Dealing with an angry teen is like standing in the middle of a hurricane.
What’s the best way to deal with the situation?
Should you match your teenagers’ anger with your anger? Should you threaten them with the loss of privileges?
Or should you give in and hope they won’t blow up again?
Over the years, I’ve spoken to and worked with over 20,000 teenagers. This means that I’ve also interacted with many confused and frustrated parents.
Teens’ anger isn’t something you can prevent or control. But how you respond to it is something you can control.
Here are 20 strategies to help you navigate these challenging situations.
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1. Remember the “boiling kettle” analogy
When your teen is angry, think of the “boiling kettle” analogy.
When a kettle boils, steam comes out of the spout. But the steam is just a “symptom” of the water boiling.
To stop the steam from coming out, you need to turn off the fire.
Similarly, your teen’s anger is a symptom too. It’s the visible part of something deeper that is causing your teen’s problematic behaviour.
In the boiling kettle analogy, it’s the fire that’s the “root cause” of the steam.
It’s the same with your teen. So don’t focus on the anger itself. Instead, find the root cause of the anger:
- Does your teen feel unloved?
- Does your teen feel neglected?
- Is your teen suffering from body image issues?
- Is your teen a victim of bullying?
- Is your teen struggling with anxiety?
(The list of questions above isn’t exhaustive.)
Your teen can learn anger management techniques. But if the underlying issues aren’t addressed, then the anger problem will persist.
2. Remember that your teen’s behaviour isn’t a reflection of your competence as a parent
The teenage years are a difficult time for your child.
Huge hormonal changes are taking place and – at the same time – your child’s brain is changing rapidly.
Many parents take their teenager’s behaviour personally. They may feel guilty and may feel as if they’ve messed up as parents. They may start obsessing over the mistakes they’ve made as parents.
But it’s important to remember that even if there was such a thing as a perfect parent (which there isn’t), no child would turn out perfect.
The physical changes taking place inside your teenager would still create at least some turmoil.
Of course, your teenager’s anger may be directed at you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad parent.
Try to look at the situation objectively.
As an adult, you have inner resources that your teenager doesn’t. You have more control over your emotions, which means that you have the ability to defuse a heated situation.
It will often seem as though your teenager is verbally assaulting you. But this is where you need to exercise self-control.
Instead of reacting violently to your teenager’s anger, see her anger as a cry for help.
Teenagers haven’t yet learned how to manage their emotions. Instead of asking for help, they often bottle up their emotions until they explode in an angry outburst.
This can be triggered by a combination of school-related pressure, friendship issues, and an emotionally unsafe home environment.
3. Hear your teen out, even if he or she is sharing negative feelings
When teens share their thoughts and feelings, much of what they say may be negative.
For example, they may complain about their teachers, or about how much homework they’re getting, or about certain school rules.
Your teen’s view of the situation might be imbalanced, but refrain from interrupting him.
Your teen wants to know that you’re trying to understand how he feels about the situation. This means you need to put aside your own views for a while and listen to your teen.
Resist the temptation to correct your teen and tell him how he should view the situation. Try not to minimise the situation by moralising or by informing him that “that’s life”.
If you cast judgment, your teen will be less likely to share his feelings with you in the future. This would be damaging in the long run, because it’s vital to keep the lines of communication with your teen open.
The less your teen shares with you about his life, the harder it becomes for you to influence him. It will then become harder to coach your teen through the challenges ahead.
4. Explain the concept of cognitive distortions to your teen
Cognitive distortions are ways in which our minds convince us of something that isn’t true.
They are inaccurate thoughts about ourselves and the world around us. They often reinforce our negative thinking or emotions.
There are 15 common cognitive distortions and you can read about them here.
In this section, I’m going to describe three prevalent ones:
- Filtering. This is when a person takes negative events and magnifies them. At the same time, they filter out the positive aspects of the situation.
- Polarised thinking. This is when a person sees situations in extremes. Things are either black or white, with no middle ground between the two.
