Defining normal teen behavior versus out-of-control behaviorAs a parent, you know that your child can go through phases, some of them less than enjoyable. Those terrible twos and threes likely tested your patience and made you dread the unpredictable mood swings. When you experience the moodiness and sullen withdrawal of your teen, you may wonder if it is normal behavior or whether it’s something that’s leaning more towards being out of control. Normal moody teenagers may display some of the following behavior:
- A short temper
- Being easily frustrated
- Being secretive
- Withdrawing from family
- Showing signs of depression
- Being argumentative
- Self-harming behavior
- Being verbally abusive
- Destroying property
- Being physically abusive
- Habitual use of alcohol or drugs
- Staying out past curfew or not coming home for days
- Getting into trouble with law enforcement
Recognize that every family member is impactedYou may be the one who interacts the most with your angry teen, and you may be the one who takes the most abuse. It is important to recognize that if one person is controlling the household with abusive behavior, this is not just a problem you experience. This is a concern for your other children and other adults in the home as well. Having a sibling who is abusive and aggressive can have serious and long-lasting consequences for your other children. Siblings may constantly feel on edge, not knowing how or when their brother will explode in their direction. The unpredictability can prove to be scary and overwhelming. Many children who grow up with siblings like this can develop mental health struggles, including PTSD and anxiety. They may start to withdraw and hide out of fear that their sibling will yell at them or even physically harm them. These situations are challenging for every family member, but there are steps to address destructive behavior and patterns.
Identify triggers and develop a planStart by identifying any situations or experiences that tend to trigger explosive behavior. By knowing what could potentially lead to an outburst, you can start to take the steps needed to establish a plan of how you’re going to handle things. If things begin to escalate, what will your response look like? Your current response to your teen’s outbursts and anger has not been working well if you are afraid of him and how he behaves. Always keep safety in mind for yourself and your teen. If he makes threats or is violent, the first part of your plan should be to know what you will do if he starts to express these behaviors. You may choose to walk away from his threats, or you may need to call 911 for help.
Setting consequences for behaviorEstablish consequences for poor behavior and set the limits to help your teen son learn what is and is not appropriate. It is important to communicate to your teen what the expectations are. For example, be firm in telling him that he will not get his way just because he screams at you or threatens to harm himself. Expect pushback and angry behavior. Your defiant teen will likely push back with aggression and anger when limits and boundaries are set in place. For example, he may tell you that he hates you and may make threats that frighten you. Hold firm with the limits you’re setting, and don’t give in to the behavior. The consequences that you establish should be clear, and you should stick with them. Consistency is an important part of ensuring your teen understands the rules and what will happen if he breaks the rules. Communication is essential It’s not an easy task to speak with an angry teenager, but you must make an effort to communicate. Don’t judge or offer solutions when they are not asked for. Instead, listen when your teen begins to open up. Your teen may not answer your questions directly, but you may just be surprised at the things that he shares with you when he is ready.
Getting help from law enforcementIt goes without saying that you love your teen, no matter how they are behaving. Still, that does not mean you need to fear for your safety or the safety of others in the home. If threats are made, or your teen son reacts with violence, you should not hesitate to ask for law enforcement to step in to help. You have the right to feel safe. No one wants to see their teenager removed from their home by police officers. But if it comes down to protecting yourself and your other family members, sometimes that separation can be beneficial. It can also offer the chance for your teen to experience a bit of reality outside of your home. Keep in mind that law enforcement and social services may also be able to connect you with resources to help your family. Teens may find themselves spending time in a juvenile detention center while their case is processed. It isn’t going to be pleasant, but it can prove to be the wake-up call that he needs. Behaviors can often change because teens are now experiencing consequences and accountability.
Handling aggression in the momentDespite the consequences and planning, there may be a situation when you are faced with an aggressive teen who is physically or verbally abusive. There are some action steps that you need to take when facing these situations:
- Ensure that everyone is safe.
- Call for help if you need to or have someone else call for help from law enforcement.
- Remain calm and clear-headed as you work through this situation.
- Keep your body language and your tone calm.
- Don’t react with anger or fear. This could potentially increase his aggression.
- Don’t make threats or discuss consequences.
- Offer options to find a resolution. Once your teen finds himself in a difficult position, he will find it hard to stop. Tell him that he can take a breather, go for a walk, and then together, you can work this out.