Interpreting & Handling Your Teenage Son’s Outbursts

Your son always seems to be angry and hostile. He acts belligerent, defiant, and sometimes even aggressive. No matter what you say or do, he treats you with disrespect and contempt. You don’t understand why he acts this way, and you’re not sure how you should respond to his outbursts.

Interpreting Your Son’s Behavior

Teenagers, especially boys, often have trouble understanding and dealing with strong emotions. If they have psychological or emotional issues, it’s even more difficult for them to process how they feel. Our society generally teaches boys that anger is the only acceptable emotion. If they feel sad, lonely, fearful, or other “soft” emotions, boys are taught to hide these feelings. Eventually they learn not to even feel these emotions at all. They only feel anger. They’re mad at you and mad at the world.

Because they don’t know how to identify their emotions, how to express them appropriately, or how to deal with them, teen boys often lash out. But when your son is in the midst of an angry or belligerent outburst, his behavior, not the cause, needs to be your immediate focus.

Understanding His Thinking Patterns

When teens act out or have a bad attitude, it’s often a result of what psychologists call “thinking errors.” They have a distorted way of looking at the world, a perspective that is not based in reality. In your teen’s mind, you’re mean to him, you expect too much from him, teachers don’t like him, school is stupid, life isn’t fair, and no one understands what he’s going through, except his friends.

There is no reasoning with a teen when he is in this mindset. This is not the time to talk about emotions. You can’t change his state of mind at this moment, but you can hold him accountable for his actions. When you set and enforce limits for your son’s behavior, he will probably see it as further proof that you are unfair and he is a victim. He may be even more hostile for a while. Unfortunately, your goal at this point is not to make him happy, but to make him behave, and learn to accept responsibility for his choices.

Your Reaction to His Outbursts

When your teenage son has an angry and hostile outburst, the most important thing for you to do is to stay calm. Do not yell at him or get pulled into an argument. Disengage. Don’t let the situation escalate. Tell him that you understand he is upset, but he needs to control his behavior. There will be consequences if he continues this outburst.

Calmly and firmly inform your teen that you will not talk to him until he has calmed down and is ready to have a respectful conversation. You may suggest that he go to his room, or take a walk until he has gotten himself under control. You may be the one to walk out of the room. If he talks back as you walk away, ignore it. He’s just trying to make you return and engage in a battle.

Accountability

Once your son has calmed down, talk to him about his outburst, and explain what the consequences of his behavior will be. Make this a calm, brief, and factual statement, not a negotiation, or another argument. Don’t accept any excuses. Some effective consequences for teens are to stop his phone service, take the car away, or deny privileges, such as internet access or video games, for a set length of time. He will probably say you are being unfair, and he may even say that he hates you. Ignore these attempts to provoke a reaction. Remind him that it was his choice and his behavior that brought this consequence.

Safety

When your teen has an outburst, you need to consider your safety and the safety of your family. If your son becomes aggressive or violent during his outbursts, you need to have a safety plan. Violence in your home cannot be tolerated. If you have other children, especially younger children, they should not become victims of violence, and they should not have to be witnesses to violence. If your son becomes violent, call the police. Tell them that your son is out of control and you don’t feel safe. Police intervention, for your own safety, is a consequence he will have to face.

If your son tends to become destructive or verbally abusive, develop a plan to send your other children to a safe and calm place. Talk to them in advance about what to do when their sibling is having an emotional episode. Tell them to leave the room, go to their own rooms, lock their doors, and do something to distract themselves, like read or watch TV. You will come get them when the situation has calmed down. Spend some time talking to your other children so they can express how they feel about their sibling’s outburst.

Behavioral Modification Programs for Troubled Teens

If your son’s outbursts have become increasingly disruptive and violent, and his behavior is out of control, it’s time for professional help. Behavioral modification programs for troubled teens focus on accountability, self-control, and helping teens learn to make better choices for their behavior. Sometimes removing teens from negative peer influences or emotional triggers in their environment, gives them the space to learn better coping skills.

Therapeutic boarding schools offer comprehensive therapy and academic programs in safe facilities. Student behavior is constantly monitored, and consequences fairly and consistently enforced. These facilities also offer social and recreational activities, such as hiking, camping, skiing, or other sports, which teen boys especially enjoy. Their program includes family therapy, where you and your son can heal your relationship and rebuild a bond of love.

If you are struggling to decide which residential therapeutic program would be best for your son, Liahona Treatment Center can help. Our experienced staff can advise and discuss whether a behavioral modification program is right for your struggling teenager.

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