- Overgeneralisation. This is where a single event is used to form a general conclusion. When something bad happens once, the person concludes that the bad thing will happen again in the future.
When we get angry, it’s almost always due to a cognitive distortion.
Try explaining this to your teenager. When she realises this, it will help her to manage her anger by looking at the situation through another lens.
In addition, as a parent, you may find it useful to refer to this brief summary of cognitive distortions that result in anger, created by Corner Canyon Counseling and Psychological Services.
Through understanding the various cognitive distortions that exist, your teenager will become aware of her flawed habits of thinking that she needs to change.
5. Don’t threaten your teen
When your teen becomes angry, you may feel tempted to use threats as a way of calming him down.
For example, you might say: “If you don’t calm down now, I’m going to take away your phone.”
Or you might say: “If you don’t stop shouting, you’ll be grounded for a month.”
But this approach won’t work in the long run.
If you use threats, your teen will resent you. Threats may work in the short term, but in the long term, they will damage the relationship you have with your teen.
What’s more, threats do nothing to resolve the anger issue.
Your teen’s anger is not just a behavioural problem. It’s a sign that something is wrong, that some emotional need is not being met.
6. Explain to your teen how he or she can express anger in an appropriate way
There’s no point in doing this while your teenager is still angry.
Wait until the episode has passed and your teenager is calm and relaxed.
Explain to her that all feelings are acceptable, but not all behaviours are acceptable. Explain to her that it’s okay to feel angry, and that there’s no need to feel guilty about it.
Share with her that there are ways to express anger without hurting others.
Teach your teenager how to recognise the signs that she’s on the verge of a meltdown:
- Clenched jaw
- Increase in heart rate
- Sweaty palms
Tell your teenager that when she’s angry, she doesn’t need to act on her feelings right away.
Ask your teenager to practise counting to ten slowly, or to try this breathing exercise:
- Breathe in for four counts
- Hold your breath for four counts
- Breathe out for four counts
7. Discuss family rules related to expressing anger
When the situation has passed and everyone is calm, schedule a discussion about how everyone in the family will express their anger.
During the family discussion, decide on the boundaries your family will commit to.
Come to a consensus that these rules will apply to everyone in the family, including you as a parent.
For example, your family might decide that it’s not acceptable to:
- Break things
- Use vulgarities
- Engage in name-calling
- Storm off in the middle of a conversation
- Slam the door
- Kick or throw furniture around
This is a good opportunity to talk about the difference between feeling angry and being aggressive.
Make sure that everyone is on the same page with regard to the rules. You might find it helpful to write down the rules and put them somewhere visible, such as on the fridge door.
8. Call a timeout if the situation becomes heated
When a situation with your teen becomes heated, try calling a “timeout”. In fact, calling a timeout can be part of the family rules that we just talked about.
When tempers are flaring, there’s no point in allowing the situation to escalate further.
For example, you could say: “We’re both getting angry, so let’s please take a break. How about we discuss this again after dinner?”
If your teen persists in arguing, try to disengage. After all, conflicts are never resolved when the parties involved have lost their cool.
9. Keep the lines of communication with your teen open
Remember that one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to keep the lines of communication open.
Of course, this is easier said than done when you have an angry teenager on your hands.
Refrain from casting judgment, jumping to conclusions, or lecturing your teenager. If your teenager is angry, it means that he needs empathy (as discussed in Strategy #3).
Ask for your teenager’s opinion. Encourage him to share his point of view. Seek to understand his perspective.
By keeping the lines of communication open, your teenager will eventually share his feelings. As such, you’ll be able to get to the root of the issue.
10. Find a win-win (or at least no-lose) solution to every conflict
When dealing with any conflict with your teen, try to find a win-win solution.
Avoid an outcome where your teen feels that you won and she lost. Such outcomes will lead to your teen becoming even angrier.
For example, when setting boundaries related to curfew timings, phone usage, or screen time, be willing to negotiate with your teen.
This way, she will feel that she has a part to play in developing the solution. She won’t be resentful if she feels that she was involved in the process of setting the boundary.
