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How to Parent an Angry Teenager {part two}

Anger is a default emotion for teens. Surprised? Being prepared to parent your child through the teen years and a few mysterious stages of development can make a huge difference in your family! Here's how you can engage their world.Welcome back as we dive in deeper today and look at each of our teenagers developmental tasks and how they can impact the heart of a teen as it relates to parents. (You can READ PART ONE HERE). 

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Based on affiliation, autonomy and identity, here is when each becomes prominent and how to parent your teen through that particular stage. 

“You don’t get me!” (Proverbs 18:13)

Affiliation:  When you’re teen is having trouble fitting in or belonging, this is a sensitive spot parents can easily bruise.  Their heart is screaming, “I fear you will reject me or misunderstand me.”  It will often be expressed in anger that withdraws or isolates. 

Parents who try too hard to check up on their kids but don’t really sit and listen to their kids can breed a sense of emotional distance (Proverbs 18:13).  Teens can make it really hard, since they are guarded and don’t really invite us in often.  If we take it personally, we have lost the battle already.  Your teen may be thinking, “why don’t you want to engage me on my level or why don’t you like me, or believe it or not, I miss you…” But what they are saying out loud are things like, “I hate it when you ask me 20 questions, or you don’t get it!”  What is really hurtful to us is we most often really want to engage and may feel like we are losing our kids to influences that are negative or hard to compete with.  This can lead to fear based parenting that only drives a deeper wedge. We need to create moments of engagement, ask them to be patient with us and admit when we react in fear. 

“You have room to talk!” (Rom 2:3-4)

Autonomy: When your teen is having trouble coming into their own, this is a fuse you don’t want to light.  Their heart is screaming, “You will smother me or I know if I tell you, you will judge me”.  It will often be expressed in anger that resents and ridicules.

The other big trigger when autonomy issues are in play is perceived hypocrisy (our teens feel a God given right to compare and judge their parents with abandon). Maybe we have yelled or lost it.  Maybe we do the thing we ask them not to do. Worse, maybe we judge them for the very things we struggle with (Rom 2:3-4).   Our kids are thinking, “why don’t you admit you’re struggling too and get off my back”.  They may be saying something more like, “you are such a hypocrite, or you have room to talk!”  We know we do it but can’t seem to help it because we want better for our kids and think we can lecture, warn, and consequence them while modeling the same wayward behavior.  This leads to “because I told you so” parenting out of frustration that may have worked with our 6 year old but will blow up in your face with a 16 year old.  We need to admit our hypocrisy, ask them to pray for us, and help them know the why behind our concerns. 

“I really don’t care!”  (Eph 4:19)

Identity: When your teen is trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for, they are particularly defensive when you compare them to a model child or tell them what you think they should be.  They fear you want them to be like you or someone they are not.  This is often expressed in anger that grows cold and callous. 

A progressively callous heart can come from the conditions above or when a teen looks to the world for their identity (Eph 4:19).  They may go to church, youth group and even to a Christian school, but their heart is lukewarm at best.  They have not connected the power of the gospel to who they are or everyday life.  They are thinking something like, “good for you that you love Jesus and church but let me figure it out for myself,” and maybe say, “I don’t like church, and I really don’t care about quiet time, the prayer meeting or what God is teaching you right now!”  Parents desperately want them to find their identity in Christ but sometimes, if we are honest, our identity is wrapped up in work, status, or even how our kids act, not our walk with Christ.  This may lead to over spiritualized parenting out of guilt or control.  It is tempting to motivate spiritual interest with external pressure and moral choices and miss the heart.  We need to see our own tendency to wander, ask our kids to forgive us, and share from the heart. 

So how do we de-escalate (Proverbs 15:8) an angry teen in the moment. Here are some guidelines below: 

Teens will escalate if we respond in the flesh.  While they can drive you insane at times, if we lose self control it is much worse. Here are five ways to de-escalate an angry teen or, for that matter, our own anger:

  1. Avoid control battles by not personalizing their anger (Prov 19:11)
  2. Listen to understand and use non-assuming questions (Prov 18:13)
  3. Be a martial artist or you may become a punching bag (James 3:13-18)
  4. When it gets hot ask for some time to reset (Prov 10:19)
  5. Confess your sin and ask forgiveness for your part in any conflict (James 5:16)

The Power of Humility (Joel 2:12-14; James 4:10; Jude 1:17-23)

Nothing melts the heart of an angry kid like a truly humble parent.  A humble parent is not easily offended, is not embarrassed by their kids, and won’t readily engage in a control battle.  The simplest way to put it is the more you are like Christ, the more it will force the issue to be more between them and God and not flesh reacting to flesh. 

Let’s look back at the three expressions of anger and a way we could respond as a parent or counsel parents to respond in the Spirit:

Teen: “You don’t get me!” 

Parent: “You are right, but I want to.  I love you and I am for you, but I have no idea what it is like to be you or how to relate to what you are going through.  I may never really fully get you, but I can listen and support you if you let me in.  I know this…. the Lord gets you and loves you so much.  Let’s give it a chance and ask God to help us get each other.”

Teen: “You have room to talk!” 

Parent: “I am struggling too.  I am not better than you and, as a matter of fact, I want better for you.  Forgive me for sounding judgmental.  I just get so fearful you will make mistakes I made or worse…you’re growing up with so much pressure around you.  I try to over control to protect you.  I have no room to talk if my attitude is superior or condemning.  God has given me grace, and I deserved judgment.  Jesus wants to show you grace through me, but sometimes I get so hurt or sad.  Then I fail you.  Will you give me another chance?”  

Teen: “I really don’t care!”    

Parent: “Why should you if everyone around you is telling you how to think, feel, and act?  I know you need room to figure how God uniquely made you and how to express yourself your way.  Forgive me if I have made everything feel like a guilt trip or tried to make you turn out a certain way.  It may take awhile to know what you really do care about, but know this…. God cares for you and doesn’t want you to grow cold toward Him.  You may have a problem with the church, some Christians, and even with me, but don’t let that harden your heart toward the One that laid down His life for you.”   

As parents we need to keep our heart in check and to engage our teens with patience and grace.  They need guidance, correction, and at times consequences but always with a humble heart that is willing to try to understand where they are at and what they are struggling with behind the anger. 


Dr. Garrett Higbee

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