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How to Effectively Respond to an Angry Teen

Diffusing conflicts between you and your teen.

It is instinctual for a parent to want to keep their children, happy. From when your child is an infant, through his toddler years and into his teenage years, that desire to ensure your child's happiness never really goes away. So what is a parent to do, when Junior has gone over 30 days, displaying an irritable mood and becomes easily provoked at the slightest criticism?

Firstly, at the root of your teen’s problems is a difficulty in coping with unmet expectations. If you have noticed your teen in an irritable mood for well over three weeks, he is most likely dealing with a series of unmet expectations unified by a general theme of an unmet emotional need. Also, if your teen has a habit of taking his frustrations out on you, then most likely he sees you as a safe source to be his emotional punching bag. Meaning that he feels you are a safe target to take his frustrations out on, without worrying about consequences. This is not healthy, by the way.

Most parents in this situation, usually will develop an irrational fear of losing a relationship with their child, particularly if the child lives between two households. This fear is understandable but irrational, angry teens I have worked with typically have no desire or intention to cut ties with the parent they quarrel with often. Unfortunately, parents who hold unto this fear, unintentionally make things worse between their teen and themselves by making fear-based decisions whenever they suspect their teen is about to get angry.

Typically, it goes something like this: Parent issues a directive to Junior, parent notices that Junior is about to get angry, Parent backtracks on the directive in order to avoid a conflict with Junior. Later on, Junior engages in an extreme misbehavior, which sends parent over the edge, leading parent to heavily consequence Junior. Junior then feels treated unfairly and resentful towards parent, and parent feels guilty about the consequence.

Ideally, if you are dealing with an angry teen, it should go something like this: Parent issues a directive, parent notices that Junior is starting to get angry about the issued directive. Parent makes no attempt to appease Junior and waits to see what Junior does next. In most cases, Junior follows through, (grudgingly and slowly) with the directive. In the event Junior blatantly refuses to comply with the directive, parent calmly approaches Junior and inquires about his refusal and why he is upset. In most cases Junior will share what his issues are, and after he feels he has been heard, will comply with the initial directive.

Please keep in mind that in order for this strategy mentioned in the previous paragraph to work, the parent has to have an awareness about how his or her behavior is influencing the life of his or her child.

It is natural for people to ask, "what if he still says no?" after you calmly approach him? Well the standard answer is to rinse and repeat. In actuality, continued defiance after being calmly approached seldom happens. When parents are caught up in firestorms with their teens, it is because the teen’s behavior is negatively impacting the parent’s lifestyle and like the teen, the parent is having a difficult time dealing with his or disappointment over unmet expectations.

It is easy for parents of teens to forget that their once little children, are now closer in transition to adulthood compared to years past. As a result the rules of engagement have changed. A child who once would eagerly listen to you in order to gain your approval, now questions your decision making. The solution to this is often going to be counter intuitive to what worked in the past.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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