FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Unresolved Anger

with Dennis and Barbara Rainey | July 20, 2007
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Have you noticed your normally gentle teen becoming more temperamental? This could be caused by hormones, but it is often related to unresolved anger. Dennis and Barbara Rainey share some thoughts about the deadly trap of unresolved anger.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Have you noticed your normally gentle teen becoming more temperamental? This could be caused by hormones, but it is often related to unresolved anger. Dennis and Barbara Rainey share some thoughts about the deadly trap of unresolved anger.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Have you noticed your normally gentle teen becoming more temperamental? This could be caused by hormones, but it is often related to unresolved anger. Dennis and Barbara Rainey share some thoughts about the deadly trap of unresolved anger.

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Unresolved Anger

With Dennis and Barbara Rainey
July 20, 2007
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Child: I hate you, Mom.  I hate you, Mom.  I hate you [echoes].

Bob: Wow, that's hard to hear.  That's something no parent wants to hear.  Welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  I think we've got parents who have probably heard those words from an angry son or a daughter in their home and, as we have talked this week about the traps that face teenagers, one of the traps that I think can take a parent by surprise, Dennis, is the trap of unresolved anger.

Dennis: You know, James, chapter 1, verse 19 directs us:  "Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger," slow to wrath.  I think there's a reason why the Apostle James exhorted us thus.  It's because every human heart that's ever been made is not quick to hear, is not slow to speak, and is certainly swift to be angry. 

 We have within us that natural tendency to get ticked off at other people.  In fact, Barbara and I, on more than one occasion, have just kind of pushed back and go, "Why is it that there is so much conflict in our family?"  And it's because we have so many people in our family.  We have a lot of human beings.

Bob: Barbara, welcome to the broadcast.  There is something about childish anger that we see displayed in a three-year-old or a four-year-old who doesn't get his or her way and, as adults, we almost smile at some of those expressions of anger just because they're so immature.  But we quit smiling when it's a 13-year-old or a 15-year-old who is expressing some mixture of childish anger and adult response.

Barbara: Yeah, because it's a lot more difficult to handle.  A little three-year-old or a four-year-old, you're still bigger than they are, you can reason with them, you can put your arms around them and love them, and you know you can probably make it okay pretty quickly as a parent.  You know you can fix it.

 But with a teenager you don't know that you can fix it, you don't know what the problem necessarily is, and the volume goes up and the rage goes up, and because of their size, they can do more damage, not only to someone else but to themselves, and so it's a much more frightening prospect to have an angry teenager.

Dennis: And many times the source is not the child.  The source is the parent.

Bob: What do you mean?

Dennis: Well, I want to read you a story from our book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent." 

 We begin by asking the question, "Have you ever had a scene like this at your house?  Two of our teenagers were asked to clean the kitchen together.  Over the next 45 minutes I came back in to inspect their work three times.  The first time they were arguing about who had done the most.  I asked them kindly to keep on working.  The next time I came back they were bickering about who had to sweep the floor.  I calmed their emotions and encouraged them to finish the job.  Finally, after I'd inspected their half-hearted work, the two of them gave me this lame excuse that they didn't know what a clean kitchen should look like."

Bob: Now, hang on.  You're sounding angry even as you read the story.

Dennis: As I relive this, this makes me mad.  Well, I write in the book –  "That did it.  This normally unflappable dad flipped.  The anger that I controlled during the prior visits erupted and spewed out like lava.  I went on a tirade about how they were so disrespectful and how they were conning me and just generally being disobedient. 

 I picked up a box of Kleenexes, and in an unsanctified flurry of rage, flung the box near their feet – hard.  I whirled around, stormed out of the kitchen, stomped out the front door, slamming it shut.  Standing there on the front porch with my blood pressure higher than the stock market, two profound thoughts dawned on me. 

 First – 'It's really cold out here.  Why am I standing here freezing and those two teenagers are inside warm as toast?  I'm the father, I'm the one who is paying for this house, and I'm supposed to be in charge.'  The second thought settled like the cold in my bones and pierced me – 'My anger has gotten the best of me.  I'm acting like a foolish child.'"

 I conclude the story by writing, "I don't recall how long I stayed outside, nor do I recall the exact words of my apology to our children that followed.  I do recall coming to an important realization – if I'm going to do my part in helping these children grow up emotionally and know how to appropriately express their anger, then I've got to finish the process of growing up, too."

Bob: And, you know, there's not a parent listening – okay, maybe there's one or two, and I want to meet them someday …

Barbara: So do I.

Dennis: Yeah, really, I do, too.

