Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What three things can help defuse teen anger?




















I was talking to some mothers of teenagers the other day, and one asked about 13-year-old Boy Anger, wondering specifically, "Is that a thing?" (It is.) And "Is there anything that helps?"
(—Other than the cure for the common cold: It will eventually end?)

Our youngest just turned 18, and while I readily enjoy our kids at every age and stage, I can't say I'm sorry to see all the teenage mutant ninja hormones in the rearview mirror! But I do have some pointers for those just entering or in the throes of this parenting thrill-ride:

First, find them a physical outlet. I remember our oldest saying one day, much to my horror, "It feels so good to hit people with sticks!" Of course, he was talking about lacrosse, not beating somebody up in a dark alley, but it also revealed that deep need in a developing male's psyche to have an outlet for his anger. —A safe outlet, where he wouldn't be punished or penalized for letting some rage take over, and literally beat it out on the field, as long as he followed the rules.

It doesn't have to be lacrosse. They can ride it out on a surfboard or a snowboard, pound it out on the pavement, tackle it on the football field, pedal it out on a mountain bike, or chase it out on a tennis court. Any safe physical outlet will do. The more passionate your teenager is about the activity, the better.



Second, support them in a creative outlet. I recognize daily how much peace and deep soul-satisfying fulfillment comes through music and painting. And it turns out it's not just me. Nelson Mandela's widow, Gra├ža Machel discovered a child's soul can be soothed by participation in the arts. Machel launched a 10-year study on Children and Conflict that concluded in part: "If their energy is channelled creatively, however, children and young people can become powerful forces for peace."  For teenagers, this effect is even stronger if they become teachers themselves, helping younger children learn to express themselves artistically.

My third piece of advice was less obvious, and came to me a little later, after things quieted down:

When our oldest and angriest son was in the throes of hormonal rage, I was praying hard about how to deal with him, and the answer came to me as a line from the 13th Article of Faith, but in a way I'd never understood it before:

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

I had always thought that meant to surround yourself with the best literature, and other beautiful things in the world. But in that moment on my knees, God taught me that it can also suggest a way to interact with your angry teenager: If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely or praiseworthy [about them], we seek after these things.


Praise. Could it really be that simple?

I started seeking—really looking hard—for things to praise about all our kids, and specifically our teenagers, watching for things they were doing right—ANYTHING. Then I'd point it out to them, no matter how small or obvious, both privately and in front of other people. I was determined to say every positive thing I could think of, right out loud. To them.


And it worked. Or at least it helped. Most of the time. Which is huge.

People were happier. Fewer doors were slammed. Fewer voices were raised. Fewer tears flowed. (Mine. As well as theirs.)

It wasn't the cure for cancer. Hormones will be hormones. But it did make a significant difference in the spirit of our home, and in my relationship with each child. 


It turns out, I learned later, there's scientific evidence behind the praise phenomenon. The pleasure centers in our brain crave sincere compliments more than food, alcohol, money or sex. Seriously. That could solve 80% of teenager problems. Am I right?

What has helped you in dealing with angry teenagers? What wonders have you experienced through praise? I'd love to hear about it in the box below. 

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