Adult life involves plenty of compromise and negotiation, so this is a good opportunity to enable your teen to develop this life skill.
The solution you both agree on may be a compromise between what you want and what your teen wants. But if you can both live with it, it’s better than creating a rule that you simply impose by force.
11. Reach out to your teen’s teachers
If your teenager is becoming aggressive, reach out to his teachers. Let them know what you’ve observed about your teenager at home.
Your teenager’s teachers may have information to share that will help you understand why he is acting out.
Could it be that he is being ostracised by his classmates?
Maybe he is hanging out with bad company?
Or perhaps he is struggling to keep up with his schoolwork?
Your teenager’s teachers may be able to help you figure out why your teenager is being aggressive at home.
12. Model for your teen how to manage anger effectively
If your teen sees you losing your temper frequently, it will be hard for her to learn how to handle her anger.
Family life sometimes involves moments of conflict and anger. But when you get angry with a family member, model for your teen how to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Research shows that children who observe their parents having mild conflicts and resolving those conflicts display higher levels of emotional intelligence later on.
This principle applies to your relationship with your teen too. If you’ve lost your temper at your teen, apologise to her and make amends.
Many parents find it hard to apologise to their children. Some parents think that apologising is an act of weakness, or that it implies that they lack authority.
But this isn’t true.
When you offer a genuine apology to your teen, you’re modelling accountability. You’re showing your teen the importance of taking responsibility for your actions.
You’re also displaying humility, which will earn your teen’s respect.
13. Do something together with your teen that he or she enjoys
When your teenager displays anger at home, you may feel a need to deal with the issue right away.
But most of the time, this isn’t the best approach. For a start, take the focus away from the anger issue altogether.
Go and do something fun with your teenager. Watch a movie, go for a hike, visit an amusement park, or go bowling.
These activities will allow you to build a connection with your teenager. In turn, this will make it easier to understand the issues behind your teenager’s anger.
But if you keep trying to address the anger issue directly, you may end up backing your teenager into a corner.
She may start to feel that you view her as a problem that needs to be fixed, which will exacerbate the situation.
So spend meaningful time with your teenager and work on the relationship first.
14. Help your teen identify the triggers that set him or her off
Teens often lack awareness as to what triggers their emotional responses.
So it’s helpful to encourage your teen to reflect on what kinds of comments or situations trigger his anger.
Is it when someone makes a comment about his appearance or abilities? Or is it when he feels as if his character is being called into question?
Through this process of reflection, your teen will become more self-aware.
This self-awareness will allow him to identify the deeper issues that spark his anger. He can then begin to work on these issues in an intentional way.
15. Don’t treat your teen as a child
As children develop into teenagers, parents often struggle to adjust their parenting methods.
If you’re not careful, you might still be treating your teenager as if she’s a child, when she’s actually on the cusp of adulthood.
But there’s a powerful force at work in your teenager, which is urging her to develop her own identity. It’s pushing her toward independence, even if you might not think she’s ready for it.
If you keep talking to your teenager as you did when she was a child, she will likely rebel and display more anger.
Instead, try seeing your teenager as an adult who lacks experience. This will enable you to shift from being an authority figure to being a coach and mentor to your teenager.
This shift is vital if you want your teenager to make the most of her potential and overcome her anger issues.
16. Help your teen to develop problem-solving skills
Anger in teens often arises when they are confronted with a problem and can’t think of a constructive way to deal with it.
The problem can take many different forms:
- A project team member who is not pulling his weight and is leaving your teen to do all the work
- Classmates who are gossiping about your teen
- A teacher who picks on your teen
- Your teen being unable to stay on top of his schoolwork
If your teen lacks problem-solving skills, he may start to feel helpless. As a result, he may lash out in anger.
So I encourage you to teach your teen the steps of problem-solving:
- Identify the problem
- Think of at least 2 to 3 possible solutions
- Evaluate each possible solution based on advantages and disadvantages
- Choose a solution
- Implement the solution
- Reflect on how things turned out and what lessons you learned
When your teen is equipped with these problem-solving skills, he will feel more confident when confronted with a challenge.