Bob: But most of us have been pushed right up to that point by our kids, where we just get so frustrated that all that comes out is the lava that you described as you shared that story.  We just erupt in anger.  What's at the core of an angry response, whether it's on the part of a parent or a child?

Barbara: Well, I think, a lot of times, the core is a feeling of hurt.  I think our kids get hurt at school, they get hurt by one another because siblings are just unmerciful to one another.

 But I think what's hard for Mom and Dad is that Mom and Dad know that we're doing our best.  As a parent, we are trying our hardest to raise our kids right, to do what we can for them, to serve them, to provide all these opportunities for them, and when they come back and yell something hateful to us, or get angry back at us, that hurts our feelings, and we think, "Gosh, why am I doing all this?"

 And so we, in turn, get angry back at them, and it just goes on and on and gets worse and worse.

Dennis: If there is anything I've seen that really hurts Barbara and can so impact her that it really ticks her off is when the children are not respectful of her as a mom, and they start mugging her and taking advantage of her.

 And so one of the things that Barbara and I have learned that has really helped us is that when we feel angry to not just vent that anger or express that anger but to help one another find out what it was that made us feel that anger, especially with the children.

 And the reason is, is because teenagers are still children, and we cannot expect them to behave as adults.  We are adults, and our children should not expect us to behave as children.

 In order for the adult to call the child to maturity, it assumes and presumes that the adult is acting like an adult, and the adult is properly expressing his or her anger in a biblical fashion, and that's why it's so important that we be in touch ourselves with our own emotions and understand what's taking place in us as adults.

Bob: Barbara, here is the tension that parents face.  We want to allow our kids the emotional freedom to express what they're feeling.  We don't want them to bottle it up and act like they can't express what they're feeling.  But when they're feeling anger, that expression may be completely inappropriate. 

 I know you and Dennis have to or three things where it's out of bounds for your kids to express this kind of anger.

Barbara: Yeah, that's right.  We've talked about what's appropriate and what's not, and we've really worked hard to help our kids feel comfortable expressing how they feel about things, because we want them to communicate and be able to understand what's going on inside of them, but there have to be boundaries on that. 

 They can't just express completely freely, because they're going to cross boundaries, and they're going to do some things that might be damaging, and those things are, for our family, anyway – one is when they're angry we don't allow them to be disrespectful to us, as parents.  And another thing that we don't allow them to do when they're angry is to say things that would be emotionally damaging to their siblings or to parents, for that matter, but primarily that comes up with siblings. 

 For instance, we wouldn't allow our kids to say to a brother or a sister, "I wish you'd never been born," or "I wish you weren't in our family."  Those kinds of things are hurtful statements that you can't just say, "Oh, he didn't really mean that."  That really does a lot of damage in a child's life.

Dennis: And when Barbara says that we don't allow that, that means if it's expressed.

Barbara: Well, that's how you teach what is not allowed is when they make the mistake and say something like that.  You go back in and …

Dennis: … you correct it, and then you penalize them for those kinds of words, because those are incredibly harmful, damaging words that our children can't just say and walk away from like it didn't matter.

Bob: There are going to be some consequences.

Dennis: That's exactly right – and severe consequences – and I think every family unit needs to have its non-negotiable core convictions around this issue of anger because if you don't, the human nature being what it is, I think we're going to hurt each other profoundly and deeply.

Bob: One of the things that we see in the scriptures, Dennis, is the injunction for fathers not to provoke their children to anger.  Sometimes, when our kids are angry, it's our own doing, isn't it?

Dennis: Yeah, over in Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 4, and then in Colossians 3:21, the Apostle Paul speaks directly to fathers, and he says to them –  "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they be discouraged," or don't provoke your children to anger. 

 And I think there are things that fathers can do and, for that matter, mothers, as well, but specifically what fathers do that can hurt our children and find them angry.

 And, of course, on the broadcast a number of months ago we had a gentleman on whose name was Lou Priolo, and he'd put together a list that we include in our book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," that talks about 25 ways to provoke your child to anger, and I'm not going to share them all, but some of these are worth mentioning and just commenting on, because I believe, as dads, we have some responsibility to make sure these things don't happen in our marriages and families.

 And the first thing he lists as something that would provoke our child to anger is if we lack marital harmony with our spouse.  And I think, as dads, we need to make sure we're one with our spouse as we hammer out boundaries, points of discipline, and how we're going to raise our children.

 The second thing that provokes a child to anger is modeling sinful anger or rage.  In other words, a dad who just gets ticked off and throws a Kleenex box …

Bob: … storms out of the house and winds up on the front step.

