Teenage anger takes many forms. It may be expressed as indignation and resentment, or rage and fury. It is the expression of teen anger -- the behavior -- that we as parents see. Some teenagers may repress their anger and withdraw while others may be more defiant and destroy property. In this post, we will look at what happens when “normal” teenage anger turns into resentment and aggression.
Why such resentment and aggression in my child?
1. It’s important to make a distinction between resentment and aggression. When you’re resentful, you feel as if you’ve been wronged; you want to get back at someone. Aggression is about striking back, but resentment is more a sense of defensiveness and waiting for an attack. In other words, resentment is the attitude, and aggression is the action. So the attitude is, “I hate that you try to control me.” Aggression is the behavior you get.
2. Moms and dads may feel some “hatred” coming from their defiant teen, and they often overreact to that by doing something that makes them feel powerful (e.g., yelling, screaming, threatening, etc.). But these responses don’t solve the problem or motivate your youngster to take responsibility for her own aggression.
3. Once your teen is in an agitated state, she’s thinking that you’re the enemy, that you don’t understand, and she’s blaming you and other authority figures. She sees herself as a “victim.”
4. Part of the function of aggression is to build a wall. It’s like a brick mason: aggression is meant to stop you from getting too close.
5. Another reason for a resentful attitude is that parents are comparing their teenager to other teens – or to themselves when they were teenagers. This often happens when the teenager has gotten in trouble or has started to get bad grades. Moms and dads need to remove statements such as “you should be more like…” -or- “when I was a teen…” -or- “you used to be so…” out of their conversations with their teenager. This allows the teen to start at the present and improve from there rather than constantly “living down” the past.
6. Some teens want to appear “out of control” whether they are or not. So remember, aggressive teens get more control by looking like they’re losing control. And that’s the agenda – to gain control.
7. Defiant teens are very ambivalent about their moms and dads during their teen years. They love you when you’re nice to them, but they hate you when you tell them what to do. This is because they still “need” you – but at the same time – they wish they didn’t.
8. Teens that are chronically “pissed-off” are like this because they have developed a way of thinking that makes them the “injured party” all the time. These “thinking errors” tell them that things are never fair, that their moms and dads are unreasonable, and that their educators are “retarded.” They think that nobody understands them but their peers. After teens have used these “distortions in thinking” for awhile, they get into even more trouble and develop an increasing sense of hyper-vigilance.
9. Another reason for unreasonable resentment on your teen’s part is depression. Resentment is one of the symptoms of depression and can be a warning sign that something else is happening in your adolescent’s life outside the normal realm of teenage defiance. Questions to ask are:
- Are they acting confused?
- Are they eating more or less than usual?
- Are they feeling guilty about something?
- Are they having difficulty concentrating?
- Are they more angry or irritable?
- Are they seeing or hearing things that others don’t?
- Are they sleeping more or less than they have in the past?
- Do they have a lack of patience with others or with themselves?
- Do they seem to have lost their energy?
- Have they been crying a lot?
- Has there been a significant weight gain or loss?
- Have they lost interest in their usual activities?
- Is their self-esteem lower?
- Is there an increased interest in sexual desires to the point where they are “acting it out”?
Teenagers often respond to stressors of new situations by getting depressed (e.g., attending a new school, breakup of friendships, divorce or other parental problems, recent move to a new neighborhood or city). Look back a few months and note the changes in your son’s/daughter’s life.
10. Here’s a big one: Low Self-Esteem. Resentful, aggressive teens have a very small sense of self-worth.
What resentful teens often say:
- "When my parents make me feel bad, it reminds me of all the other times that people make me feel bad. I already don’t like myself, and criticism just makes it worse."
- "I get resentful at my parents because they argue with each other. I don’t respect them."
- "I get resentful because I love my parents and they act like they hate each other. How am I supposed to respect them when they act like that?"
- "I get resentful when I have a lot of things on my mind that I can’t do anything about and then my parents ask me to do something when I’m already tired and over loaded."
- "I get resentful when my parents are unfair and there’s no point in talking to them."
- "I get resentful when my parents ask me how my day went. I’m trying to forget it and they make me remember it. I wouldn’t care if they didn’t make everything worse."
- "I get resentful when my parents make me feel guilty for something that already happened. I get tired."
- "I get resentful when there are other priorities, no time for me and I feel like I don’t matter."
- "I treat my parents the same way they treat me."
- "I’d rather be resentful at my parents than feel afraid or feel hurt. I’d probably hurt myself if I wasn’t resentful at them. That’s no excuse but that’s how I feel."
- "My parents are stupid. They don’t understand. They just say they do, but they don’t. I can’t stand to be around them."
So what can parents do to reduce resentment and aggression in their teenagers?
1. Do not allow rude and disrespectful behavior. If you "over-react" (rather than respond) to their putdowns and backtalk, you're allowing it! Learn to walk away and say something like: "If you continue to talk to me that way, the consequence will be __________” (insert serious consequence). Is he/she continues to “trash you” over the course of the next few minutes (less than 5), then follow through with the consequence.
2. Do not let yourself be swayed by the "but everyone else is doing it" line. You know what is best for your teenager and the hostility they feel towards you for putting your foot down will soon pass – and they even thank you later.
3. Don’t try to talk your youngster out of her resentment, and don’t try to reason with her. Reasoning just gives your youngster a feeling of false power (i.e., more of a sense that she’s in control and you’re not).
4. If there are clothes or electronic items they want that exceed your budget, make them pay a portion of the cost. They will appreciate what they have much more and will less likely grow up with a sense of entitlement.
5. If you tend to do things for your defiant teen in order to get her to love you, she might love you – she might not! But if you do things and carry yourself in such a way that she respects you, then she will “want” to love you. Teens tend to “want” to love the parents they respect.
6. Make sure you set clear and consistent boundaries. Teens do well when the guidelines are clear. Even if they argue with your rules, stick to them anyway. Part of the role of adolescence is to oppose their moms and dads.
7. Make yourself emotionally and physically available despite your teenager wanting distance from you. They're on the fence. Part of them is leaving the nest and the other part of them needs the safety and security of home.
8. Remember, you’re not looking for friendship, love and affection. Rather, you’re looking to gain their respect.
9. Respect their personal space. It is not your right as a mother or father to randomly snoop through your teenager's room. They do not become more trustworthy by hearing, “I don't trust you anymore.” If you have no reason to snoop – don't do it.
10. Show an interest in the things that interest them. Grab any chance you get, just to chat (e.g., in the car when you're chauffeuring them places). They still need to know their life is important to us.
11. The more you ask, “Why the attitude?” …the more your youngster will simply state (or scream) her case. Thus, never question “the attitude.”
12. Get professional help if things do not improve!
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents