Last month I shared the difficulties of dealing with angry teens. (Click here if you missed it.) The key point was to distinguish between when someone is expressing anger—which is normal and needs a healthy, boundaried outlet—and disrespect—which is using our anger against people with disparaging, condescending, mean comments. We focused on changing the behavioral dynamic in the family between parents and teens and the importance of role modeling and owning our own anger before we can help our teenagers (or anyone else for that matter) with theirs. We also talked about how our teens need to learn to express their anger in appropriate ways. We ended with the question: Should we permit anger at all?
WHY PERMIT ANGER?
When we permit our teens to express anger, we're ultimately permitting them to be separate from us, have a different viewpoint, become an individual, etc. I have told many parents that one key to saving your kids many hours in the therapist's office as an adult is to let them express themselves honestly and openly in the family. We don't have to agree, just show respect when our teens are speaking to us.
IS ANGER ALWAYS SIN?
Anger is just a feeling. It's a barometer for how I'm doing in a relationship. The sinning occurs when we use our anger as a weapon against someone, to hurt or denigrate them. So yes, it is possible to be angry and sin not as Ephesians 4:26 admonishes us. For instance, if I'm angry about something and I know what’s going on for me emotionally, I could be free to say something like, "I'm really not comfortable with the decision you made on my behalf. I don't think my best interests are being considered." If I'm disconnected from my relationship, and myself I might be inclined to say, "Are you kidding me? I told you I'm not doing that! Not now, not ever!!! You always do this to me. There's something wrong with you! You never listen, you only think of yourself, etc., etc." The former sets a firm boundary while respecting the other person. The latter is combative and hostile. It's like throwing a torch in the relationship. We get to choose. When we role model respect, eventually, it will come back to us from our teenagers.
WHAT DOES AN ANGRY BUT RESPECTFUL EXCHANGE LOOK LIKE?
We need to take some time to really hear what our teens are saying to us. Set firm limits about being respectful, no trash talking, insults, etc. I'm not encouraging us to agree with them across the board, but if we can find one small area where we can legitimately agree or apologize, we should do so! The goal is to show them we care about their feelings, their perspective, and that we value their thoughts. This models respect for others, behavior we want to see our teens repeat.
Surprisingly, in most situations (about 80%of the time) a young person feels better just being able to get things off their chest. Everyone has a deep need to be heard and known. We can permit our teenagers to say, "I hate it when you do that," or "I hate it when things turn out that way for me."
We don’t have to remind them that we’re paying all the bills and that's why we get to make the decision. We can say something like, "I know this is tough; you will be an adult soon enough. Then all the decisions are yours, but so are the responsibilities."
One of the underlying causes of anger for teens is invalidation of feelings from people in authority. Just permitting our kids to have a chance to speak their mind can set them free from a portion of their anger. Remember this: no one skill or interaction changes the sum total of family life or parent/teen relationships. What we’re doing is endeavoring to change the emotional climate in our home. This takes perseverance and effort. We have to do our own emotional training before we require our kids to develop a new behavior.
Next month, we’ll talk about how to maintain influence in our teenagers’ lives, while making sure we avoid losing control. We’ll also differentiate between anger and rage and what to do about each.
- Dr. William Lee Carter's classic book,The Angry Teenager. This book talks about why teens get so angry and how parents can help.
- The Anger Workbook for Teens by Raychelle C. Lohmann is a great tool for teenagers who are willing to look at their own anger. It is chock full of techniques for anger management, coping strategies for frustration, self-control, and much more. I suggest the first book because most likely you're the one who is concerned about your teen’s anger. Don't buy the workbook unless you have a willing teenager motivated to work on their anger.