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Parenting an Angry, Explosive Teen: What You Should-and
When your teen is angry and screaming at you, the temptation for many of us is
to fight back and scream louder so you "win" the argument. But what does that
do? It's natural to want to push back or stand up for yourself if someone pushes
your buttons or provokes you in some way. We often unknowingly internalize this
message and it becomes a parent's mantra: "I'm not going to let my own child
walk all over me."
The temptation to yell or fight back is so great
that it can feel nearly impossible to resist. Yet giving in to that temptation
can be quite costly in ways you probably didn't realize. When you yell or scream
back at your child, it simply challenges him and effectively "ups the ante." To
put it another way, it escalates the argument. Not only that, but it keeps the
fight going longer-the more you try to "win" and come out on top, the more your
child fights back, so the louder you yell, and then he starts throwing things.
When does it end?
Understand that in addition to prolonging the argument-and encouraging your
child to keep it going-yelling back also means that you're giving up your power.
You and your child are now on the same level; you're equal. You are engaging in
the same exact behavior and as long as you do that, you're only going to get
more of it from your child time and time again. By bringing you down to his
level, your child gains the perception that he's in control because he can make
you lose control by getting you angry.
The Brain of an Angry Teen
First and foremost, it's important to realize that even though adolescents might
engage in adult-like behaviors or try to act like adults, they do not have the
brains of adults. The brains of adolescents are still developing, and they
continue to do so into their early to mid-twenties. That considered, it does not
make sense to really expect children to act like we do as adults. In fact, kids
often perceive things in a very different way than we do, in part due to faulty
or distorted thinking. The danger comes in when they use this distorted thinking
to justify or rationalize their angry behavior.
In the Total Transformation Program, James Lehman identifies several different
kinds of faulty thinking that kids experience. Keep in mind that faulty thinking
is not something someone engages in intentionally. Rather, these are automatic
thoughts, like "It's not my fault that I broke the door. I was mad at my
brother." Or, "My teacher's a jerk. Why should I do what she says?" If you pay
attention to your own thoughts, I'm sure you'll find that you experience faulty
thinking from time to time as well, because it doesn't just occur in children-we
all do it
What Not to Do
Yell, curse, or name-call: There's no excuse for abuse-not by your child and not
by you. In the same way that playing the victim role is no excuse for your child
to abuse someone else, your child abusing you does not excuse your yelling,
cursing, or name-calling. Being verbally abusive to your child only makes things
worse, both in the short-term when the argument escalates, and in the long-term
when your child's behavior doesn't change and your relationship becomes
Threaten with consequences: It's always most effective to avoid threatening your
child with specific consequences in the heat of the moment. For example, saying,
"If you don't stop, I'm taking your computer for 3 days" is not likely to get
your child to suddenly stop yelling and retreat to his room. Instead, it will
upset your child even more and keep the argument going. What's more effective is
to say, "If you choose not to go to your room and calm down, there will be a
consequence later" and then walk away.
Attempt to control your child: This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for
parents. We hear from parents every day who, without realizing it, are trying to
control their children. I think this is due, in part, to some common confusion
about accountability and what that really means. Holding your child accountable
does not result in a child who is obedient 100 percent of the time. It does not
mean that your child will always choose to follow the rules even if you give him
consequences consistently when he misbehaves. Accountability means that you set
the rules and the limits, and you provide a consequence when your child decides
to break the rules-period. The goal is not to prevent your child from ever
breaking the rules. You're not a puppeteer; you're a limit-setter. Let your
child make his own choice. Limits and rules were literally made to be crossed
and broken because that's how we, as humans, learn about consequences and
Another way to look at accountability is this: If your child doesn't follow the
rules, someone will find out and there will be a "price" to pay, a "cost" for
his poor choice in the form of the temporary loss of a privilege he enjoys. When
a child experiences this unpleasant outcome, he can use that information to help
him think about things next time he is considering breaking the rules. He'll
learn to ask himself, "Is it worth it?" as he is making his choices in the
Get physical: This often goes hand in hand with trying to control your child.