Dennis: Exactly, that provokes children to anger, much to my shame, I'm sorry to say.  Another one is constantly disciplining in anger and always relating to them out of an angry spirit.  These are all ways that fathers and mothers can model a spirit of anger before our children and provoke our teenagers to be even angrier than they already are.

Bob: Barbara, one of the things we've got to help our kids do is understand what's appropriate – how they can channel that energy that's associated with anger in appropriate ways.

Barbara: I remember a time not too long ago when our girls were having a big argument, and they were feeling attacked by one another, and our oldest daughter, Rebecca, just left the room.  And under some circumstances, I'll call the girls back in and make them resolve it and make them figure it out right on the spot, but that particular time I just let her go.

 I talked to her later on, and she said, "You know, Mom, what happened?"  She said, "I went upstairs, and I was so mad at my sister, I was so angry at her, that I just cleaned my room."  And I said, "You what?"  She said, "I just cleaned my room."  She said, "I had all this energy.  I was so mad at her, and I didn't know what else to do," and she said, "I just tore into cleaning my room."  And she said, "I cleaned it up so fast, I couldn't believe how fast I cleaned it." 

 When she finished that and came and told me, we went and worked it out with her sister, and it was not quite as volatile because she had spent a lot of that energy, and we went back to her sister and worked out the situation, and they both made their apologies and things were fine. 

 But the temptation is for our kids and for us, as adults, is to take that energy that we feel that comes with being angry and take it out on the other person, whether it's physically or verbally.

Bob: I've got some children who really need to get angry.

Dennis: Yeah, there's a lot of parents going, "Yeah, this is the type of anger we need channeled in our home." 

 But, you know, the thing that Barbara's talking about here I don't want our listeners to miss – that teenage girl needed a mom to come alongside her to help her know how to process her anger and then move back into those relationships and make them right.  I'm going to tell you something – teenage girls need that from their moms and their dads, and teenage boys really need the help and may need it, at times, from their father.

 And, you know, the more I've experienced in life and watched teenage boys, there is something that happens with teenage boys when the testosterone hits the veins, and they begin to mature into young men.  There is an anger that bubbles to the surface that they don't know what to do with and you know what?  They hurt their brothers and sisters and their parents repeatedly.

 In fact, we went through a period with Benjamin – it probably lasted for 12 months, maybe a year and a half, where he was just punishing his mom.  He was not being respectful of her, and he had Barbara's number, and I attempted to step in there, Bob, and protect Barbara from him, as a young man growing up – he was 14, 15 years of age – and I remember one night it reached a head again, and I go, "Son, come with me." 

 Now, this is after Barbara and I had talked about it, we'd prayed about it, we prayed about it again, we prayed about it again, and we were desperate to see the Lord work.  Our fear was at that point, you know, we're going to lose this boy.

Bob: I remember, Barbara, you saying that there was a period of time when you thought, "I don't know if this one is going to turn out."

Barbara: Oh, I felt that many, many times, because I just saw the way he argued with me and pushed me on everything.  There was nothing that I could say that he would go, "Oh, yeah, sure."  Never.  It was a constant battle.

Dennis: And so I – I didn't grab him, but I did the equivalent of a grab, and I said, "Come with me," and we drove a few miles to a little restaurant, and we sat across the table, and I pulled out a salt shaker and a pepper shaker, and I said, "The salt shaker is your mom, and the pepper shaker is you, and here's what's happening." 

 I said, "Your mom is telling you to do something," and I moved the salt shaker forward, and I said, "What you're doing instead of submitting to your mom and obeying her, you're getting angry with your mom, and you're moving your anger and emotion level to a higher pitch than your mother's."  And with that I moved the pepper shaker ahead of the salt shaker. 

 And then I said, "What's your mom doing in response to that?  Well, she's having to feel like, to gain control, she is having to increase her own emotional intensity," and with that I moved the salt shaker ahead of the pepper shaker.

Bob: The war is escalating.

Dennis: That's exactly right, and I said, "What are you doing, son?"  And he took the pepper shaker and moved it forward.  I said, "Let me just explain something to you.  I want you to understand this as clearly as I can say it.  You are not going to win, and the reason you're not going to win," and I said to him, I said, "I want you to look me in the eye, look me face-to-face right now, because I am on your mother's side, and between you and your mom is me, and you're going to have to deal with me, even if you do defeat her temporarily.  Do you understand, son?  You will not win.  I love you, I'm committed to you, I forgive you, I'll give you grace, but you know what?  You are being unkind, unfair, disrespectful, disobedient, and rebellious to your mom, and it's time you stepped up to manhood and stepped toward maturity and you did away with childishness and childish anger and begin to become God's man."

