Yelling at your adolescent

Yelling parents lose control to get control and damage everyone.

Posted Mar 30, 2010

No question, parenting becomes more frustrating and anxiety provoking when your child enters adolescence.

Now there is more active and passive resistance (more argument and delay) in the way of getting what you want. And now there are more surprises and alarms as your son or daughter experiments with freedoms you never thought or hoped they'd try.

So it can be hard for parents to keep their cool come their son or daughter's adolescence. "How many times do I have to ask you to get it done!" "You did what!" Now parents are more easily emotionally upset.

This is where parental yelling comes in.

Why do parents yell at adolescents? Probably for the same reasons children yell at parents. Both tantrums have the same objectives: to release emotion, to command attention, to show serious intent, and to force agreement. So if parents want their child to outgrow throwing tantrums, they have to outgrow the temptation to yell themselves. One young man explained his parents' yelling at him this way: "My parents yell at me when they want loudness to solve the problem."

Of course, parental yelling can work. More noise lets out more frustration and anger. More noise is harder to ignore. More noise means meaning what one says. More noise can intimidate the object of the yelling into compliance. The problem is, parental yelling comes with a number of costs.

Most parents injure self-esteem by yelling, allowing themselves to tantrum like a child to get their way, and they lose respect from their son or daughter in the bargain.

The yelling parent loses the capacity to listen in disagreement, so constructive dialogue is diminished as strong emotion replaces reason to broker conflict.

The emotional battering from being yelled at can hurt the adolescent's feelings, threaten the young person's safety, and alienate the relationship.

Fear and resentment from being yelled at can cause the adolescent to become more manipulative and dishonest in communication with the parent.

Yelling can encourage yelling back as conflict creates resemblance, the adolescent imitating the parental tactic, creating yelling matches between them.

Yelling can cause the yelling parent to choose and use intemperate words as weapons to deliberately injure the opposition, words that cannot be taken back and injury that no apologizing afterwards can mend.

While parents are attempting to strongly show they are serious about what they are saying, they are also weakly showing helpless desperation at not getting their way.

When parents lose control and yell to get control the young person ends up in control having been given the power to provoke their intense response.

And when parents say, "You make me so angry," "You get me so upset," "You leave me no choice but to yell," they have just placed the adolescent in charge of their emotions, something they should never do.

Sometimes it's helpful to remember that how parents treat their adolescent is how they treat themselves. For example, threaten their adolescent, and they treat themselves as a bully. Tip toe around their adolescent and they treat themselves as a coward. Scream at their adolescent and they treat themselves as a screamer.

So treat your adolescent in ways that cause you to feel good about yourself, and in ways you want your adolescent to treat you. For most parents, yelling accomplishes neither objective.

If you find yourself trapped in a pattern of yelling, break the habit by catching yourself before the yelling point, taking a time out to cool down and restore emotional sobriety, and then re-engage on more rational terms. When you do this, you are showing your adolescent how to control emotions without letting emotions control you.

And consider adopting a different cue than yelling to show you are serious about the issue at hand. Instead of using clamor, use calmness. Speak slowly and softly so your adolescent knows from the measured tone of your voice that the time for a serious discussion has arrived.

For more abour parenting adolescents, see my book, "SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE" (Wiley, 2013.) To do less yelling see my book about family conflict, "Stop the Screaming." Information at:

Next week's entry: Safety warnings for your adolescent.