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Helping Your Teen Avoid the Anger Trap

Some solid convictions that we believe every family should embrace.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


The Rainey family is far from perfect. We are amazed at how quickly we can find ourselves in a verbal rhubarb, coming unraveled by anger.

In fits of inappropriate anger our children have slammed doors and thrown pillows and the TV remote control. Our sons have ripped doors off of hinges. Starting as little boys and on through their mid-teens, our boys slugged and tripped and inflicted physical pain and torture on each other innumerable times. Even our “sweet” girls have exchanged a few blows.

Occasionally when they lose it, they just scream at each other. And of course the verbal abuse is oftentimes worst because the pain of the harmful words lasts much longer than the pain of a physical wound.

Even our children’s parents have been angry. We’ve disciplined them in anger, yelled and screamed at an obstinate teenager, slammed a fist down on the table, peeled out of the driveway, and resigned at least 1,029 times as a parent.

Here are some solid convictions we are obviously still working on in the Rainey family that we believe every family should embrace.

1. I need to be able to understand what causes me to feel angry.

A significant task of adolescence is to learn how to profitably express and deal with anger. Preadolescents and teenagers want to be heard and understood by their parents, but often ideas clash or communication goes awry and anger roars to the surface. Why? Because some kind of pain or hurt or disappointment or fear or insecurity is fueling that anger in either the teenager or the parent or both. Our goal as parents is to seek to understand what our children are feeling and to help them identify the emotion and understand how to deal with it themselves. Practically, we want them to know how to “not let the sun go down on your anger.” We want our children to be able to say, “I’m angry because of what you said that hurt my feelings,” or “I think I yelled at you because I’m so worried that I won’t make the squad or team.”

2. I must learn to express anger appropriately and not let it become sin.

Most teenage boys are angry. They don’t know what they are angry about; they are just frustrated with themselves, their siblings, and their parents. Occasionally even the parent does not fully know what’s going on with his child. Let me illustrate.

When Samuel was 14 he was a top-ranked tennis player, but he struggled at times with getting angry with himself. We had warned him that we wouldn’t hesitate to pull him from a match if he couldn’t control his anger. He tested our limits a couple of times, but always seemed to get control before we stepped onto the court.

Except at one of his last tournaments. Samuel was well ahead of his opponent, but he was still missing shots he thought he should have made. He beat the air with his racquet, and I looked at him. He slammed a ball into the fence, and I stood up. Finally, he angrily whacked the chain-link fence with his racquet.

That did it. I walked out on the court and declared, “This match is over. My son forfeits for poor sportsmanship.”

There was a look of shock on Samuel’s face that I’ll never forget. But it didn’t matter. It was character training time.

The ride home was very quiet. Only near the end did I turn to him and challenge him to deal with his frustration in a more constructive way.

Samuel needed training in learning how to properly express his anger. However, at that time, we did not yet know that Samuel was battling muscular dystrophy. Later, after we learned what was going on, I told Samuel I was sorry that we had just assumed that all of his actions were because he had an anger problem. You do the best you know how to do as a parent, but even that isn’t enough sometimes.

As you teach our children to stay out of the anger trap, you must embrace two critical principles:

First, every person is made in the image of God, and you must not tear at or rip away the image of God in another person—even if it’s just Mom, Dad, sister, or brother. Anger is to be taken care of quickly and efficiently before it deteriorates into bitterness, revenge, or even violence.

Second, a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Since self-control acts like a 10-foot-high hedge in surrounding anger, we need to encourage the growth of this godly fruit in our child. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul exhorts us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Our children need to learn that as we surrender the control of our lives to the Holy Spirit, He produces in us the self-control that is needed to deal with anger.

3. I must know how to resolve conflict when I have been hurt or when I have hurt another person.

If anger is the spark, then conflict is the fire. As you go through the process of building and maintaining a relationship with your youngster, you must tell him that you will hurt and disappoint each other. There will be breaches of trust that demand that you know how to resolve conflict.

Let’s pretend that you and your daughter are having a conflict. You told her she could not stay later than 4:00 p.m. to get a Coke with her friends. At 6:00 p.m. she came in and hurried past you. When you asked her why she was late, she said angrily, “I was with my friends. What’s so bad about that? We weren’t out doing drugs or something. You are just too strict.”

Here’s how you might work through this conflict using three key ideas: communication, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Communication: Assuming your own feelings are under control, you might say something like this to your daughter: “No, the truth is that you are late, and your behavior and attitude is not acceptable, and your words have hurt me.”

What if your daughter rejects this olive branch and looks back to you, steely eyed, and says, “Good. That’s what I wanted to do.” You can’t force someone to have a good attitude. At this point you will have to manage your feelings, step back, and say: “Well, I just want you to know I love you, and when you’re ready to ask for forgiveness and reconciliation in this relationship, I’m here. The door is always open; you may not like it being open; you may not want to come back in; you may choose to go another direction. But the door to this relationship from my end is wide open. You are welcome at any point to come back and talk with the right attitude.”

Forgiveness: When your child calms down and is ready to move to the next step, model forgiveness in action. (Younger adolescents may need you to move toward them to resolve the relational break; they may be so self-absorbed that they can’t properly manage their emotions.)

In this incident, if the daughter says, “I’m really sorry, Mom,” you need to warmly, sincerely reply, “I forgive you, honey.” Since the conflict is not fully resolved at this point, before the relationship can begin to heal, forgiveness must be liberally applied like a soothing ointment.

Reconciliation: If you’ve disobeyed or hurt another person, just because you’ve said, “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean you’re totally off the hook. What will be necessary to make things right in the relationship?

In this conflict your daughter will need to show by her humble acceptance of consequences that she is truly sorry and eager to restore warmth to the relationship through actions and attitudes that rebuild trust. And next time, she will need to be home ahead of time.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

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