Do you ever feel like your teenager is so irritating that you might just lose your mind? Maybe you are barely maintaining control. You are so close to saying or doing something that you will likely regret. Sometimes you successfully calm yourself down, but other times you totally lose it. I bet you know exactly what I am […]
“My teenage son is always angry, he has such a negative attitude and any little thing sets him off. I don’t know how to help him and he won’t talk to me.”
Out of the huge range of human emotions teenage boys are only allowed to show happiness or anger. Anything approaching emotional vulnerability is dangerous territory and must be avoided at all costs.
Of course, we never tell boys this, but they learn it from an early age. Boys should be tough. We tell them to stop crying, get up and walk it off or other such messages. Basically, don’t ever show that you are weak. They certainly don’t want to be labeled as a “sensitive” boy.
If you live with a surly, moody teenager then I wrote this post for you! I want to give you a bit of a laugh (hopefully) and also give you some ideas on how to handle your bad tempered and unfriendly teenager. I am comparing the video game Angry Birds to the relationship between angry teens and their parents.
For the uninitiated, Angry Birds is one of the most popular casual games that has arrived on smartphones and multiple other platforms. It is quite addictive and I am a bit uncomfortable admitting how much time I have spent playing this game. 🙂
In the game, players slingshot a variety of different birds towards various structures that hold some otherwise defenseless pigs. There is apparently a huge rift between the birds and the pigs and they basically hate each other. I tend to like analogies and this game reminds me of some of the difficulties that parents have dealing with their angry teens.
Teenagers can be very emotional and often times this is channeled into angry words and behaviors. This can be especially challenging for parents. I realize that comparing parents to pigs may not be favorable. Don’t get me wrong, I have ultimate respect for parents and the amazing ways that we (including myself) show up for our kids. However, sometimes we can be unprepared, caught off guard and generally handle our kids anger poorly.
Here are some thoughts on the different expressions of teen anger and how parents can respond.
There are some things you would never want people know about. Your husband having an affair. Filing bankruptcy.
Maybe, an angry son who is verbally abusive.
Unfortunately, there are some painful realities in family life and no shortage of challenges.
What do you do if your son calls you names? Maybe horrible names. Here are a few of my ideas for you to consider.
Let him know that name-calling is not OK
This may be an obvious suggestion, but it is important that you are clear about your expectations. Let him know that disrespect and name-calling is not something that will be tolerated in your family. Be assertive. Firm and clear. You may likely get an angry or sarcastic response, but it still needs to be spoken.
Don’t respond with name-calling
Actions really do speak louder than words. Your son needs to know that you will not break your own rules and retaliate with harsh words. I imagine that your kids have pushed you to the breaking point more than once. The decisions that you and I make in those moments are critical.
Lash out and risk hurting your child or take a different road. Your son will respect you more if you avoid using his own tactics against him.
Pay attention to the feeling behind the words
This can be very hard in the moment when emotions are high and words are flying. In my experience working with children and adolescents, there is always an emotional reason for them to lash out and use hurtful words. Your son may not be aware of what he is feeling, but you can help him to start to pay attention to this.
This takes enormous patience and a willingness to put your first reactions in check. “Wow, I am shocked that you would call me such a hurtful name. It really seems like you are angry with me. What is going on for you?” In therapist speak, this would be called “naming” the emotion.
This is an important step in helping your son know you hear him and you see him. It may agitate him, but it could also decrease the intensity of his emotions.
Tell him how it makes you feel
You are one of the most important people in your son’s life. You can help him learn emotional intelligence, develop empathy for others and start to see how he impacts the world around him. Tell him how his words make you feel. Angry. Sad. Hurt.
If you can do this without piling on guilt or shame, it can be a powerful way to communicate. Using “I statements” is something that I teach families all the time. This is simply the practice of directly communicating what you feel. “I feel very hurt and angry when you call me the worst Mom ever.”
This may lower your son’s defenses for a moment and help him see you as a real person with real feelings. It does take practice, but it is an essential tool for you as a parent.
Avoid reflexive punishment
I don’t know about you, but when my kids push my buttons I find it hard to respond calmly and with logical consequences (like when my three year old bit me last night!) It can be a powerful temptation to strike back with harsh consequences. “That’s it. I’m taking your XBOX for three months!”
Unfortunately, this may be ultimately more harmful and damaging to your relationship. Especially, if you do not follow through with your threat. It is a wise strategy to decide consequences when you are less emotional. When your kids makes you feel powerless and out of control, avoid the urge to pile on the punishment.
Seek professional help
Are you are consistently struggling with your son calling you names, being defiant and disrespectful? If so, this may be a sign of deeper family relationship issues that require some professional support. It may be more than a developmental phase or the influence of peers. Family counseling can be quite helpful in sorting out your family dynamics and in finding new solutions to improve communication and relationships.
It can be extremely distressing when you are constantly in conflict with your son, home is a place full of tension and nothing seems to get resolved. Every family needs support.
I would be happy to help you figure out if counseling can help your family.