FamilyLife Today®

A Game Plan for Training Teens

with | January 22, 2008
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Does your teen's unexpected anger catch you off guard? If so, you're not alone. Join us for today's broadcast when biblical counselor and author, Lou Priolo, gives sound advice for training your teen to handle his or her anger appropriately.

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  • Does your teen's unexpected anger catch you off guard? If so, you're not alone. Join us for today's broadcast when biblical counselor and author, Lou Priolo, gives sound advice for training your teen to handle his or her anger appropriately.

Does your teen’s unexpected anger catch you off guard?

A Game Plan for Training Teens

January 22, 2008
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Bob: If you have an angry teenager, and you're wondering, "Isn't there something I can give them that will keep them from being angry?"  Here is a prescription from Lou Priolo.

Lou: The only antidote is forgiveness.  I mean, the bottom line is you're just going to have to sprinkle all over the garden forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.  The person who is bitter is going to have to learn how not only to forgive those who have hurt him in the past but to develop a spirit of forgiveness and to love the other person the way the Bible says that he should.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 22nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll give you some help on how to apply the antidote of forgiveness in your teenager's heart on today's program.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I don't know that I can remember this with all of my children, but I remember with some of them a day when Mary Ann and I looked at each other, and this would have been in their early teen years, and something had just happened in the room that didn't happen very often or we hadn't seen before – you know, a sweet, mild-mannered, good disposition, nice kid …

Dennis: Right, suddenly …

Bob: … all of a sudden, out of nowhere, just gets angry.

Dennis: The cocoon break open, and it's not a butterfly.

Bob: And it's just this unbridled selfishness, you know?  This just – and I remember the days when that child would walk out of the room, and Mary Ann and I would look at each other and go, "Who is that kid, and where did that child come from?"  You know, what happened here?  Things that used to be no issue for a child, all of a sudden, are huge issues.  There is something in the emergence of adolescence that seems to trigger off fresh sparks of anger in the soul of a child.

Dennis: No doubt about it, and anger is one of those emotions that we, as parents, first and foremost, need to know how to handle ourselves but, secondly, need a game plan to know how to train our young people to be able to handle it as they grow up.

 And we have back again today, Lou Priolo who joins us to talk about this vital subject.  Lou, welcome back.

Lou: It's good to be here, Dennis.

Dennis: Lou is a counselor, a speaker, an author.  He and his wife have two children, and he's an author that you learn to trust because his works are anchored in Scripture and, Lou, you've written a book called "Getting a Grip," which is a book written to teenagers about the heart of anger, and it's a handbook for teenagers and their parents to use together to lean how to biblical handle it.

 You tell a story at the beginning about a young man by the name of Joshua and his parents.

Lou: Yes, as the story goes, Josh is out of control.  His parents, Jim and Linda, are sitting across the desk from me, and they are basically hopeless.  They don't know what to do with Josh.  The teachers are saying he's got to be put on medication, the mom was concerned that if they didn't get a handle on him immediately, he was going to be a first-class rebel is just a few years, and they had lost hope.  And the reason they had lost hope was because they had forgotten that God would never instruct us, as Christians, to do anything in the Bible without giving us all the resources that we need to do it.  It promises to give us the wisdom to do it, it promises to give us the ability to do it, it promises to give us the understanding.

 But they had lost hope because Josh seemed so out of control, and they had basically run out of resources.

Bob: And they were seeing anger manifesting itself in what kinds of ways?  I mean, if a teenager is showing anger, is it usually through speech?  Through shouting and yelling?  Or is it other kinds of things?

Lou: Speech probably is the biggest part of it – anything from outbursts of temper, argumentation, lots of disrespect.  Then it can be acts of vengeance and malice and cruelty and even apathy.  I mean, the Bible, in a different place than Ephesians, it talks about fathers not provoking your children or really exasperating your children unless they become discouraged.  So sometimes apathy is an indication that a child is angry.

Bob: So if a parent is looking at a child who is doing some of these things and going, "What is going on in my son's heart?"  Where would you encourage that parent to start to dig to figure that out?

Lou: Probably the first place I'd look is bitterness.

Bob: You're saying there may be something that has caused a child to develop a root of bitterness?

