Angry Teenagers: When Parents Love but Don't Like Their Kids
Angry teenagers can be hard to be around. You may feel confused about how you feel about this because you love your child, but the reality is that sometimes you just don't like him. Since few parents ever talk about this even with their spouses, this suppressed feeling makes you feel guilty, even further draining your energy and setting you up for more conflict with your teen. It's a vicious cycle that leaves you wondering, why, oh, why can't the kid just do what he's told?
It may help to know that even well-trained therapists have difficulty dealing with kids anger. Of course it is easier for them because they operate at a distance. They don't have the emotional connections or expectations that you have in your relationship with your teen. A therapist isn't likely to feel rejected by a kid who has everything, yet still refuses to tow the line. A therapist does not need to feel appreciated for his work, like a parent does, he just needs to get paid for his time.
The first thing you need to ask yourself when dealing with kids anger is what are your expectations in your relationship with your teen? Do you want your child to keep his room spotless, get straight A's in school and tell you how much he loves you and appreciates everything you do? If so, this fantasy will probably never come to pass and is just a setup for disappointment and conflict between the two of you. So the first step, is to examine pie-in-the-sky expectations and bring them down to earth.
Take those expectations and make a short list of expectations that your teen can live up to. An example might be: Do homework first, keep clothes off the floor of the bedroom and bathroom, do the dishes every night and take out the trash.
The second thing you have to understand is where your teenager is at in terms of the spectrum of child development. I constantly remind my parenting coaching clients that as a parent, it is your job to "seek first to understand, then to be understood" and not the other way around.
In order to do this, you need to understand a number of things about angry teenagers and where all that animosity is coming from. Number one, know that right now, your child is product of his hormones. This is not an excuse, but a reality. You still have to enforce the limits for poor behavior, but it helps to understand that your child is driven by these hormones that are surging through his body which he cannot control and doesn't fully understand. In other words, in many ways, your child is not in the driver's seat, so when he cuts you off, try not to take it personally. While this doesn't mean you excuse his behavior, it means you learn how to respond to it, rather than react to it.
Number two, the angst of the teenage years, especially in today's complex world, is unnerving. Your teen is in no-man's land—the place between being a child and being an adult. The pressure here is like nothing you can imagine, even though you've been there and done that, you were not forced to grow up in such a sophisticated world with so many distractions and choices. The pressure from all this is overwhelming and can make your child feel like it's just better and less confusing not to care.
Third, understand that your teen's brain is under construction. During adolescence the brain gets rid of whole neural networks and begins building the prefrontal cortex, that part of your child's brain that is responsible for making decisions. This means that during this stage, your child's decision-making skills are hampered, which is why even though he is pushing you away, he needs you more than ever. This push-pull dynamic can drive parents over the edge because they feel like they need to come down hard on their teen, but feel guilty when they do.
Although there will be plenty of interactions with angry kids that leave you feeling like you don't like your teen, you do love him and it's your job to do what is best for him. Do this not by being a "sage on the stage," but by being a "guide on the side," which is a skill that I teach in my parenting coach practice. When you're not preaching from your pulpit, but allowing your teen discover how the world works with your subtle guidance, you are less likely to take his behavior personally, especially when you understand that while you may not like his inappropriate behavior and feel impatient with his seeming inability to learn, deep down you still love him more than anything.
For parents who have difficulty navigating tough situations with their kids (and believe me, we all do), outside resources can help. While a therapist can help your child learn to deal with his anger, a better tact is to learn how to do this yourself. By doing so, you will increase your skill as a parent, gain your child's respect and ultimately, make for a closer parent-child relationship.
For teens who are defiant and disrespectful, a good at-home behavioral program can help you learn how to turn around angry teenagers and help motivate behavior that earns attention for doing positive things at home, in school and out in the world. And isn't this what we all want for our kids: the tools to teach them how to be good, responsible people and how to lead happy, fulfilling lives, while making their unique mark on the world?
Laura Ramirez is a parenting coach who helps troubled kids get their lives back on track with an at-home behavioral modification program called Total Transformation which was developed by a therapist who was once a troubled teen himself.
She is also the award-winning author of the parenting book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting which teaches parents how to raise kids to develop their strengths and lead fulfilling, productive lives.