How to Talk to an Angry Teenager
Adolescence is a time of fast and sometimes messy development. Some teens experience their emotions as agitation and pessimism, even sometimes using hurtful language. It can be difficult when a well-meaning parent when they try to help their teen, only to be pushed away.
Parents can become angry and frustrated, too. You love your child and want to help, but you also feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve as a parent.
Think of anger as a form of communication, albeit one that isn’t particularly effective. How do you figure out what your teen is trying to tell you? Here are some ideas for decoding your teen’s anger and responding appropriately:
1. Give your angry teen some room to breathe.
Time alone is sometimes exactly what your teen needs to calm down, which can be frustrating when all you want to do is find out what’s wrong and help them. As a parent, you may need to determine in the moment whether you are responding in the way your teen needs or whether you are trying to relieve your own anxiety, anger, and fear. If you’re not responding appropriately, your attempts to reach your teen could backfire.
2. An angry teen may be in a resentment loop.
If it seems like your teen feels guilty for saying something hurtful one minute and then lashing out in anger again a minute later because they feel you’re pressuring or dismissing them, then your teen is probably stuck in a cycle of resentment.
Your job is not to get stuck in there with them! Your teen won’t be ready to have a constructive conversation at this point. Let them express their feelings with you present as support, but wait to talk about those feelings later.
Note: If a topic needs to be addressed, don’t do so while your teen is in the resentment loop, but also don’t avoid it altogether out of fear of making your teen angrier.
3. A teen’s anger can sometimes be a mask for low confidence or low self-esteem.
If your teen is already overwhelmed with negativity, they may be hypersensitive to anything they think is criticism. Parents don’t always know when a teen is experiencing difficulties with peers, other adults, or their own negative self-talk. Your response to their anger may add fuel to the fire if your teen already feels dismissed, belittled, or ignored.
Your teen may simply need to know they are heard. As a parent, you can put yourself in your teen’s shoes and let them know you want to see things how they see them. This way your teen is better prepared to have a discussion about solutions.
4. Feelings of fear, helplessness, and loneliness are often part of teen anger.
Becoming more independent is a difficult process and your teen may not feel as if they are in control of their life, leading to anger, frustration, and feelings of powerlessness. They may not know how to reach a goal or find a solution, or how to determine what the goal or solution even looks like. How can teens make the positive changes they seek in the midst of this chaos?
Lashing out in anger and pushing away parents (or friends) is a way to create a short-lived feeling of power, but what quickly follows is a deepening feeling of isolation that spurs more anger.
It’s important to know that in children and teens, anger management problems are sometimes symptoms of depression. If you think that your angry teen has created a negative mindset, may be isolating themselves, or has any feelings of hopelessness, you should seek a specialized therapist to help your angry teen.
In the future, notice the message beneath your teen’s anger rather than allowing the anger to control your own behavior, too. You have the opportunity to model an appropriate response to anger, and doing how you behave influences your teenager more than you realize.
Kristine Tye is a California licensed marriage and family therapist and anxiety treatment expert. She specializes in working with teenagers and offers individual therapy, family counseling and parent coaching. Download your free guide to Less Stress, More Confidence at www.kristinetherapyla.com or access free resources for college-bound students at www.teenlaunch.org.