If you have a teenager, chances are good that you have arguments at times. Teens are in the stage of life where they’re questioning their place in the family and in the world, and it’s natural for them to sometimes bristle against authority (you). During arguments, your teen might become loud or use disrespectful language. While these are not behaviors to be encouraged, they are a natural result of frustration in many cases. If your teenager becomes physically violent, however, that is a red flag that something more serious than typical teen angst is going on. There is no excuse for physical violence in the home, and it’s important that you take steps to help your teen deal with his or her anger while also keeping yourself and others in the home safe.
1. Walk Away
If, during the course of an argument, your teen becomes physically violent or is showing signs that he or she might be headed that way, don’t be afraid to walk away. In the heat of the moment, rationalizing and reasoning is unlikely to help; neither will continuing the discussion. It’s perfectly fine to tell your teen that you will continue the discussion another time and to go into another room or leave the house. In a little while, once tempers have calmed down, it’s appropriate to discuss the incident.
The exception to this suggestion would be if you think that your teen is about to put him- or herself in danger. If your teen has shown signs of suicidal ideation or if they have access to a weapon and you think they might use it, get yourself to a safe location and call 911 for an ambulance. This is an emergency and should be handled in the nearest emergency room or hospital.
2. Set Strong Boundaries
Teenagers need strong and clear boundaries; without them, many will push and push to see where the line is. Make it very clear that you will not accept violence in any form or directed toward anyone. Just as you would not tolerate hitting or biting from a younger child, you should not tolerate violence from your teenager. This can be made apparent to your teen by saying so verbally and also by following through with consequences should there be an incident.
Your job is to keep everyone in the house, including yourself, safe. If your teen is unable to control his or her temper to the point where anyone is in danger of being physically hurt, then use whatever tools you have at your disposal to diffuse the situation. If walking away from your angry teen or trying to talk to your calm teen is not working, a logical consequence for your teen is that the police may be called in to diffuse the situation themselves. During a calm moment, let your physically violent teen know that violence can be a criminal offense, even if directed toward a parent or sibling, and even if your teen is a minor. In some cases, this knowledge alone will be enough to make your teen look for better ways of managing his or her anger.
3. Teach Anger Management
Just as you taught your small child to use words rather than tantrums, you may need to teach your teen ways to keep his or her strong emotions under control. There are many ways to handle anger, which don’t involve becoming physically violent. Counting to ten is a time-honored way to reduce the intensity of negative feelings. You can also tell your teen that he or she can walk away from an argument if his or her anger is rising. Breathing exercises can also help, as can meditation or guided imagery. It can be difficult to remember to do these things when tension is high, so it’s a good idea to practice them beforehand.
It’s also to talk to your teen about the point of a discussion. Not everything has to turn into an argument. If your teenager is angry because he or she is not allowed to do something (or, conversely, that he or she must do something), blowing up is not going to change your mind. Instead, they might try writing down what they want to say or asking you to schedule a time to sit down and talk about it calmly. Learning to have productive arguments without fighting is a skill that will serve your teen well as he or she enters adulthood and has to deal with the rigors of work, adult relationships, and, eventually, parenting.
4. Model Good Behavior
One important consideration to keep in mind is whether you are acting the way you want your teen to act when angry or frustrated. If you tend to default to swearing, slamming things around or, worse, physical violence yourself, it’s unreasonable for you to expect your teen to behave any differently. If you are unable to control your anger, then talk to your teen about it and seek counseling so you can react in a healthier way, not only to your teen, but also to other people and situations that might anger you.
Similarly, it’s helpful to approach your teen the way you’d want to be approached. As a parent, it’s your job to set boundaries and enforce consequences, but you might be able to do so in a way that is respectful and less likely to provoke your teen. Not only does this set a good example for your children, but it might also de-escalate or avoid potentially volatile arguments.
5. Get Professional Help
If your teen is physically violent, getting him or her counseling can help not only the current situation, but also situations that come up throughout his or her life. Talk to your teen’s primary care physician about getting a referral to a mental health specialist who can help. Try to find one who specializes in anger management and who works with adolescents regularly.
Dealing with anger is something that everyone needs to do, and learning to handle the emotion effectively and appropriately is beneficial. If your teen is physically violent, your primary concern should be keeping everyone safe, but the very next thing is to help him or her learn to channel those feelings into a more productive response. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when teaching your teen these vital lessons that will last a lifetime.