It's challenging to deal with a verbally or physically aggressive teenage son, but it might help to know you're not alone. Between 5 and 18 percent of adolescents in North America have been physically violent with their parents, while over 60 percent have been verbally abusive, report Estefanía Estévez and José N. Góngora in their 2009 research paper, "Adolescent Aggression Towards Parents." It also helps to employ a combination of strategies such as improved communication techniques, controlling your response and setting limits with consequences. It's important to recognize when you need to seek professional help.
Keep your interactions as positive as possible. Phrase your expectations positively rather than negatively. For example, say, "Please speak quietly," rather than, "Don't shout at me." Don't just reprimand when your son does something wrong; be vigilant so you can catch him doing something right and reward him with positive comments. Be precise and choose your words carefully when directing his behavior to avoid the opportunity to be misinterpreted, suggest psychologists Tammy D. Barry, PhD and John E. Lochman, PhD in their article, "Aggression in Adolescents: Strategies for Parents and Educators" on the National Association of School Psychologists website. For instance, instead of saying, "Don't come home late," be more specific and say, "Remember your curfew is 11:00 tonight." Be a role model and demonstrate how to problem-solve in a non-aggressive manner. For example, give your son the opportunity to observe how you successfully handle dissatisfaction with defective products or services and explain the strategies you use to assert your rights non-aggressively.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Behavior contracts can be very effective, assert Barry and Lochman. Commit in writing to the behavioral expectations you have and hold your son to them. Include the rewards for compliance and consequences for violations. For example, if the contract specifies making requests in a respectful manner, outline a reward such as having friends over when he complies, or no computer privileges if he doesn't. Be consistent and don't ever ignore his aggression. But moderate your response -- it's crucial that you control your own emotions, so don't lose your temper or respond in anger. Don't shout at him or dredge up past behavior -- stick to the issue at hand to hold him accountable, but express your disappointment in a gentle and loving manner. Teach your son to recognize how it feels when his anger starts to rise, so he can control it before it explodes; help him become aware of physiological changes such as breathing faster or an increase in his heart rate. Engage in activities you can enjoy together when he's in a good mood to build a more positive foundation to your relationship.
There Has to Be a Consequence
Aggressive teens need to know what the limits are, so you must clearly decide in advance where to draw the line. You should both know what your response will be when your son behaves in an unacceptable manner. Don't make empty threats you're not prepared to follow through with, but the consequences you impose should be appropriate and fit the misbehavior. It's important not to overreact and impose a punishment that is disproportionately harsh. For example, if he breaks curfew by only a couple of minutes, voicing your displeasure might be more appropriate than grounding him for a week. On the other hand, this could also mean having to make the difficult decision to call the police for extreme physical violence when necessary, but it could be the best choice you have.
Seek Professional Help
If you don't see any improvement in your son's aggression, you'll probably need to enlist professional help. Your family doctor can recommend a trained therapist or an anger management program that can be more effective. Professionals are better equipped to help your teen see the benefits of controlling his anger and might be able to help determine the cause of the aggression. There may be psychological complications that are contributing to the aggression that counseling can address.
- Helpguide.org: Help for Parents of Troubled Teens
- National Association of School Psychologists: Aggression in Adolescents: Strategies for Parents and Educators
- Empowering Parents: Anger, Rage and Explosive Outbursts ...
- National Health Service Choices: Teen Aggression and Arguments
- Health Direct: Teenage Aggression and Arguments
- Handbook of Aggressive Behavior Research: Adolescent Aggression Towards Parents
- Photo Credit Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images
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