Teen aggression and arguments

Many parents find that when their child becomes a teenager, their behaviour becomes more challenging. But how do you cope if they become aggressive or even violent towards you?

Find out how to cope with heated arguments with your teen, and what to do if they become violent.

If you’re experiencing aggression or violence from your teen, you’re not alone. A recent Parentline Plus survey found that 60% of calls (between October 2007 and June 2008) included verbal aggression from a teenager, and 30% involved physical aggression, much of it aimed at the parent themselves.

It is common to keep this kind of abuse behind closed doors and not confide in anyone. Many parents feel  that they have failed to control their child, or that they are responsible for the behaviour in some way. In addition, they may not know where to turn.

However, any kind of aggression can be stressful, and can cause an atmosphere of tension and fear for the entire family, not to mention the possibility of physical harm if their teen becomes violent.

No parent should feel obliged to put up with an unruly teen, and as with any type of domestic abuse, help and support is available. You can find appropriate organisations and helpline numbers in ‘Help and support’ below. There are also a number of techniques and tips that you might find helpful.

Defusing heated arguments

It’s useful to remember that your own behaviour can improve or worsen an aggressive situation, so it’s important to be a good role model for your teen.

Linda Blair, clinical psychologist working with families, advises: “Bear in mind that you are their principal role model. If you act aggressively but tell them not to, they won’t listen. It’s also helpful to remember that their anger is often based on fear – fear that they’re losing control.”

With that in mind, it is worth trying to maintain a calm and peaceful presence. You need to be strong without being threatening. Remember that your body language, as well as what you say and how you say it, should also reflect this.

Avoid staring them in the eye, and give them personal space. Allow them the opportunity to express their point of view, then respond in a reasoned way.

Breathing exercises to control anger

If an argument becomes very heated, Linda suggests that you “stop for a moment". Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then exhale. Repeat five times. This technique is very useful in intense situations.

If your teen is becoming aggressive during arguments, suggest this technique to them when they’re calm, so they too have a way of controlling their anger.

If an argument feels out of control, you can also try explaining to them that you are going to walk away, and that you’ll come back again in half an hour. Given the chance to reflect and calm down, you and your teen will both be more reasonable when you resume your discussion.

As with toddlers, if you give in to teenagers because their shouting and screaming intimidates or baffles you, you are in effect encouraging them to repeat the unreasonable behaviour as a way of getting what they want.

Counselling for teenagers

Family Lives is a charity dedicated to helping families. They suggest that if very heated arguments happen frequently, it may be worth suggesting counselling to your teen. They’ll benefit from talking to someone new and unbiased, someone who isn’t in their family and who won’t judge them.

Read more about the benefits of talking treatments.

Remember they may not know how to handle their anger, and this can leave them frustrated and even frightened. Some guidance from an outsider can be very helpful.

Dealing with violent behaviour

Sometimes, teen aggression can turn into violence. If they lash out at you, or someone or something else, put safety first.

Let your teenager know that violence is unacceptable and you will walk away from them until they’ve calmed down. If leaving the room or house isn’t helping, call the police – after all, if you feel threatened or scared, then you have the right to protect yourself.

Family Lives offer this advice for coping with, and helping, a violent teen:

  • Give them space – once they have calmed down, you may want to talk to them about what has happened and suggest that they let you find them some help.
  • Be clear – teenagers need to know that you will stand by the boundaries you set. They need to know that any kind of violence is unacceptable.
  • Talk to their school and find out if their aggressive behaviour is happening there as well. Some schools offer counselling.
  • Arrange counselling – if your teen admits they have a problem and is willing to get help, book an appointment with a counsellor or psychologist as soon as possible. Speak to your GP or their school about what help is available.

Help and support

There are many organisations that offer emotional support and practical advice. Getting some support can help you and your child. At such an important development stage, it’s important that they learn how to communicate well and express anger in a healthy way.

  • You can call Family Lives' Parentline on 0808 800 2222 any time, or email parentsupport@parentlineplus.org.uk for a personalised reply within three days. They also offer i-parent modules to help you learn more about communicating better with your teen.
  • You can call the Samaritans on 08457 909090 any time to talk about any type of distress and to get confidential support and advice.
  • Youth Access has details about youth organisations and services offering teens counselling, advice and support.
  • Young Minds is a charitable organisation supporting children and young people with mental health issues, and their parents. They provide information to help young people with anger issues. If you discuss your child’s behaviour with them and they are open to getting help, you might like to direct them to the information on the Young Minds website.

Concerned about mental health issues?

If you’re worried that your teen has a mental health problem such as depression, talk to your GP. He or she can refer them to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, who in turn can refer all or some of you for Family Therapy. Or contact the Young Minds Parents’ Helpline on 0808 802 5544 for advice and support concerning mental health issues in young people.

If you are having trouble coping with your teenager, and you suspect you may have symptoms of depression or other mental health problems, discuss this with your GP. He or she can then suggest suitable treatment. You may, for example, be referred for counselling, or directed to support groups or other services in your area.

Page last reviewed: 01/05/2014

Next review due: 01/05/2016

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