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Sunday, 17 September 2000

Angry Teen: A Therapist's Comments

Written by  Naomi Baum, PhD.

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I can certainly see Leon's point. He has me convinced that his parents are unreasonable tyrants. But, whoops, wait a minute. Maybe they aren't quite so bad? Leon's anger is understandable, and not unusual during the teenage years. Find me a teenager who gets along with his parents all the time....

Leon's whole monologue is about letting go and growing up. He would like to make more decisions about his own life, including what he watches and reads, how he dresses, having a pet, and who his friends are.

Yet, it sounds like Leon and his parents need to start talking about some of the real things going on, before Leon's anger gets out of control, and before his behavior starts deteriorating.

When kids grow into the teen years, parents often have a hard time changing their parenting behaviors. While it may have been appropriate to tell your ten-year-old when to watch TV, and what to watch, it is important to remember that teenagers need more independence and a sense that they are in charge of their own lives, within limits.

Leon's parents might sit down and talk to him about their rules. It would be helpful for them to listen to Leon's problems with these rules and expectations. They may then be able to problem solve together - and maybe come to some kind of compromise.

For his parents to simply lay down the law might seem to be a good idea at first, but actually seems to be counterproductive. Leaving Leon in charge, telling him that they feel he is old enough to make certain decisions, while suggesting what they feel to be good ideas, allows Leon to choose.

He will probably choose wisely some of the time, and some of the time he won't. Allowing him to live with those consequences is part of growing up.

Leon's whole monologue is about letting go and growing up. He would like to make more decisions about his own life, including what he watches and reads, how he dresses, having a pet, and who his friends are.

At age fifteen, teenagers are often very critical of their parents' values, ideas, and life style. Why are they so critical?? What they took for granted in earlier years suddenly becomes unbearable. Why does this happen?

A part of the growing up process is trying out new behaviors

As part of the growing up process, teenagers develop the ability to think about their own thoughts and the thoughts of others. A result of this is realizing that there are many different kinds of lifestyles, values and ideas. Trying out, even for a short while, some of these different ideas, behaviors, and ideologies allows teenagers to feel independent and separate from their parents.

Parents need to realize that if they allow their children freedom, within limits, the trying out period often quickly passes. If every time a teenager tries something out, he meets anger and resistance from his parents, then he will often become locked in mortal combat with the parents over issues ranging from curfew, to homework, to clothing and entertainment. It then becomes much more difficult to abandon the new behavior, because to the teenager it feels like he is "giving in" to his parents, and losing control over his life.

It is important for teenagers to have limits, but good to keep them to a minimum, such as curfew and safety and health issues (drugs, sex, etc.). Clothing and homework may be good areas for teenagers to try out new behaviors and exercise their own control.

The teenage years can be difficult for both parents and children. Learning to negotiate with each other is a challenge. Remembering that mutual respect lays the foundation for all successful negotiation is imperative. If Leon feels that his parents respect him, he will return the respect and communication can proceed. His parents need to learn not to feel threatened if he criticizes their choices.

The dance is a delicate one, but both sides can learn the steps!

Last modified on Monday, 11 April 2011 12:20
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Naomi Baum, PhD.

Naomi Baum, PhD.

Naomi Baum is the Director of the Resilience Unit at The Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and the National School Resilience Project. Her work at ICTP focuses on developing programs to build resilience in communities that have been highly exposed to trauma and stress. She has successfully brought her approach to Biloxi, Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her work there included seven visits to the city, she trained teachers, social workers, school nurses, and counselors. She has also worked with the population in Haiti following teh earthquake. She has written about Trauma and Resilience in several published articles and books.

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