Adolescents get angry a lot. They live in protest mode, so it is second nature for them to get mad at everything in the world, especially their parents. But some parents are conflict-phobic — they are uncomfortable and afraid of being the object of their teen’s wrath, and so they avoid setting boundaries with teens.
However, this teaches adolescents that if they throw a tantrum, they can get out of a limit. Teens who learn this will also have difficulty experiencing healthy adult relationships. To help your child avoid this relational future, you’ll want to teach him to accept responsibilities in relationships without having outbursts.
Many parents who fear their teen’s anger have either had little experience in dealing with anger or had some very negative experiences. Whichever the case, these parents have few tools to deal with angry people, so they avoid confronting them because it’s too uncomfortable.
If this is your struggle, in addition to fearing your teen’s anger, you may also fear the strength of your own anger. To resolve this fear, learn to experience and normalize anger — your own and others’ — as a part of life. Make this an intentional item of growth for yourself.
You can get used to angry feelings by dealing with them in your own supportive relationships. Tell others about your discomfort with anger, and practice expressing your anger in safe relationships. Also learn how to listen while others express their anger. Instead of panicking or fearing the worst, focus on what the person has to say and then have a conversation about it. The book, How to Have That Difficult Conversation, may be a good resource for helping you learn how to have healthy, confrontational conversations so that you can work through your fear of anger.
If your teen is never angry with you, you’re probably doing something wrong! So let your teen get mad at you, and stay present with her, as long as she is in some sort of control of herself. Remind yourself that when parents hold to the established limits, adolescents respond in anger. This is normal. If you can stay with your teen’s anger and still love her while holding the line, she can more readily learn to give in and let go of her anger, which is a major step toward maturity. The task is to stay connected to your teen even while she is angry, and yet still hold the line. With this approach, she can more readily accept your limit and give up her angry protest of your rules.
Fear doesn’t have to paralyze you so that you can’t set limits with your teen. The more you work out your own struggles with these unhelpful emotions, the better equipped you will be to help your teen experience and accept your love and your limits.
Learn more ways to help your teen grow into a mature, responsible adult by reading Boundaries with Teens by Dr. John Townsend.