Your child didn't turn the X-box off when you told him to, so you try to take
the controller or the console itself in the heat of your argument when
everyone's emotions are running high. Or, your child threatens to leave the
house when she's angry so you try to physically keep her in the home by blocking
her path or holding her back physically. Let me be clear: it's not a good idea
to get physical with your child, first and foremost because it shows your child
that the way to gain control of a situation is to use physical force. Secondly,
you run the risk of escalating the entire situation. Remember how we talked
about that natural urge to fight back? Well, I'm sure you know that urge is very
real for your teen as well. I've heard many stories from parents about their
kids striking back in response to the parent getting physical with them first.
Don't risk it. It's not worth it.
Try to "win": If you're one of those parents who already knows that the way to
gain control of an argument with your child is to walk away and calm yourself
down, then you can disregard this point. Realize that if you continue to try to
"win" every battle with your child, you will lose "the war." To be honest, I
don't like using "war" and "battle" comparisons because it makes it sound as if
your child is your enemy. It may feel like it more often than not, but remember,
your child is not really your enemy-he is a kid in need of some more effective
What I have found is that the goal for most parents I talk to is to raise their
child to be respectful, accountable adults that can make it on their own in this
world. If that's the case for you, then think carefully about the battles along
the way. James Lehman says, "Pick your battles, and be prepared to win the ones
you pick." This means asking yourself "Is it worth it?" before you go charging
into "battle" with your child. It doesn't mean to win by out-yelling your child.
It means that you succeed by using effective strategies that are going to
help you achieve that long-term goal.
What to Do: Try These Techniques Instead
Pick your battles and consider walking away: As mentioned above, ask yourself if
it's worth it to deal with this issue. Does it need to be dealt with right now?
Should you take some time to calm down before you address it with your child?
Are your buttons being pushed? Think about the situation carefully and allow
some time for things to cool down. You can address it later if you still feel
the issue is important after you've thought it through.
Use a business-like tone: James Lehman talks about the concept of treating your
family like a business in the Total Transformation program. You're the CEO of
your "family business," so when things are turbulent, remember to address your
child in the same tone with which a professionally-mannered boss would address
an employee with a performance issue. Stay calm and neutral, and stick to the
Self-disclosure: Let your child know you're having a hard time communicating
with them in the moment. It's perfectly okay to say things like, "It's really
hard for me to listen and talk to you when you're screaming at me," or "When you
scream at me, I don't really feel like helping you." This is a simple way to set
a limit with your child and let them know their behavior isn't working.
Challenge your child's thinking: When I say "challenge" here I don't mean invite
your child to keep sparring with you by saying things like, "You think you're
pretty tough, big guy!?" What I mean is to point out that his behavior is
ineffective. Say to your child, "I know you want to go to the mall, but talking
to me like that is not going to get you what you want," or "I get that you're
angry, but screaming at me isn't going to get me to let you play your video
games before your homework is done."
Last but not least, one of the single best ways to teach kids is by example.
Role modeling is one of the key components of teaching kids how to behave. I've
said it before, and I'll say it again: If you don't want your child to yell at
you, don't yell at him. If you don't want your child to curse, don't curse. As
James Lehman says, "You've got to model the behavior you want to see from your
child. (Parenting An Angry and Explosive
Teen reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents)
by Sara Bean, M.Ed.
Sara A. Bean, M.Ed. holds a Masters Degree in Education with a concentration in
School Counseling from Florida Atlantic University. She is a Certified School
Counselor and a proud aunt to a 5 year-old girl. She has been with Legacy
Publishing, makers of the
The Total Transformation, since 2009
working on the Parental Support Line. Sara has over 5 years of experience
working with youth and families in private homes, residential group homes, and
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