Anger can be a challenging emotion for many teens as it often masks other underlying emotions such as frustration, embarrassment, sadness, hurt, fear, shame, or vulnerability. When teens can’t cope with these feelings, they may lash out, putting themselves and others at risk. In their teens, many boys have difficulty recognizing their feelings, let alone being able to express them or ask for help.
The challenge for parents is to help your teen cope with emotions and deal with anger in a more constructive way:
Establish rules and consequences. At a time when both you and your teen are calm, explain that there’s nothing wrong with feeling anger, but there are unacceptable ways of expressing it. If your teen lashes out, for example, he or she will have to face the consequences—loss of privileges or even police involvement. Teens need rules, now more than ever.
Uncover what’s behind the anger. Is your child sad or depressed? For example, does your teen have feelings of inadequacy because his or her peers have things that your child doesn’t? Does your teen just need someone to listen to him or her without judgment?
Be aware of anger warning signs and triggers. Does your teen get headaches or start to pace before exploding with rage? Or does a certain class at school always trigger anger? When teens can identify the warning signs that their temper is starting to boil, it allows them to take steps to defuse the anger before it gets out of control.
Help your teen find healthy ways to relieve anger. Exercise, team sports, even simply hitting a punch bag or a pillow can help relieve tension and anger. Many teens also use art or writing to creatively express their anger. Dancing or playing along to loud, angry music can also provide relief.
Give your teen space to retreat. When your teen is angry, allow him or her to retreat to a place where it’s safe to cool off. Don’t follow your teen and demand apologies or explanations while he or she is still raging; this will only prolong or escalate the anger, or even provoke a physical response.
Manage your own anger. You can’t help your teen if you lose your temper as well. As difficult as it sounds, you have to remain calm and balanced no matter how much your child provokes you. If you or other members of your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, your teen will naturally assume that these are appropriate ways to express his or her anger as well.
Helping troubled teens tip #1: Connect with your teen
Whatever problems your teen is experiencing, it is not a sign that you’ve somehow failed as a parent. Instead of trying to assign blame for the situation, focus on your teen’s current needs. The first step to doing this is to find a way to connect with him or her. It may seem hard to believe—given your child’s anger or indifference towards you—but teens still crave love, approval, and acceptance from their parents. That means you probably have a lot more influence over your teen than you think. To open the lines of communication:
Be aware of your own stress levels. If you’re angry or upset, now is not the time to try to communicate with your teen. Wait until you’re calm and energized before starting a conversation. You’re likely to need all the patience and positive energy you can muster.
Be there for your teen. An offer to chat with your teen over coffee will probably be greeted with a sarcastic put-down or dismissive gesture, but it’s important to show you’re available. Insist on sitting down for mealtimes together with no TV or other distractions, and attempt to talk to your teen then. Don’t get frustrated if your efforts are greeted by nothing more than monosyllabic grunts or shrugs; you may have to eat a lot of dinners in silence, but when your teen does want to open up, he or she will have the opportunity to do so.
Find common ground. Trying to discuss your teen’s appearance or clothes may be a sure-fire way to trigger a heated argument, but you can still find some areas of common ground. Fathers and sons often connect over sports, mothers and daughters over gossip or movies. The objective is not to be your teen’s best friend, but to find common interests that you can discuss peacefully. Once you’re talking, your teen may feel more comfortable opening up to you about other things.
Listen without judging or giving advice. When your teen does talk to you, it’s important that you listen without judging, mocking, interrupting, criticizing, or offering advice. Your teen wants to feel understood and valued by you, so maintain eye contact and keep your focus on your child, even when he or she is not looking at you. If you’re checking your email or reading the newspaper, your teen will feel that he or she is not important to you.
Expect rejection. Your attempts to connect with your teen may often be met with anger, irritation, or other negative reactions. Stay relaxed and allow your teen space to cool off. Try again later when you’re both calm. Successfully connecting to your teen will take time and effort. Don’t be put off; persevere and the breakthrough will come.
Helping troubled teens tip #2: Make healthy lifestyle changes
The tips below can help put balance back in your troubled teen’s life, no matter the exact diagnosis of his or her problems:
Create structure. Teens may scream and argue with you about rules and discipline, or rebel against daily structure, but that doesn’t mean they need them any less. Structure, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes, make a teen feel safe and secure. Sitting down to breakfast and dinner together every day can also provide a great opportunity to check in with your teen at the beginning and end of each day.
Reduce screen time. There is a direct relationship between violent TV shows, movies, Internet content, and video games, and the violent behavior in teenagers. Even if your teen isn’t drawn to violent material, too much screen time can still impact brain development. Limit the time your teen has access to electronic devices—and restrict phone usage after a certain time at night to ensure your child gets enough sleep.
Encourage exercise. Even a little regular exercise can help ease depression, boost energy and mood, relieve stress, regulate sleep patterns, and improve your teen’s self-esteem. If you struggle getting your teen to do anything but play video games, encourage him or her to play activity-based video games or “exergames” that are played standing up and moving around—simulating dancing, skateboarding, soccer, or tennis, for example. Once exercise becomes a habit, encourage your teen to try the real sport or to join a club or team.
Eat right. Healthy eating can help to stabilize a teenager’s energy, sharpen his or her mind, and even out his or her mood. Act as a role model for your teen. Cook more meals at home, eat more fruit and vegetables and cut back on junk food and soda.
Ensure your teen gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can make a teen stressed, moody, irritable, and lethargic, and cause problems with weight, memory, concentration, decision-making, and immunity from illness. You might be able to get by on six hours a night and still function at work, but your teen needs 8.5 to 10 hours of sleep a night to be mentally sharp and emotionally balanced. Encourage better sleep by setting consistent bedtimes, and removing TVs, computers, and other electronic gadgets from your teen’s room—the light from these suppresses melatonin production and stimulates the mind, rather than relaxing it. Suggest your teen tries listening to music or audio books at bedtime instead.
Helping troubled teens tip #3: Take care of yourself
The stress of dealing with any teenager, especially one who’s experiencing behavioral problems, can take a toll on your own health, so it’s important to take care of yourself. That means looking after your emotional and physical needs and learning to manage stress.
Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed.
Don’t go it alone, especially if you’re a single parent. Seek help from friends, relatives, a school counselor, sports coach, religious leader, or someone else who has a relationship with your teen. Organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, and other youth groups can also help provide structure and guidance.
Watch out for signs of depression and anxiety, and get professional help if needed.
This won’t last forever
It’s worth reminding your teen that no matter how much pain or turmoil he or she is experiencing right now, with your love and support, things can and will get better—for both of you. Your teen can overcome the problems of adolescence and mature into a happy, successful young adult