What contributes to teenage rage? Dr. Mark Goulston focuses on this troubling dynamic in our culture and has much of value to say.
According to Dr. Goulston, very often teenage rage is triggered “when one parent is overbearing and overly controlling and the other is ineffective at keeping the over-the-top parent in check. This results in many teenagers feeling resentment towards the overbearing parent and contempt mixed with pity for the other parent who can neither stand up for the child or for themselves to the over-controlling one.
“Add to this the frequent scenario where teenagers see both parents putting on a very pleasant (and to the teen, phony) facade to the outside world, while carrying on with the abusive/passive behavior at home, and that hypocrisy can push many teenagers over the brink (this may have been a possibility in the famous case of Lyle and Erik Menendez who were convicted of killing their parents in August, 1989).
“Among one of teenagers’ best traits,” says Goulston, “is a deep sense of justice, but along with it unfortunately comes a sense of outrage regarding the injustice of this family dynamic and the hypocritical behavior of parents who act so differently in public than at home.”
Families coping with divorce issues are often breeding grounds for this scenario. That’s why I want to share Dr. Goulston’s advice with you on how to better communicate with your angry or acting out teen.
“To check if this may be what’s going on with your sullen teenager, ask them in a matter of fact way while going for a drive or during some activity (since they hate unsolicited “heart to heart” talks which always feel like a lecture):
– “What’s the most frustrated and angry you have ever felt with your mom/dad or me?”
– “How bad was it for you?”
– “What did it make you want to do?”
– “What did you do?”
“Then say (and mean it): “I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was so bad?” Allow for the tears of relief you might unleash in them for finally getting this off their chest.
“Finish with: “When I see you doing or not doing something that I believe could hurt you or your future, how do you want me to be with you? I mean, do you want me to say nothing? To wait and let you find out for yourself? To ask your permission to tell you what I see? Or what?”
“Then whatever they say, use that approach,” suggests Dr. Goulston.
This is excellent advice that opens the door to more authentic, trusting communication with your child. And being able to apologize for past indiscretions or insensitivities towards them makes you an ideal role model for them. They get to see you take responsibility for your behavior and sincerely apologize for errors you may have made. You are teaching your teen that’s it’s okay to admit a mistake, own it and be able to move on. You also open them up to learning how to forgive, let go and understand that their parents are just human beings who sometimes regret the things they do.
So take this lesson to heart. You don’t have to wait for your child to be a teen to start having meaningful conversations and giving them the respect they deserve as autonomous beings.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this powerful topic. We can all learn from one another!
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Learn more about Dr. Mark Goulston at markgoulston.com.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love! For more information about this innovative new approach to that tough conversation, visit www.howdoitellthekids.com. For Rosalind’s free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right, other articles and valuable resources for parents, visit www.childcentereddivorce.com.