Your teen is going to test your boundaries, so expect that. Angry teens may tell you that you can’t tell them what to do, when to come home, etc., but you’re still the parent and you set the boundaries. This may be the cause of strife in your home, but you have to stick to your guns and keep those boundaries.
Responsibilities – Give your teens increased responsibility and give them consequences for shirking or failing to meet responsibilities. They’re being prepared for real life and it’s tough out there. If your teen is angry because you never let them do anything, remind them that they earn privileges such as driving or going out with friends by being responsible. Make sure you give only what you know they can handle and don’t overwhelm them, for example, by having them take on a part-time job when in school if they’re already struggling with their grades. Your teen may push back on their responsibilities but I urge you to stand firm. If you don’t want your young adult living at home ‘til they’re 30 you have to teach them how to handle responsibility. They have to become independent adults; it’s your job to teach them how.
Respect Their Autonomy- A great deal of teen angst comes from adolescents defining their identity apart from parents and the family. They’re spending a great deal of energy on deciding who they are going to be. They may take these teen years and reinvent themselves a few times, trying on a few different looks to see what fits. You need to respect that they are their own person, and each little rebellion, whether dyed hair, pierced eyebrow or fashion and music choices are going to be what they think you’ll hate the most! They need to prove they’re their own person and want to be seen and heard. You may not approve, but you can respect that this is a process that needs to happen.
You can tolerate the hair, the clothes, the music, it’s harmless. Pick your battles on this score, and show your teen that you see them. Take the time to really listen to them and trust me, sometimes you’ll have to read between the lines to get the true meaning. Being the parent that says, “I hate your music but I understand and respect that you love it” shows that you’re respecting your adolescent’s choice to be independent from you. Tell yourself that their intention is not to show hate or anger towards you and your values, but to find where they have their own voice and where there place in the world is. Again, think back to how you felt about your parent’s lives, music and style when you were a teen. See any similarities between you and your kids?
Be The Grown Up – Don’t attend every argument you’re invited to. This takes a great deal of self-control and patience. It’s absolutely okay for you to meet your teen’s attitude with a simple statement about “I’m the parent/you’re the child. I’m still in charge.” Don’t escalate these arguments or reduce them to raging shouting matches where you are just as immature as your teen. Try to keep the emotion out of it when you’re making important parenting decisions. Your adolescent is going to push each and every button you’ve got and you need to be ready for that.
Never allow disagreements or arguments to get physical. Your teen should never put their hands on you aggressively or in anger. Do your best to ratchet down high emotions and each of you can go to your corners to calm yourselves down; you’ll do more harm than good of you allow these conflicts to escalate out of control. You have to be the parent, you have to be the calm one (even if you’re not feeling it), be an example of a mature adult so you can show your adolescent how that looks.
Do your best to recognize that this is a normal part of growing up and that your example will help them to see what maturity looks like. After the emotions have calmed down, you can have a heart to heart talk with your teen about the issue at hand. Treat them as a person, not like a little child, and you’ll be better able to communicate. Also, try to do more listening than talking when these situations arise. You will be able to read between the lines and find out what’s really going on if you listen with your ears but mostly your heart with love for them.
It’s never easy to deal with emotional teens. If you’re faced with extreme aggression or incidents of violent behavior get help from a family counselor. If you think your teen is involved with alcohol or drugs or is self-harming in another way, seek help. Your relationship with your teen is a fragile thing that can be broken or strengthened depending upon how you handle these difficult teen years. Parent them and prepare them for life in the real world by showing them your best example of a mature adult. You are their best role model.