Lou: Exactly.  There is some offense that the parents have done, and the offense may be real in the sense that it may really be a violation of Scripture, it might really be a sin, or it may not be.  I mean, a lot of times, people get offended over things that are not sin. 

 I mean, if I do something, Bob, that hurts your feelings, and what I did was a sin, then I'm wrong, and I'd ask your forgiveness and repent of what I have done.  But if you get your feelings hurt over something that I've done that's not a sin, do I need to repent? 

Bob: I wouldn't think so, no.

Lou: No, you need to repent of your sinful thinking that allowed you to be hurt over something that I did that wasn't a sin.  But, see, a lot of times, our kids don't understand that.  You know, to them it's an offense.  The fact that it may or may not be wrong in God's eyes doesn't really get into the picture, so the point is they're offended by something Mom and Dad does, and if they don't respond to that offense the right way which, basically, involves going and talking to the parents about it, and if a sin has been committed, forgiving their parents, then they develop bitterness.

Dennis: And how often do you see this occurring in the blended family when one or two families come together to form a new family?

Lou: More often than in families that are not blended because, again, just by virtue of the first family falling apart or possibly even in case of a parent dying, there are issues that other children don't have to face that potentially can become sources of bitterness for the child.

Bob: Well, and we were talking about anger, and you said, "Look for bitterness," and when you dig past the bitterness, and you find that hurt, it seems to me that oftentimes anger is almost a protective device that a child may be using to try to say, "If I get angry" – now, I don't think they're doing this consciously, but it's almost an instinctive response – "If I get angry and lash out at you, maybe I can protect myself from future hurt."  Do you think that's right?

Lou: Well, sometimes, I'm sure, children think that way, but the bottom line is children who have been offended are going to have to learn how to communicate the offense to the person who offended them, in this case, presumably, the parents, and then learn how to talk to them about it so that they can convince the parents that a real offense has occurred so they can essentially grant forgiveness to the parents and remove the root of bitterness.

Dennis: I can imagine, though, and I'm sure you've seen it in your counseling office – in fact, they come to your office because the parents aren't able to work this through with the child.

Lou: Right.

Dennis: I would imagine there are a lot of 13, 14, 15 year-olds who, when you ask them, "What hurt you?  Who hurt you?"  They'd say, "Nothing hurt me.  I don't know what hurt me."  And they've buried it, they're not in touch with it.  How would you, as a parent, help your child if you felt like there was something there that needed to be discovered?  How would you go about it?

Lou: Well, I'd probably start by just asking the hurt question – "I want you to think back over the years, as far back as you can remember, can you think of anything that Mom has done or Dad has done that have hurt you the most?  And, in fact, even if you think you've forgiven us tell us, I'd like to know – what are the three things I've done that have hurt you the most?  And then start from there.

Bob: It could even be what are the three most hurtful things that have happened to you in your life?

Lou: That have happened to you, that's right.

Bob: Because Mom and Dad may not have done it, but the seed that grows a root of bitterness is oftentimes a seed of hurt.

Lou: That's right.  And then the way that it develops from a seed of hurt into a root of bitterness is by dwelling on it over and over again.  An offense happens, and then the child things to himself – and, by the way, these are not just kids.  I mean, this is the way we respond when people hurt, [inaudible] the right way.

Dennis: Oh, sure.

Lou: "I can't believe you did that."  At that point, he thinks about it from that perspective and rather than picking the seed up and plucking it away by forgiving the parent, talking to him and trying to bring about a biblical resolution, he takes that seed and sticks it into the ground with his finger an inch and a half, and then he says, "He's always doing that to me, and now he's watering it.  How would he like it if I did that to him?"  You know, and he's fertilizing it, and he's weeding it, and after a few months he's got this hothouse with a stinkweed inside, and he's charging all of his friends admission to come see it, all because he's dwelling on the hurt from this angle and that angle and the roots grow bigger and thicker and hairier and uglier, and this root of bitterness develops.

Dennis: And in this culture it's not just him who is nursing it.  We have a culture of victims.

Lou: That's right.

Dennis: Looking for someone to blame for everything.  And so you have the person nursing the hurt, you have the culture blaming others, and so now you really do have what started out as a stinkweed is now a full tree.

Bob: And I think we've got to be careful here, because as we talked about the hurt that grows into a root of bitterness and produces anger, I think some parents can decide, "Oh, well, then my child is not responsible for the bitterness or the anger because poor Johnny was hurt somewhere."

