What could be more upsetting to parents than having your own teen, who is living in an adult body, be physically aggressive against you or someone else? Behavior like this is both real and frightening.
The first objective as a parent lies in understanding the problem.
Aggressive behavior issues range from the not-so-severe, such as yelling or throwing things, to the extremely severe and dangerous, such as the Columbine tragedy.
Boys perform the majority of aggressive acts, however girls are becoming more aggressive as well. This is not an excuse but simply the reality.
A lot of aggression occurs when parents are not around, and you can not monitor your teen when you aren’t present. The best strategy possible is to set up workable consequences and helps during those times you find out about aggressive behavior.
Left to their own devices, aggressive teens don’t mature into well-adjusted grown-ups. They risk becoming raging adults.
How to handle the problem:
1. When aggression happens you must act.
Draw a line. The teen is either unaware or unconcerned about what is appropriate behavior. The more aggressive and out-of-control the teen is, the more strict and clear you must be.
- No yelling
- No throwing things
- No hitting or other forms of physical aggression
- No threatening
- No taking intimidating physical stances
- No getting into another person’s face
- No carrying weapons
2. Impose consequences.
Keep in mind that most aggressive behavior is impulsive and not thought out. That’s is why explaining rationales to them in advance does not work. They will need to experience negative consequences for them to build a future orientation of what will happen next time.
3. Address their concerns.
Of course the first question from your teen will inevitably be, “What if someone hits me first? Can I defend myself?”
This can be a trick question. Is your teen sincerely concerned about self-defense or permission to fight back at the slightest provocation? If your teen is in physical danger and can’t get away, then and only then can they defend themselves. Outside of that, advise your teen to walk away from the confrontation.
4. Help your teen explore and process difficult emotions.
You could help your teen experience less obvious emotions, like fear, sadness, and helplessness by asking them:
“I noticed that you have been getting angry and aggressive when you face a difficult problem. I wonder if underneath the anger you feel scared or helpless or afraid?”
Help him or her understand that they don’t always have to win or come out on top in every situation.
5. Bring the aggression into the relationship.
Aggression often happens when the teen feels alienated, and disconnected from others. Bring the aggression out of the darkness into relational connectedness. Many parents shy away from this. How do you talk about something so destructive? The paradox is that you need to. Your teen needs for all parts of himself, both the good and the bad, to be connected to you and others.
Ask, “When you threaten me or throw something at me, what is going on in your head? I will not tolerate this, but I want to listen to what is happening inside of you and hear your side of it.”
6. Help your teen express their anger through vocabulary and model this yourself.
If you have not done so already, let them know what you felt during the experience, “I feel like a life grenade has been tossed into the house and I don’t know how to respond without hurting you or endangering myself or others.”
7. Don’t rescue teen from natural consequences.
When they are tossed off a team, suspended from school, or lose privileges, help them process the loss. Do not advocate on their behalf.
8. Don’t eliminate residential treatment from your list of options.
In extreme cases you may have to consider boarding school or treatment center. Don’t be afraid of these options, you may save his life.