Ever hear your teenager say: “You don’t get me!”; “You have room to talk!” or “I really don’t care!”? You may have wanted to say “really, I changed your diapers!” or “well you better start caring!” and/or “how dare you turn this back on me!” You wonder how it got this adversarial. If we are honest we are tempted to be hurt and distant or to power up over them. God is calling us to move from protecting them to preparing them, but anger on both sides can get in the way. When emotions calm and we have time to think, we often wonder how did we get here? We get a hint when we read the book of James. There are many references to anger in this book, but James 4:1-6 could not be clearer. It is our selfish desires and passions internally that bring us to this point. You better give me what I want or else! Desires move to demand on both sides. The interaction between a parent’s heart and a teenager’s heart can be quite intense at times because we want different things.
I am a father of three. Tammy and I have two that are teens and a ten year who thinks she is fifteen. We recently moved which meant losing their friends, familiarity, and everything dear to them. They have done well much of the time, but there have been times of intense anger and sadness. The anger comes when we want respect and adaptability, and our kids want to remind us this wasn’t fair and want nothing to do with the new environment at school or church. This is where our hearts as parents need to be humble and careful, or we can escalate the situation quickly.
The average teen lives in a time unlike when we grew up (social media, increased loneliness, with more demands to be grown up, bullying is more flagrant, and academics more demanding). Many experts agree teens have never been more stressed. Most Christian parents see the mounting attacks by the world, the devil and the flesh (the unholy trinity). There has never been more need for Godly parenting. Problem is as we have seen according to the book of James, conflict is inevitable. There is a war waging both inside and outside our teen’s world. I don’t mean to sound hopeless but take a look at 2 Tim 3:1-5, and you might agree the world is getting darker by the day. All the more reason to point to Christ and guide their hearts and minds by what you do, say, and allow in your home. We can’t protect them from the world completely, but we can give them an alternative reality by living out the gospel in our parenting. So while it is no wonder that many parents have conflict with their teens, we may still be left wondering why they get so angry and why does it often get pointed at parents? To answer this question we need to think about what is going on in the heart of a teenager.
It is important to understand the heart of anger in our teens (Proverbs 4:23; 20:5). Anger is a default emotion for teens. They hate feeling sad or scared and go to anger to avoid the awkwardness. It is helpful to know that teens are working through a very important time of development. Their main insecurities, challenges and growth points relate to three things: identity, autonomy and affiliation.
Who am I?
How do I become my own person?
Who do I belong with?
Think about it. Aren’t most of the conflicts and deepest insecurities related to these three issues? Anger most often occurs because you have blocked me from what I want, or I am afraid of getting what I don’t want. Some express it in a more sullen quiet way…others are openly rebellious. For young men anger feels safer then sadness or fear and for young women anger may actually look more like depression or cutting. Your teen thinks you are completely out of touch with what it is like to be young or to understand the pressures they are under. We have to ask ourselves, are they right? Our job as parents and as counselors helping the situation is to admit we may not fully understand, but we want to.
Tomorrow we will take a look at each of their developmental tasks and how they can impact the heart of a teen as it relates to parents. Based on affiliation, autonomy and identity, we will look at what’s going on as each becomes prominent and how to parent your teen through that stage.
Stay tuned my friend…
Dr. Garrett Higbee