Some teens look back, forward, and around them in anger – the ultimate in one-upmanship over the horde of (mostly) working and middle class 1950s British playwrights and novelists.
Kingsley Amis, Michael Hastings, Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Thomas Hinde, and the rest would have been surprised – and possibly perturbed – and the number of teens going around with perpetual pouts and frowns, erupting into toddler-like tantrums when things do not go exactly as planned.
We tell our teens that people their age never had it so good; including that some of us had to find part-time jobs if we wanted money during our school-days…
They dismiss this with a shrug, rather as if it is their divine right to have all that they need, and a bag in which to put it. The gap between teens and their parents or carers, alas, often seems to deepen as fast as the adults thrown in rubble from the top to fill it up and make it even with the rest of the terrain.
We wonder why our teens are acting in such a way; after all, don’t we know what is best for them? Don’t we need over backward to help them achieve what they want?
It is all too easy to wash the teens off our hands by quoting adages like “as you make your bed, so you must lie on it”… and it is even easier to react to their irrational ire by even more of it.
However, it is better, safer, and more logical to nip the problem in the bud. Here are a dozen ways to help you do so:
1. The teen is often trying to test boundaries. How far will you let him go before you issue an ultimatum? Will he be able to needle you into a reaction by using specific phrases or body-language actions? The solution: practice deadpan in front of the mirror. The teen will realise that the reaction they so want will not be forthcoming.
2. Anger from us engenders even more anger-related behaviours from children. These may react either by seeking solace with their friends or other adults (of whom we may not approve) or by retreating inside an impenetrable shell, or by even more extreme reactions – including outbursts that can wreak damage.
3. The sulks and the silent treatment are what some parents give their parents; they hope that we will ask them what the matter is, so they can say how hard-done by they are. This type of mind game appears to be very popular. Look at it this way: a child who is angry because his jeans are not clean will not always realise that this happened because he did not put it in the laundry chest; you have to tell him that.
4. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is advice that ought to have gone out with the Ark. Yet, alas, many still believe that the only way to get a child in line is to use physical force. In this way, you are teaching a teen that “might is right” – and, never mind that a time will come when they will be physically stronger than you will – the chances are that they will behave in a similar manner with weaker siblings or friends. Bullying is never a solution. When you hit your child, you are expressing your anger and frustration, not teaching him mores and morals.
5. A generation ago, parents were told to use the broken-record method to make children kowtow to them. Smart teens recognise this, and use the same attitude to make their parents change their minds about curfews, hair-dye, piercings, and other issues. He will badger, pester and harry you until (he hopes) you give in and tell him to do what he wants because he has exasperated you. Bingo!
6. If a teen is angry, he will not, and cannot, listen to reason. He sees “Let’s talk” as an order, and not as a suggestion; so he is bound to refuse. Go a step further and tell your teen that when he decides he wants to have a coherent, reasonable, two-way conversation, you will be there, waiting for him.
7. Sometimes it is specific incidents that prompt an outburst from a teen. If a teen feels helpless, or excluded from his peer group, it is bound to make him angry. However, he expects you to read his mind to know why he is speaking in monosyllables. You can watch out for the warning signs – a tic in the cheek; baled fists; swift blinking; narrowed eyes; nail-biting… all these may herald an eruption of anger. Therefore, it is better to nip the episode in the bud; letting it all out is not the best of solutions.
8. The general idea is to let the teen know that you know he is angry, and that, although you can assume why this is so, you will never know for sure unless he tells you. A teen needs to know he has your support and love. This will not happen if you only communicate with one another when the need arises, or when the only time you are together is when you drive him to his next ball game.
9. Remember that your teens are probably watching you, and, as a corollary, learning by example. It is useless telling them not to get angry when they see you mouth off at someone who has cut in front of you on the road; or describing your in-laws in graphic detail when you think he is not listening.
10. One of the worst parenting examples I ever saw involved a child who had fallen off a swing in the playground. His mother actively encouraged him to bang the swing against the supports, calling it “rude” and “nasty” and “cruel” the while…in effect, blaming it for the accident. The child’s face as he did this was a picture. If we teach our teenager to lay the blame elsewhere, rather than at their own door, they will never learn how to discipline themselves and control their anger.
11. Life skills include being sociable even if you do not really feel like it; being polite; negotiating compromises with people who do not see eye to eye with you, and curbing anger, amongst other things. Developing healthy self-esteem is part and parcel of a well-rounded character.
12. If you treat your teens like adults, they will behave thus – but if you treat them like toddlers, they will behave like babies. Explaining a situation from your perspective educates them, without driving them to be on the defensive. A child who is in a receptive frame of mind because he is relaxed is more amendable to correction than one who is het up in the throes of an argument.
Anger, Ire, Fury, Rage: An Acrostic
A Antagonism… annoyance… abhorrence.
N Nothing you will do or say will soothe the
G Great wrath
E Eating the soul.
I Irritation and indignation have
R Risen like an
E Eerie tide of aggression and
F Fulminating loathing.
U Umbrage and dislike combine,
R Redolent of wrath and resentment.
Y You don’t even know why you are angry.
R Resentment and regrets….
A About time you realise ire is futile.
G Garbled emotions boiling within.
E Exquisite pain; anger propagates and feeds itself.