Parenting a teenager is never easy. Emotions, hormones, shifting of responsibility; they all come into play during the transition between adolescence and adulthood. There is “typical teenage behavior,” regarding attitude adjustments and perhaps even some rebellion. The testing of boundaries along with the flood of estrogen or testosterone that is entering your teen’s body can contribute to lack of control. However, when your teen is violent, acting out, abusing drugs or alcohol, lying, vandalizing or other reckless deeds, it can seem overwhelming. A cycle of despair and worry can overcome parents trying to handle these serious issues. When you mix unpredictable behavior with anger and rage, it is natural to move from unsettling feelings, to fear.
Handling high levels of emotion are difficult for people of all ages. It is perfectly natural for people to struggle when they are angry, exhausted, fearful or overwhelmed. Learning to cope with those emotions is vital, and teenagers need to actively learn that aggression, intimidation and other destructive behavior is never the solution to managing their feelings.
It can be confusing for adults to guide teenagers because one minute they seem perfectly reasonable, responsible and mature; the next, it can seem they have little to no reasoning ability or thought to consequences. Are they crazy? No, they are just wired differently as their brains grow and develop. An adolescent’s developing brain processes things in a different way than a full-grown adult. The area of the brain used to reason, handle emotions and control inhibitions is called the frontal cortex. And it is not fully developed in the brain of a teenager. In fact, it will not even reach full maturity until a person reaches their mid-to-upper 20’s.
Understanding the brain science and biological changes in an adolescent may help, but it does not excuse unacceptable, dangerous behavior and activities. If parents fear for the physical safety of themselves or others, they need to seek professional help immediately. Helping to curb angry or aggressive behavior in teens is important, but parents need to have a realistic outlook on what is manageable or unmanageable on their own. There are numerous mental health and authority resources available for families struggling with high risk situations. If your teen is acting out in violent ways against others, self-harming, or engaging in criminal activity, reach out for aide.
For non-risk situations, there are steps you can take at home to help ease the tensions of young adulthood and curtail irritability. Here are seven quick ways to constructively head off explosive situations before they arise:
1- Understand the underlying issues; what is at the root of the aggression? Parents can help to alleviate explosive tendencies by examining the causes. Are they having peer trouble? Experiencing severe lack of sleep? Academic pressure built up? Battling depression? If their outbursts seem to have a trigger, keep track of it.
2- Maintain Boundaries; consistency is key. When your teenager has a clear understanding of what is expected of them, they have a better chance of managing their sea of turmoil when they are struggling. Parents need to be sure to follow through on consequences, even if it is difficult. Headaches now are better than jail time later.
3- Establish a routine. When the day to day, week to week rhythms of life are natural and consistent, your teenager knows what to expect. This creates calm in the waves of hormonal chaos. Their emotions may feel out of their control, but if their surrounding world has order and dependability, they will feel grounded and be less likely to act out in dangerous ways.
4- Find healthy outlets for anger. Contact sports, or directed energy exercise and activity can help to relieve anger. Running track, hitting a punching bag, or even joining a community aerobics class can all be of high benefit to channel their energy from something negative into something positive.
5- Keep your own temper in check. If parents cannot manage their own anger, they will be of little help to their aggressive teenager. If this is an area you find yourself struggling with, seek council from a pastor or anger management professional. Work towards achieving and maintaining balance along with your child. When you demonstrate healthy ways to reach out, you help your child do the same.
6- Nutrition and rest. A proper diet can go a long way in helping behavioral problems. American diets are so full of sugar, caffeine and processed foods that our bodies don’t know how to handle it. Also, lack of proper sleep scheduling can also be a contributing factor. Sleep deprivation can build up from a lack of continuous restful hours, not only dramatic gaps. Make sure your teen is eating real, whole foods with proper nutrients and getting at least 12 hours of sleep every night.
7- Create a cool-down plan. When your teenager is dealing with high emotions, have a plan in action. Counting and breathing can help to regulate internal boiling points. Give space for them to mentally cool down and recharge. Small breaks in their room, an hour at the community rec center, or a journal to keep as a writing outlet are all tools to use.
Keep in mind that anger issues do not mean you are a bad parent or that you have a bad child. Changing patterns of negative behavior may not happen overnight, but with consistent solutions and constructive channels, aggressive tendencies in teenagers can find balance.