Under control, fire is a wonderful substance. It can warm a house, cook your S’mores, even act as a signal for rescuers should you get lost in the woods somewhere. But left unattended, a small fire can easily spread into a devastating disaster, ravaging homes and causing untold damage.
Anger often works the same way. Certain expressions of anger can actually be beneficial. Certain events or circumstances in life should make our blood boil a little. It’s not wrong to be angry about something. The Bible never says, “Don’t be angry.” What is does say is, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). But more often than not, our anger burns too brightly in us and in the teenagers in our home. Parents know all too well how easily their kids can lose their cool, which in turn can cause us to blow up at them! Out-of-control anger results in poisonous words, hurtful actions, and growing tensions—all of which can destroy a family from the inside out.
Dealing with anger in ourselves and teaching our kids to do the same is a crucial life skill. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. And it begins with a conscious effort to make anger constructive rather than destructive.
Develop Good Habits
I don’t know about you, but I had some pretty bad anger habits. They sprung from clichés or advice that sounded wise, but turned out to be very misguided. I can remember thinking, “Every time you get angry, just walk away.” In theory that sounds good, but that’s really a bad anger habit. If I walked away from every person that ticked me off, I wouldn’t be able to get through many conversations. And can you imagine walking away from your wife or husband in the middle of an argument? That’s a rookie mistake that will never end well.
We need to develop good anger habits with our kids and in ourselves. First of all, don’t shut down—and don’t cause your child to shut down, either. Dealing with anger needs to happen in an environment of unconditional love. When your teenage son comes through the door with furrowed brow and fire in his eyes, stop him and ask questions. And I always coach parents to ask questions in a way that isn’t judgmental. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it! Suppressed anger is like a harmful weed—it has a nasty habit of always sprouting up. For a teen, unresolved anger can lead to experimenting with drugs, sex, cutting, or depression. If they can’t express and release the emotions they feel, teens will live out the anger other ways.
Break the Anger Cycle
As teenagers move from the concrete thinking of childhood to the abstract thinking of adulthood, they’ll be easily frustrated. And when a teenager blows up at you, it’s easy to take it personally and blast right back. This becomes an anger cycle—your daughter lashes out at you in anger, you respond back with heat, which makes her even angrier. This sequence of antagonism can even encompass other members of the family who might try to get involved, which widens the circle even more.
We need to break this loop of anger. One way is to refuse to play the mind game with your child. If they explode at you in anger, simply reply, “I know you’re angry right now, but it’s not ok to talk that way. Let’s go grab some dinner, cool off, and talk about it again when we both settle down.” One little spark can start a fire. But if you dampen the flame before it gets going, you stand a real shot at defusing the whole situation.
Sometimes a kid just needs to vent. Their day may have been filled with frustrating events or circumstances and they are looking to release that pressure a little. Let your home be a place they feel comfortable letting off some steam. This doesn’t mean that teens are allowed to be disrespectful, violent, or cold. But do allow your teen the space to convey annoyance or frustration without fighting back or shutting them down. It’s another good way to break the anger cycle before it even starts.
Seek Outside Help
When it comes to anger issues, we can’t solve everything ourselves. There are many times we need to seek the guidance and wisdom of others. If your child is struggling with fits of anger that neither of you can get a handle on, there’s nothing wrong with seeking the help of a Christian counselor or joining a support group. These are not a signs of weakness. They’re signs of commitment to the well being of your family.
For single moms or dads, it’s tough to handle our kids alone. That’s when looking to others for help is especially important. I encourage single moms to find strong, godly men in their church, neighborhood, or school to provide a good role model for their sons. In my years of speaking and counseling, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several single moms who have successfully parented amazing young men and women. When I’ve questioned them, what they said was, “I found people to help.” Whether it was a godly guy at church who took a struggling teen under his wing, or a coach who taught their players discipline and self-control, these single moms made an effort to seek out men who could help raise their kids. Dads, you can do the same thing with your daughters. Encourage your teens to find a godly woman who they can learn from and emulate.
Heed the Warnings
Anger is like the warning light on your dashboard. The moment you see it go off, the best solution is to pull over and examine the problem. If we choose to ignore the warning lights, we could be in for an engine about to blow!
When you see displays of anger in your teen (and in yourself), take time to delve deeper and solve the underlying problem. Teach your kids good anger habits. And when necessary, find others who can help you break the anger cycle in your family. With these steps, you can turn anger into a powerful agent of change in your family.