 Well, no, even a child is responsible for how they respond to that hurt, and if you respond in an unbiblical way, that's where Mom and Dad have to come along and gently, kindly, compassionately, help you understand that you responded to that hurt wrong, and that's why it's producing this stinkweed in your life.

Lou: And I would argue that a teenager, as a rule, is more culpable than a younger child, because there is very little distinction in the Bible between a teenager and a young person.  I mean, basically, God views them as adults, and so at some point, regardless of how much you were victimized, if I can you use that word, you've go to come to the point where you say, "You know what?  I'm a Christian now, and I can no longer allow the sins of other people to be used as an excuse to respond in these wrong ways."

Bob: Well, the reality is, I've seen moms and dads, husbands and wives, who have anger stinkweeds growing all around them, and it could be that hurt goes back a long way and roots of bitterness have developed over years.  They've got the same pathology going on.

Lou: And then, after while, the bitterness can even go away.  In other words, the person can actually forgive the person years later, but they've got this locked-in angry response that they're sort of stuck with now, and even though they may have forgiven the person years before, if they don't learn how to rethink and re-respond to offenses in the future, that anger is going to continue.

Bob: It's a pattern that's developed in their life.

Dennis: I'm a gardener, and I'm just applying this – I don't have any stinkweeds.

Bob: No, you've got hybridized day lilies.  This is what we're going to hear about.

Dennis: I have day lilies, and in the middle of the day lilies, I have what's called "nutgrass."  Now, I'm going to tell you something, nutgrass would survive a nuclear holocaust, at least the nutgrass that's growing in my day lilies.  I am working on this, Lou, to try to eradicate this but you know what my problem is?  Underneath the soil, all these roots from an infestation of nutgrass are still there.  How do we eradicate the root of bitterness when we see it in our own lives or in a teenager's life?

Lou: The only antidote is forgiveness.  I mean, the bottom line is you're just going to have to sprinkle all over the garden, forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.  You know, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.  The person who is bitter is going to have to learn how not only to forgive those who have hurt him in the past but to develop a spirit of forgiveness; to learn how to put the past behind and to treat the other person as though he has been forgiven and to love the other person the way the Bible says that he should.

Bob: And that treatment of forgiveness, as you said, can apply to one seedling, but if I've developed a habitual pattern of responding with anger, even after that forgiveness is gone, then the next offense, the only way I know to respond is anger.  I've learned that over a lifetime.  How can I reprogram my thinking, how can I reprogram my actions, so that I don't respond instinctively or in the flesh with anger the next time?

Lou: You go back, and you ask forgiveness to those to whom you have responded inappropriately, and then you rethink what you thought, and you figure out how you should have thought in your own heart about the offense and what you should have said and how you could have responded differently, and then from that point forward you fulfill the promise of forgiveness. 

 Forgiveness, basically, is a promise.  God says "I will remember your sins against you no longer," that's a promise, and it's basically what forgiveness is.  When we forgive someone, it's not really a matter of our feelings, the feelings come later, it's a matter of making a promise to the other person – "I promise, Bob, I'm not going to hold this against you.  I'm not going to talk to other people about it and, most of all, I'm not going to dwell on it myself.  When I'm tempted to see your face on a dartboard or on a golfball that I'd like to drive 200 yards, I'm going to see your face with the words, 'I've forgiven you.'"

Bob: There's a verse that I remember the first time we talked about anger with you on FamilyLife Today, you went to 1 Timothy 4:7, which says, "We are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness."  And you tore that verse apart and talked about how it relates to spiritual training.  Explain what that was all about.

Lou: Well, the Bible says that we should exercise or discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, and the word there is the word "gymnadzo" from which we get our word "gymnasium."  And the point is we are just prone to habituate ourselves in the wrong way.  We practice disrespectful response, a teenager does, and before too long it's just second nature.  If something happens, and the first thing out his mouth before he even realizes he said, is something disrespectful.

 Well, what you have to do biblically is to put off the old and put on the new.  So you have to "gymnadzo" yourself, you have to "exercise" yourself for the purpose of godliness.  You have to train yourself to think forgiving thoughts, to think respectful things rather than the disrespectful things that you've said or thought in the past.