Instead of feeling discouraged and frustrated, your teen will take positive steps toward overcoming the problem.
17. Develop family rules about screen time
If your teenager is aggressive, screen time might be a key contributing factor.
Too much screen time results in teenagers who are “wired and tired” – they’re agitated but exhausted at the same time.
Here are three ways that excessive screen time can lead to increased aggression in teenagers:
- Suppression of melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone that gets released at night. But the light emitted by the screens of various electronic devices mimics daylight. This suppresses the release of melatonin and affects your sleep.
- Over-reliance on dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical released by your brain. Too much screen time causes the release of excessive amounts of dopamine. This creates a need in your teenager for ever-increasing levels of stimulation.
- Overloading the sensory system. Screen time depletes your teenager’s mental resources, making her unable to process what’s happening around her. To cope with this, your teenager may become prone to angry outbursts.
These factors can lead to a state of stress and unease in your teenager, which further affects her ability to manage her anger.
Similar to what we talked about under Strategy #7, it’s crucial that you lead a discussion about family rules related to screen time.
For example, you might decide that – as a family – you…
- Will not use electronic devices during mealtimes
- Will not have a TV in your home
- Will create a daily schedule for when you will have screen time
- Will charge your electronic devices in the living room (not the bedroom) every night
- Will not have any screen time within 1 hour of bedtime
18. Get help for your teen
As we’ve already discussed in this article, recurring episodes of anger is a clear sign that something deeper is going on with your teen.
Identifying the deeper issue isn’t always straightforward.
It’s necessary to take a holistic approach that investigates factors related to your teen’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Parent-teen relationships are complicated. As the parent, you’re often too involved to be able to assess the situation objectively.
(I’m a parent of two myself, so I know this for a fact!)
Getting a neutral third party – who is also a professional – involved is often a key turning point, which results in your teen’s positive transformation.
I work with teens 1-to-1 to help them work through their anger issues. I also empower them to become motivated, responsible and resilient.
I encourage you to get help for your teen today before the situation worsens.
19. Don’t focus on winning the argument
As a parent, you’re used to being the authority figure in your home. It’s natural that you don’t want to lose face.
In an argument with your teenager, you may feel as if you have to win in order to maintain your position of authority.
But if you focus on winning the argument with your teenager, you may end up winning the battle but losing the war.
If your teenager always comes away from arguments feeling that he has lost, he will eventually stop talking to you about his problems.
Your teenager will start to resent you, which will fuel even more anger in him.
20. Aim to achieve the “5:1 ratio” in your relationship with your teen
Research has shown that for a healthy marriage, there is typically a ratio of at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.
Having worked with teens for years, I’ve observed that this principle applies in the parent-teen relationship too.
Ensure that your positive interactions with your teen far outweigh the negative ones.
When your teen displays anger, remember that anger is often a symptom of low self-esteem.
The teenage years are difficult ones, and your teen is still trying to develop her own identity. As such, she probably struggles with some – if not many – self-esteem issues.
This is why it isn’t a good idea to continually criticise your teen. No adult likes to be criticised all the time either!
If you express constant disapproval of your teen, it will undermine her self-esteem. She’ll then become even angrier.
You may observe many things about your teen’s attitude and behaviour that warrant correction.
But remember the 5:1 ratio.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Will it help the situation if I criticise my teen?
- Is this a battle worth fighting, or can I let it go?
- Is there a gentler way that I can address the issue?
So be sparing with your criticism, but be generous with your appreciation, kind words, and empathy.
Dealing with teenage anger is a complex issue.
It requires various parenting skills, including the ability to listen, empathise, and understand the underlying reason that your teen is angry.
It also requires that your teen develops the tools he or she needs to overcome the anger issue.
These tools include:
- Understanding cognitive distortions
- Becoming more aware of what triggers his or her anger
- Acquiring problem-solving skills
If you get help for your teen and apply the strategies in this article, I’m confident that the situation will improve tremendously.
So don’t lose hope!
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