The Wrong Teen Mythology Leads To Poor Parenting Decisions

Many people assume that teens have a unique predisposition to anger problems because of their unique “teen brain.” However, this is not the case (see link at bottom of post). Popular culture has promoted the idea of the unique teen brain based on flawed science. You, the parent, have a relationship with your teenager. If your teenager is angry, it is, more often than not, because they are unhappy with the relationship. So, solving a teen’s anger problems requires an entirely different approach.

Teens Are Not Biologically Predisposed To Anger

It’s a fundamentally wrong assumption to automatically link ‘teen’ and ‘anger issues’.  They need not be related.  We ask the kids here at FM, “what is the point of a teenager?”  The kids generally don’t have an answer.  What this indicates is that we parents are not really educating our teens to understand what is going on inside of them. Teens look to their parents and other adults as models, and when there is no guidance, then become emotionally confused. This emotional confusion can lead to teens acting out in anger directed at the main adult role models in their lives: parents, teachers, coaches, etc.

Bad Premises And Bad Decisions

There are many ‘solutions’ to deal with teens out there that are based on the premise of the kid being the problem; that teens have ‘anger issues’, that teens are ‘in a phase’, that ‘hormones are to blame’, that kids ‘don’t have a developed prefrontal cortex’, for example (all of which we believe are false).  We don’t agree with the premise.

Mirrors Not Fingers

It is all too convenient for adults to simply say teens have anger issues, without the adult taking a look inside first. “Mirrors, not fingers” we say here at Fire Mountain.  It is all too easy for adults who work with teens to invest time and energy in creating slick ways to deal with ‘anger issues’. All the while, they are missing the bigger point: what may actually be going on is the lack of appropriate framing, education, preparation, and rites of passage for young people from childhood into adolescence, as well as the lack of sound parenting education.

Anger Is Same For Adults And Teens

Teens have anger issues for the same reasons that adults do, and dealing with them is also similar. The difference is that teens will lash out their anger against authority figures, in this case parents, and tend to get themselves into all sorts of trouble because they are not free to make certain kinds of choices or be in charge of their lives in certain ways.

Anger Hides Deeper Issues

Anger is a valuable emotion and experience in it’s own right.  It can be used to establish boundaries, stand up for what we believe in, right a wrong that we see, and protect ourselves and others, among other things.  However, in our experience, we see kids often using anger to cover more vulnerable experiences.

Fear, hurt, low self-esteem, and powerlessness are all easily hidden by the powerful surge of energy that is anger. It’s easier to lash out and take power back through anger than admit to hurt, fear, or a feeling of worthlessness. Those emotions are very difficult to handle, especially when the kid doesn’t feel supported, heard or comforted. There is usually a very real need that is not being met under all the anger and defensiveness.

Advice For Parents

For parents, the hardest part about dealing with a teen with anger is to put aside the reaction to fight, ignore, get angry, hurt, or take the teen’s anger personally, and not deal with the unmet need. The even harder part is that when we find out what’s really going on, it’s usually about something we’re not doing, haven’t done, or can’t do, and it’s hard to hear that we may have failed our kids.

Let Them Rant

For parents, the first step is to not react. Instead, ask what’s going on. Let the teen rant, talk, vent, and really listen to what’s missing. Use statements like, “Hey, you seem really upset. Do you want to tell me about it? What’s going on?” and “What’s hard about all this for you?” Helping the teen focus on what’s going on for them will help you understand what’s underneath the anger.

A teen may hate their Spanish teacher and act out in class all the time, when in reality, they have been misplaced in an advanced class, can’t follow the work, and feel stupid. There is always a very good reason for a kid’s anger. Until we put aside our power struggles, anger, hurt, or rejection of the teen’s attempt to communicate with us through their anger, we won’t know what’s really going on. It is by listening that we learn how to be better parents and adults for these kids.

The Lack Of A Relationship

Kids should have anger for the lack of relationship that they have experienced in their parents. Deeper, longer lasting anger, is a result of having had either absent, distracted, neglectful, or preoccupied caregivers. Many kids are PISSED that they haven’t been seen, heard, valued, spent time with, remembered, or cared for by parents who are too distracted or overwhelmed with their own lives. Lack of a relationship with parents is an important and often overlooked reason for teens angry behavior.

Technology No Substitute For Parental Attention

This is where our stressed out, individualistic, technological culture is incredibly damaging. We don’t spend enough time with our kids, and to do so requires a huge change in lifestyle and priorities. Sometimes the only way a kid can get a parent’s attention is to throw a tantrum, punch a wall, steal a car, get caught with drugs, or have fights at school. Sometimes that’s the only way they know how to handle the incredibly deep unmet need of not being loved. We all need to be loved, with attention, presence, time, and care. The most important healing aspect of parent teen relationships is the one that seems to be the hardest to put together in our rushed society: quality time.

Teens And Parents Are In It Together

A teen’s anger is more OUR responsibility than just theirs. We don’t have to learn to deal with THEM, we have to learn to deal with US. Teens are communicating and showing us where we are failing them or have failed to hear them. They are not the problem; they are the symptoms of a deeper problem.  Too many kids are being raised by TV, the Internet, other kids, child care, and school.  Don’t blame them for being angry.

Just Listen

Want to help kids work out their anger? Just listen