Bob: So would you teach a teen how to role play in a sane moment where, at the dinner table, "Let's pretend like Dad said [inaudible] …

Dennis: Yeah, when the emotions aren't …

Lou: Guys, if you were at my house, you would be astounded at how much role play I do.

Dennis: Really?

Lou: I mean, all the time.  I mean, you know, the kids are used to it by now.

Dennis: Do they get sick of it?

Lou: Yeah, and they roll their eyes but you know what?  They know Dad's getting to be tenacious enough, and they're going to do it.

Bob: So this is "gymnadzoing" what you're doing?

Lou: Oh, yeah, "Sweetheart, now, let's try it again without the sarcasm.  That was good, now how about without the scowl on your face."  And they know I will sit there and make them say it six times, if that's what it takes for them to get it right and, of course, it never goes that long anymore because they know that I'm serious about that.  Yeah, we do role-play back and forth.

 Now, sometimes, they'll nail me.  They'll say, "Dad, don't you think that was a little bit harsh?"  "Well, I don't think so.  What are you talking about?"  And, you know, go back and forth and either they persuade me that I was harsh or they might say to me, "Well, Dad, what if you'd said it this way?"  And then by showing me a more gracious way to say, I'll have to concede.  You know what?  I don't know whether it's harsh or not, but that certainly is a better way to say it than the way that I said it.

Bob: But I'm just thinking, if you're at the dinner table, and you can role play this – imagine the dad said this, how would you respond, and you train them or teach them or just have them pretend, if you will, that they're giving a gracious response.  That's how you work out that muscle so that it doesn't become reflexive to get angry, but they've just practiced the right way to do it, and maybe that will show up next time.

Lou: And every once in a while, I'll give them two or three options so they have a repertoire of things from which they can choose.  You know, sometimes they'll have conflicts with their friends at school, and I'll unpack the scenario with them, and repack it so that the next time they find themselves in that situation, they have two or three more biblical options to choose from than the ones that they used in the context.

Dennis: And this is all very hope-giving as we talk about this.  But there are parents who are listening to us right now who have seen their teenager move from hurt to bitterness through anger to these last two phases to both stubbornness and ultimately rebellion.  Describe what a parent should do if they feel like their teenager is now being controlled by anger. Is that what a stubborn and rebellious child is all about?

Lou: Well, actually, the control of my anger would probably be more the third stage in the diagram in the book, which is sort of a life-dominating anger.  The Bible talks about an angry man, and I believe this is the kind of anger, which the Bible warns fathers not to provoke their children to.

 It's not a momentary anger that any one of us might experience should something not go the way we want it to, but this is the kind of anger that is actually habitual, the kind of anger that has totally taken over his personality.  And then from there you move to stubbornness, and I like to describe stubbornness as sort of that "backsliding heifer" that the Bible talk about.

 You know, you've got this heifer or this donkey with her two front hooves sort of planted in the ground, and her master in front of her with a leash around her trying to pull her forward, and she's just got her front two hooves, and she's sort of backstepping and basically saying, "No, I know that's where you want me to go, but you're not going to take me there."

 And then from that point you go to a full-blown rebellion, and that rebellion is best described, I believe, in the Bible by the proverbial fool.  When an individual is in full-blown rebellion, he's gone beyond that of being an angry man, as the Proverb says, to being the fool, as the Proverb says.

Dennis: And the Proverbs have a great deal to say about the fool.  In fact, you have a list here, and I'll just read a few of these descriptions – "He despises wisdom and instruction"…

Lou: If I could interrupt you – that is the chief characteristics of a fool – you cannot teach him anything, it seems.  I remember one morning I was shaving, and I was thinking about this verse in Proverbs that says, "Though you pound a fool in a mortar and pestle along with the grains of wheat, yet his folly will not depart from him."  And I'm meditating on this verse, because I know this is what a rebel really is, and I'm dealing with some rebels at the time.

 And I'm sitting there in front of the mirror, and I'm saying, "Lord, it seems like you're saying there's no hope here."  I mean, that's a pretty severe thing.  You pound him along with the grain, and he's not going to change, what hope is there.

Dennis: Right.

Lou: And then it says, "The light came on," and I realized, yeah, there is no hope as long as he's a fool.  The only hope for a fool is for him to become wise.

