Raising a teen can be a struggle even for the most experienced parent. Exhaustion and frustration begin to set in when your child back talks and baulks on a more frequent basis. You may even feel like you don’t know the child that is living in your house because of their sudden change in behaviors and moods. There are personal reasons a child may be acting out (i.e. negative peer relationships, family divorce, etc.). However, here are some common and general reasons your child may be angry as well as some suggestions on how to handle it.
Not Feeling Heard/Understood
Anger is a secondary emotion. if you think back on times you’ve been angry and dig deep you may recall instances you’ve shown anger but there was an emotion that came before that anger. Maybe fear, sadness, or disappointment. The same is true for children and teens. They may push you away, slam the door, yell, or back-talk, but they are still trying to communicate a message or concern in the way that feels comfortable to them.
Parent Tip: As hard as it may be, take a step back and examine as an outsider to the family would. What seems to be the triggers to the angry behaviors? When did it start? What does your child need to feel heard? What could be a new approach to connecting with your teen? What has worked in the past? Once you have a better grasp on the situation, you can try communicating understanding to your teens current stresses and needs. Teens need to feel heard more than we often realize.
Sometimes it truly is just the nature of things. During the pre-adolescence and adolescence phases, their bodies are working in overdrive. Puberty usually starts between the ages of 7 and 13 for girls and between 9 and 15 for boys (KidsHealth.org). The teen brain is still “under construction” so to speak, as the impulse-control and emotion-regulation areas of the brain are not fully developed until early adulthood. Teens will be able to tell you what they should do, but when it comes to making a judgment decision in the moment, they often go for the thrills and adventure. And don’t forget the hormones! Many hormones are pouring into the adolescent body and trying to regulate themselves, influencing brain development. Brain development influences behavior. See the connection? My point being that trying to reason with a teen can feel like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos (haha). It can very well feel like an impossible task!
Parent Tip: When communication approaches have been forgone or deemed impossible, find a healthy way of coping to avoid power struggles. Walk away. Take deep breaths. Talk to a friend. Power struggles involve both parent and child becoming increasingly angry with one another, often making the situation more negative and further away from a resolution. Modeling calm behavior is the best way to teach it to your child.
Again, this will take some examining and communicating with your child to determine the triggers to their stress. For many middle school students, the transition from elementary school where kids are often hand-held to complete tasks and accountability is shared to middle school, where kids are in more responsible roles of staying organized, using lockers, moving from class to class can all be quite scary. There are also standardized tests, new peer groups, and harder classes to partake in. Kids get stressed just like adults, but it often looks very different. It is more likely to hear “I’m mad” than “I’m stressed” from a teen.
Parent Tip: Have a heart to heart with you child. You may find that both you and your child are stressed about similar circumstances (i.e. financial concerns within the family, a family move, etc.). Empathize when concerned: (i.e. “I can imagine you’re stressed about the CRCT coming up, it’s a big test and it’s normal to feel this way. Let’s work together to find some ways to help you calm yourself and also feel prepared”). I truly believe that respectful communication is the most vital tool to a healthy relationship.
Test out these tips and let me know your thoughts!
Some great resources regarding talking with your teen and the biology of teen development: