Q&A: Neutralizing Adolescent Anger
Our adolescent daughter becomes visibly, physically angry when we reprimand her or make rules. How do we respond to her anger? Should she be allowed to express anger toward us?
Dennis: First, we need to remember that most adolescents are emotionally confused. They are experiencing new feelings that they don't understand or know how to handle. All teenagers need to have a way to vent these new emotions, including anger; they need to be heard and understood by their parents.
However, we need to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate expressions of anger, and therein lies the difficulty. Anger is a God-given emotion. In fact, God Himself exhibits the emotion of anger. Often, though, our anger is not a righteous anger like God's. God becomes angry at unrighteousness; we usually become angry when we don't get our own way.
Because many adults don't know how to properly handle their own anger, they respond incorrectly when their children express anger inappropriately. What began as a child sinning evolves into two children sinning, one an adult child and the other an adolescent.
As a couple, you need to decide what you will accept as suitable expressions of anger and how you will punish unsuitable expressions of anger. When our kids were still at home, Barbara and I decided that anytime a child expressing anger began to harm another child, the anger was inappropriate. In addition, we did not accept words of anger that brought harm or damage to a parent or that came across as tearing someone down instead of building up.
When the child is appropriately and respectfully expressing anger, you can affirm her by saying, "I know you are upset and disagree with me, but I need to ask you to obey anyway." We tried to model appropriate anger for the kids and we have role-played tense situations.
We are told in Scripture not to let the sun go down on our wrath. That is the point when anger becomes sin and roots of bitterness sink into our hearts. For parents and children to maintain good relationships, the lines of communication must remain open. Train the kids to express all their emotions in appropriate ways so that bitterness doesn't build toward you in their hearts. Don't let the sun go down on your wrath or theirs.
Barbara Rainey contributed to this article