Parenting a teenager is a whole new life experience. Particularly for parents who face aggressive or violent teens when they are disappointed or challenged. If you are one of these parents, believe me, you are not alone. There are many mums and dads struggling, faced with the same behaviours in their teens. It’s an issue that affects families from all walks of life and economic backgrounds. Coming to know these truths prompted me to write this blog. The following paragraph from this article in the SMH explains so perfectly what often happens:
“The first act of violence, parents are so shocked and taken aback they don’t know how to respond,” Ms Howard said. “It escalates to the point where parents are too intimidated and scared to stop the behaviour.”
The article says that psychologists and researchers have found this behaviour linked to a sense of entitlement and ‘cotton wool parenting’. While I don’t disagree with that, many other factors can play a role as well. For many, mental health issues and the inability to cope with thoughts and emotions are the cause. I’m writing from the latter angle.
In our case, my daughter, Jessie, went from being a confident, happy kid, to being volatile and unpredictable. Her friendships were becoming fractured. Her tolerance for disappointment or discipline was no longer existent. It was extremely shocking and confronting! I couldn’t understand why my parenting methods were no longer working. Neither did I understand why her reactions were so intense. I was living on eggshells, afraid to parent and at a loss. Jessie was ruling the roost with anger and violence. (No pun intended!) Things needed to change because it wasn’t any way to live for either of us. With support and learning though, homelife is way more peaceful and connected these days.
As a loving and responsible parent, safety for everyone must be paramount. Our boundaries around safety in the home need to be made clear to our teens. Consequences also need to be made clear, and we must be consistent in upholding them. Physical violence and destruction of property need a no tolerance attitude. Police should be called if your teen is acting out in a way that poses a serious risk to themselves or others. As harsh as that may sound, the fact is that violence and physical abuse isn’t acceptable behaviour, or appropriate coping mechanisms. Those are rules of life. Better our kids learn that before adult consequences come into play.
While we are standing firm on the no violence rule, we need to give another outlet. My daughter punched her pillows and screamed into them. If you’ve got space, hang up a punching bag that your teen can take their rage out on.
As parents we can do a lot to help as well. By modelling the behaviour we want to see, we show them how it’s done, as well as demonstrating that we are strong and capable of dealing with whatever they bring our way. Teens feel safer knowing we are their rock.
Communication plays a huge role in dealing with aggressive and violent teens. Effective use of it can de-escalate the situation before things become out of control and police are required. Read my article here about communication holding the power for attaining peace. Like changing any habits, it takes practice before it comes second nature, but the pay-offs are well worth it.
What teens are throwing out to us, mirrors what is happening with them. If we can remember that they’re hurting and/or really not liking themselves, and try not to take things to heart, we can provide the best support. I think it’s important we tell them how their words or action affect us, so they learn about others emotions. However it’s most effective to stay calm and don’t react in the same ways they are.
Try and see humour whenever you can, to give you a giggle on the inside. A couple of weeks ago Jessie came home annoyed and yelling at me. When I told her it upset me when she spoke to me that way, and she replied “well I’m sorry you’re the only one here for me to take it out on!!” I burst out laughing (NOT in the good parenting book), so had to take myself off to the bathroom. I still find it amusing. The apitome of teenage thinking!
If you need help:
ReachOut.com Australia runs a FREE, flexible coaching course for parents to help us help our teens, with whatever the issues are. You need a computer and a phone, and 90 minutes for the first session. You can however make use of up to an additional three, one hour sessions. Click here for more info or to register.
ReachOut.com also runs a forum which is a supportive community of parents needing assistance or offering advice, learned from experience. If you’re feeling isolated, you will find others going through similar things, which can be therapeutic in itself. You can check out the forum here.