I want to tell you something I don’t talk about because I am afraid people will judge my child before they give him a chance.
My son struggles with controlling his anger.
And frankly, at times, it scares the shit out of me.
I am not an angry person, nor do I have a temper like he does, so while I was once lost in this department, he has forced me to find ways to help him instead of dismissing his anger and hoping it will pass. That approach wouldn’t help anyone.
He was an anxious child. He was always talking a lot, needed to know every detail, and had to be front and center of the action at all times. If he wasn’t, I could see the panic spread across his face.
After he hit puberty, he became quiet and withdrawn. Like most adolescent kids, he wasn’t talking as much. Not about his friends, his school day, and certainly not about anything that was making him angry, sad, or upset.
That anxiety morphed into anger. The boy who once told me everything, and shared his feelings, kept it all buttoned up, and it began coming out in other ways. It was frightening to me.
I started to feel like my son lacked communication skills and didn’t know how to talk about things that were bothering him. I was watching him bubble over with anger instead. At times, even he seemed confused by his behavior. I honestly don’t think either of us knew what was happening.
After mouthing off to me one afternoon, I took his cell phone away. He was so angry, he punched a huge hole in the wall. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I have no idea why I did that. I didn’t even think.”
In that moment, I was panicked, shocked, and upset. I thought, My son doesn’t act like that! I raised him better. I suck at being a parent, and now look what I’ve done.
But I knew, in that moment, that I had to face it head-on. I had to help him and find help for him. Anger is a monster that swallows whatever it comes in contact with.
I’ve read every article and book I could get my hands on. Literally. I highly recommend The Teenage Brain whether you have a teen who struggles with anger and impulsivity or not. It taught me so much. I stopped playing the blame game and started learning techniques and strategies for helping my child.
I also realized this: Anger equals hurt. Often times our children, regardless of age, are hurting or scared, and for whatever reasons, those feelings are hard for them to express. Small things, and big things. They just want to be heard and feel validated, but often don’t know how to communicate effectively or they feel uncomfortable expressing their feelings about something.
It’s a long road, but after living with an angry teen for a few years now, I have realized it’s not my fault. It is my responsibility as his parent to guide him in the best way I know how and to make sure he gets the help, support, and love that he needs, but it is not my fault. Blaming myself doesn’t help him, and only hinders our growth.
And if you have an angry teenager, if you are struggling at home figuring out the next steps, I just want you to know that you are not alone. This is one of those things we don’t talk about, for fear of being labeled, shunned, or judged. For fear of our child being misunderstood and ostracized. But you need to know that the blame doesn’t fall on your shoulders. Good, kind, loving parents can have angry, short-fused teenagers.
There is help out there for us. So, please, ask for it.
Call your child’s school and let them know what is going on at home. I did and was very honest with his teachers about some of my fears and concerns. While they reassured me he was not acting out in class, they did make it a point to monitor his behavior and have him spend some time with the guidance counselor. And those meetings helped immensely. They have experience dealing with these very issues; they are experts. You are not “dumping” your child on them, or admitting defeat. They are there to help. They want to help.
Speak up. Let people around you know what is happening. They can offer more help and support than you realize. There is nothing more comforting than when another parent shares your worries and validates your feelings. And you will be surprised at how many teenagers seem angry while going through a life transition. Their brains are still developing, and growing, and evolving, and sometimes that can lead to new, concerning behaviors. Other moms have been through this, and the reminder that you’re not just adrift at sea will mean so much.
Remind your child that you are a safe place for them. You are there to talk, or to listen, or to just sit next to them and be a calming presence. They need to not feel rejected. Even though our frustration with their behavior sometimes makes us want to run for the hills, they need to know that we are in the trenches with them and willing to help them through it.
And sometimes my son has told me he has no idea why he is angry — that’s normal too. We don’t always need a reason. We need to let them know that we all feel angry at times, and that our anger doesn’t always make sense, but how we channel those feelings is critically important.
Help them to channel that anger in healthy ways. Talk with their doctor, counselor, and therapist for professional advice and feedback. For my son, if he feels out of control, we tell him to go punch his pillow or head outside for a run. Giving him an outlet, and helping him to deal with the feelings before they become rage, has helped him to calm down and manage his emotions more effectively. He can see this change in himself, this de-escalation, and it has helped him immeasurably. Each child will have their own “thing,” and it may take many failed attempts to find it, but you’ll get there. Keep trying.
This is a bumpy road. And there will be times when you cry with sadness and fear. But you need to know that just because they are an angry, angsty teenager does not mean they are going to lead a horrible life. There is hope and their behavior can be directed and projected in a different, healthier way. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you in hiding.
Raising teenagers is both arduous and rewarding, and I am going to tell you right now, if I can do it, so can you.