 Well, there had been a lot of other conversations that had been futile, and they had fallen on deaf ears, fallow ground, nothing had happened.  Not this one.  Something clicked within his soul – maybe it was his age, maybe it was his own emotional maturity, maybe he was growing up, maybe it was the appeal to his spirit to follow God and become God's man, I don't know.  But it really marked a turning point in his life and in his relationship with his mom. 

 And, you know, I would just turn and address that mom who is beleaguered by a teen and who has just been beat up verbally and disrespected by their attitude.  It may be time for you to enlist your husband on your behalf.  Ask him to step in and intervene in this relationship and become the heavy and rescue you from the hurt and the harm and the damage of something you shouldn't have to bear alone.

And that's why God gives a child two parents, I think.  I pray for that single parent right now who has to handle this on his own or her own.  May God grant you grace, and may He bring a kindred spirit helper alongside of you to bear some of the emotional weight of this, because this is some of the most challenging, difficult stuff in raising a teen today.

Bob: You know, the thing that makes this a deadly trap is that if we don't do our job as parents, anger grows into bitterness, bitterness grows to futility.  Children can wind up contemplating suicide or taking out their anger on others in their peer group in violence, in all kinds of wrong behaviors.

Dennis: Anger that goes unresolved results in isolation, whether we're adults or children.  And in isolation, a human being, whether he is a teenager or an adult, can be convinced of anything including a voice that says, "Your life is worthless.  Go ahead and take your own life, you're not worth anything."

Bob: And, of course, that's kind of the extreme conclusion that only a handful of teenagers come to, but we've got to be alert, as parents.  We've got to be aware that that's where unresolved anger can lead.  That's why we've got to stay involved, we've got to communicate love, we've got to make sure that we are helping our teenagers process the anger that they are feeling and understand it.  You've got to be praying for them and trying to guide them through not just this issue of unresolved anger, but all of the issues we've been talking about this week – the issues of substance abuse and pornography and media and daring.  They need us to be actively involved in helping them navigate these turbulent waters of the teenage years.

 And in your book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent" you help us engage in these issues with our sons and our daughters in the teenage years.  First, by making sure we're on the same page as Mom and Dad, but then knowing how we can set standards and how we can reinforce those standards as our children go through their teenage years.

 We've got  copies of the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent" in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If you have children who are just now 9 or 10 or 11 years old land not yet in the teen years, it's the perfect time for you to get a copy of this book and start reading through it together.

 We've suggested that husbands and wives have some regular date nights together and take each of these traps that you talk about in this book and begin to process what are our convictions, what do we want to have as the standards we're going to have in our home as our children go through the teen years?

 To get a copy of the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," go to our website,  There's a red button in the middle of the home page that says "Go" on it, and if you just look for that red button and click it, it will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information about Dennis and Barbara's book.  You can order online, if you'd like.

 Again, the website is, look for the red button that says "Go."  Click that to get to the area of the site where you can order a copy of the book or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and mention that you'd like Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," and someone on our team will make arrangements to have a copy of that book sent out to you.

 I want to say a quick thank you, if I can, Dennis, to those listeners who, over the last couple of weeks, have contacted us to make a donation for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  The summer months are months when actually donations drop a little bit for ministries like ours, and that has been the case this summer as well.

 So those of you who have contacted us either by going to our website at or calling 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, we have appreciated hearing from you and, in fact, we'd like to invite those of you who are regular listeners and maybe have never called to make a donation to FamilyLife Today to consider doing that this month.

 We have a thank you gift we'd like to send you.  It's a copy of a brand-new book by Dennis Rainey called "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date."  It's a guidebook for dads to help us engage with the young men who come knocking at our door, asking if they can take our daughter out on a date.

 And you might not have a daughter, or your daughters may be either too young or too old for a book like this, but let me encourage you, get a copy of this book and pass it along to someone you know who does have a teenage daughter, and may be facing this issue right now.  It's a great way to reach out to a friend with a helpful resource that may open up some conversation between the two of you.

 Again, the book is our gift to you this month when you make a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  You can make that donation online at  If you do that, when you come to the keycode box, just type the word "date" in there so we'll know to send you a copy of the book.

 Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone, and just mention you'd like a copy of Dennis's book, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date."  We're happy to send it out to you, and we want to say thanks again for your financial support of this ministry.

 Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we're going to talk about taking a break from television during August.  Dennis has this idea that we ought to have a fast during the month of August and just keep the TV off the whole month, and I don't know what I think about.  Well, yeah, I do know what I think about it.  We'll talk about it Monday, all right?  I hope you can be back with us for that.

 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.  Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday 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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