Coping with Teenage Aggression
Arguments and disagreements can sometimes feel like an essential part of family life, especially during the teenage years, with slammed doors being a common occurrence.
But in some families this goes much further, and parents find themselves subject to verbal or even physical aggression.
While it is tempting to put this down as just a phase, nobody should have to put up with this kind of treatment.
This page provides advice for any parents struggling to manage teenage aggression.
Teenage Aggression: The Facts
Teenage aggression is surprisingly common.
A study by Parentline Plus, a parenting charity, found that 60% of calls to the charity’s helpline between October 2007 and June 2008 were about verbal aggression from a teenager. Nearly one third, 30%, of calls were about physical aggression.
Clearly, calls to a helpline of this nature are from people who are struggling to manage the situation. They are unlikely, therefore, to reflect what is going on in the majority of families.
Nevertheless, these statistics do show that a large number of those who feel unable to cope with teenage children are struggling to manage aggressive behaviour.
What’s more, trying to manage aggression and anger on a regular basis is very stressful. Long-term ongoing stress can be very damaging for your health, and you should not have to deal with it.
For more about this, you may like to read our pages on Stress Management.
Nobody should have to cope with constant aggression and anger. Nor is anyone suggesting that your teenager’s anger or aggression is your fault.
However, there are ways in which your behaviour can both help and exacerbate the situation.
Remember that you are a role model for your child.
If you start shouting and getting cross, you can hardly expect them to stay calm and argue in a reasoned way. Instead, you need to remain calm. If necessary, you might need to remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes until you know that you can be calm.
Your body language also needs to be calm and non-aggressive.
For example, it may be better to avoid challenging them by staring them in the eye. Keep your voice under control, and avoid shouting. For more about this, see our pages on Non-Verbal Communication.
Try to use less challenging and less emotive language when communicating.
For example, instead of saying ‘What time do you call this?’ when they come in late, try saying ‘You’re much later than I expected. I’ve been worrying about you. Is everything OK?’. Instead of demanding answers to direct questions, say ‘Is there anything that you would like to tell me?’. For more about this, see our pages on Communicating with Teenagers and on Assertiveness.
Make sure that you give them the opportunity to express their point of view, and listen as they do so.
Don’t be tempted to shout them down. Instead, give them the chance to make their point and then respond calmly to what they have said.
Do not give in to shouting and aggression.
Just as with toddler tantrums, giving in reinforces the behaviour that you don’t want (in this case, the aggression).
For more about these issues, see our page on Dealing with Aggression.
Helping Your Teenager to Cope with Anger and Aggression
Feeling angry is a normal teenage response to the adult world.
However, teenagers, just like everyone else, need to learn to control their anger and not be aggressive towards those around them. As their parent, it may be helpful to teach them some techniques for managing anger.
Two Anger Management Techniques
Focus on your breathing
Take a deep breath, and hold it for a few seconds (for example, a count of five) before breathing out. Repeat this five times. Just concentrate on your breathing. This technique, simple though it may be, will give you a brief ‘time out’ and the breathing is actually very calming in itself.
When you are really angry, it can help to remove yourself from the situation for a while, until you are calmer. Simply say, as calmly as you can “I’m just going to have some time out” and then go away. When you are away from the situation, concentrate on calming down, not on your anger.
For more about managing anger, and anger management techniques, see our pages on Anger and Anger Management.
Coping with Violence
If these techniques fail, your teenager may even become physically violent.
If your teenager tries to hit you, leave immediately, making clear that violence is unacceptable.
DO NOT try to fight back.
Family Lives, the support charity, suggests that you should:
- Give your teenager space while they are angry – but talk to them once they have calmed down, and perhaps offer to find them some help.
- Be clear about boundaries and stick to them – teenagers need to know what is unacceptable.
- Talk to their school to see if they are also being aggressive there. Some schools may have access to help such as counselling.
- Arrange counselling – if your teenager agrees that there is a problem, and that they would be prepared to seek help, try to find a suitable counsellor as quickly as possible. Your GP or the school may be able to help.
Getting Help for Yourself
It may not just be your teenager who needs help. Coping with aggression is very stressful, especially over a prolonged period, and you may also need some support and advice.
Organisations like Parentline Plus are parent-specific, and Samaritans also run a helpline which is available at any time. They can provide confidential support and advice, and help you identify where to find other help.
Your doctor or other healthcare provider may also be able to help.
If you feel unsafe, you can call the police. It’s not very nice, but it may be necessary.