Parenting an Angry Teenage Son

Dear Selfless Esteem,
My son has always been cheerful and emotionally stable, but ever since he hit puberty, he has had frequent anger outbursts, which are usually directed at me for no good reason. What should I do?
Signed,
Walking on Eggshells

Dear Walking on Eggshells,

I commend you for your commitment to helping your son even though his behavior is challenging. 👊 In this post, I’ll discuss causes of anger and some ideas on how to prevent and manage outbursts.

Anger isn’t bad. Even God gets angry; however, the Bible says several times that He’s patient and slow to anger (Psalm 86:15, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 103:8, Jonah 4:2, Joel 2:13, Psalm 145:8, Nehemiah 9:17, Exodus 34:6-7). We shouldn’t scold our children for being angry, but we can discourage them from being short-tempered or using their anger in a destructive way.

You stated that your son’s behavior changed when he started puberty. “The Teenage Brain-Synaptic Pruning, Myelination” video by Steven Kushner, PhD, host of Psych Explained! describes what happens during adolescent brain development. This understanding can increase empathy and help create strategies on managing the adjustment in a positive way.

Causes of Anger Outbursts

You stated that your son directs his anger toward you for “no good reason.” Let’s explore some possible causes for his anger outbursts. First and foremost, take him to a doctor to rule out any physical problems.

Mood swings could be a sign that he’s using substances. If you suspect substance use, you might want to consider taking him to his primary physician for a drug screening. See the American Academy of Pediatrics for more information about this process. (You may be interested in the post, “Youth Drug Use and Prevention: 5 Tips for Parents.”)

Causes of Anger

Sometimes the reason for anger outbursts is a perception that an underlying need is not being met, such as love or respect. Liz Nissim-Matheis, PhD., explains this further in Psychology Today’s article, “Why Is My Child So Difficult?

Teens are typically sensitive to others’ opinions, doubt their self-worth, and compare themselves to their peers. Your son might feel pressure to perform. If so, check out Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s new book, Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—And What We Can Do About It, about how this takes a toll on youth’s mental health.  See also “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self-Esteem” for concepts, which can reassure your son in this area.

Use of social media can affect teens’ mental health; see Greater Good Science Center’s article, “How to Protect Teens From the Risks of Social Media” and Psychology Today’s article, “How To Help Kids Navigate Social Media’s Mental Health Toll.” You may also be interested in “Break Free From Toxic Device Addiction Now!

Pastor Jacob Douglas discusses how ingratitude leads to anger in his sermon at Maranatha Church of God. Modeling appreciation and teaching your children to be thankful can lift their moods. And with Thanksgiving around the corner as I write this post, I like the Gratitude Scavenger Hunt idea in Marian Fink’s article, “5 Nature Inspired Gratitude Activities and Crafts for Kids.”

The list of potential causes for anger outbursts is endless; therefore, find a competent therapist, who will help your son determine the cause of his anger. The therapist could also teach him assertiveness skills and anger management skills. See the posts, “What is Wise Counsel and Good Therapy?” and “Why You Need a Therapist ASAP.”

How to Prevent Anger Outbursts

Here are four suggestions, intended to decrease the frequency and severity of outbursts.

1. Pray

During this time, be sure to seek God for comfort and guidance. He is always there for you (Isaiah 41:10). See the posts, “The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps.”

Ask God to give your son the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We don’t know how or when God will answer that prayer, but we can have faith that He’ll do it (Matthew 21:22).

2. Pick Your Battles

How to Prevent Anger Outbursts

Proverbs 19:11 says that a person’s glory is to “overlook a transgression.” Thus, address the most important issues and let the others go for now (breaking curfew vs. leaving dirty socks on the floor). Possibly the therapist can facilitate these discussions between you and your son.

3. Be a Good Role Model

The Bible instructs us to be “slow to anger” (Proverbs 19:11, James 1:19-20, Proverbs 16:32, Ecclesiastes 7:9), but this isn’t easy when your teenager’s behavior is frustrating. Having your own therapy is a healthy outlet for your emotions. I also encourage you to join a parenting class, such as The Parent Project, to get support from other parents and valuable parenting techniques.

4. Use a Safety Plan

Create a safety plan with your son, your family and your son’s therapist, which may include but is not limited to the following:

  • A list of triggers to his anger outbursts
  • A list of coping skills he can use when his anger is triggered
  • Emergency numbers, such as 911, in case your son is a danger to himself or others
  • A place younger siblings can go during anger outbursts whenever possible
  • A safe place, where your son can take a break to calm down.
How to Handle Anger Outbursts

How to Handle Anger Outbursts

The prevention guidelines will not produce immediate, perfect success so what do you do when your son is in a rage?

  • Follow the safety plan, and call 911 if he’s a danger to himself or others.
  • Check your feelings. If you’re angry, take a break before you say or do something you will regret.
  • Calmly validate your son’s anger. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
  • Use active listening.
  • Express unconditional love.
  • Ask how you can help and support him.
  • Instead of getting into a power struggle, give him choices whenever possible.
  • Encourage him to take a break to cool down.

Using Anger Constructively

Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry, and do not sin.” Youth inevitably become angry, but we can teach them how to express it appropriately and use it constructively.

Anger can motivate people to make a positive change–and provide them with the necessary energy to do so. For example, think of all the times in history when anger over injustice has led to reform. So, imagine what your son can accomplish when he channels his fighting spirit into a good cause! 😁

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This post was originally published on 4/23/22 and has been updated.

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2 Comments

  1. TC

    That sounds really rough, may the Lord give them strength. 🙏🏽 The advice to check your feelings and take a break before you do or say something you will regret was so powerful! Parents words to their children are the most impactful, whether for bad or good.

    1. gleggio@ymail.com

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, parents’ words become internalized to children.

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