Dennis: Yes, and to start becoming teachable.

Lou: That's right.

Dennis: It goes on to describe, "He hates knowledge, he grieves his mother, enjoys devising mischief, quick to anger, is always right in his own eyes, hates to depart from evil, is deceitful, is arrogant and careless, rejects his father's instruction, despises his mother, does not respond well to discipline, does not understand wisdom."

 So as I looked at this list, and there's more here, it seems to me that what a parent is to do if he's raising a fool is to call him out of his state of foolishness toward a godly response to life and to wisdom and to begin to live life as God designed it, and that means going all the way back through the hurt, the forgiveness, the anger, and to ultimately come back to parents and perhaps ask for forgiveness of them, correct?

Lou: That's right – to teach him how to be wise.  But, you know, Dennis, to me, if I could boil biblical parenting down to two principles, and this is probably simplistic, but I would say it comes down to two things – use the Bible in your parenting, number one; and, number two, parenting is about a relationship.  You've got to have a relationship with your children.  You're not going to be able to parent effectively if you are not willing to pull the curtain back on your own heart and let them see what's going on in your life, and you talk to them about your struggles.

 They need to know that you are a sinner, too; that you have to depend upon God's grace as well, and to have this interaction there's got to be communication.  There's got to be some kind of a self-revelation in order for there to be a relationship, and without that parent-child relationship being strong and that communication going both ways, you're really handcuffing your ability to parent effectiveness.

Dennis: And, you know, today, parents, more than ever, need the kind of help you are giving, Lou, and I just appreciate you being on the broadcast, I appreciate your book, "Getting a Grip," and, Bob, I have to believe that many parents have moved closer to the radio and are probably going to go online and want to get some of the transcripts from our website,, to be able to look back over what Lou has said here, and to be able to implement this in their own family.

Bob: Well, and we hope they'll get a copy of Lou's book and, again, not just toss it to your teen and say, "Here go work on this," but go through it with your teen a chapter at a time, both of you reading, and both of you applying.  You don't just go through this with your teenager to say, "See?  You're doing this, and you're doing this, and you're doing this."  But it's both of you approaching this to say, "Let's see, can you – are there some ways I've been doing this?  Are there some ways you've been doing this?  Let's help one another with this."

Lou: And there are a lot of things in the book that will convict the parents and should convict the parents, and that's the time, Mom and Dad, as you're doing that, to say "You know what?  He's right.  I was wrong here.  I am wrong here.  I do this regularly, please forgive me."

Bob: Yes, the book is called "Getting a Grip," and we have copies of it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go to our website,, and if you click the red button that says "Go," that you see in the middle of the screen, it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about this book.  You can order online, if you'd like, or if it's easier, call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will make arrangements to have a copy of the book sent to you, and we hope that you and your teenager can get some time together and agree, "Let's try to work this issue out and see if we can get some help with our relationship, and maybe make some progress in this area."

 While we're on the subject of books making a difference in your relationship, let me encourage you when you contact us to get a copy of the brand-new devotional for couples from Dennis and Barbara Rainey called "Moments With You."  We believe if a husband and wife will make the time to sit down each day and read one of these daily devotionals, spend some time praying together and talking together, it will not only help them grow closer with one another but help them grow closer to God.

 This month we'd like to send a copy of this book out to you as a thank you gift.  If you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we are a listener-supported ministry, so when you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, you are helping us keep this program on your local station and other stations all across the country.

 We would not be able to be here if it weren't for folks like you who help sponsor the program, and we appreciate your partnership with us in that.  If you make a donation this month, and you'd like a copy of the "Moments With You" daily devotional book from Dennis and Barbara Rainey, while you're filling out your donation form online, you will come to a keycode box, and if you type the word "Moments" in there, we'll know to send you a copy of the book as our thank you gift for your donation, again, of any amount.

 Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone, and just mention that you'd like the new devotional from Dennis and Barbara Rainey, "Moments With You."  We're happy to send it to you as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry.  We appreciate your partnership with us.

 Well, tomorrow, we're going to be back with more practice biblical help for your marriage and for your family.  That's what we're all about here on FamilyLife Today, and we hope you can be back with us.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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Episodes in this Series

Teens Day 1
Understanding Anger
with Lou Priolo January 21, 2008
What should you do about your teen's anger?
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