Hot Tempers: Why You and Your Teen Both Lose When You “Lose It”
Raising teenagers is challenging, and sometimes we may simply “lose it”: our temper, our equanimity, our self-control, and even our good sense. However, yelling, crying, and carrying on is bound to make whatever interaction you are having with your teenager even worse. Although our intention may be to get our point, and our anger, across to them, this is not really what happens. Instead, it typically escalates the situation, and a series of reactions are set in motion:
1. As we become increasingly emotional, we also become flooded by those emotions, which only produces more emotions. We are not going to make our best decisions, or control what we say next, as our wise mind is overwhelmed with intense feelings. We are no longer intentionally parenting-we are simply raging.
2. Our teenagers may give us a watered down version of the truth as a way of protecting us, and themselves, from further harm. They may begin to outright lie as the interaction becomes more heated.
3. Teens also become flooded by their own powerful emotions, inspired by our powerful emotions, at which point they are likely to completely shut down, or explode dramatically.
4. When they shut down, we may become further enraged by their apparent disengagement or lack of caring. However, they are in self-preservation mode and so more yelling is not going to produce the response we are looking for. We become more enraged. They become more shut down.
5. If they explode dramatically, using profanity or hurling hurtful insults, the interaction takes on new steam as the focus now switches to your teen’s disrespectful behavior. This is likely to set off a whole new wave of angry accusations from both you and your teen.
When you feel the physical symptoms of rising anger and rage, hot face, quickened heart rate, sweaty palms, take a breather. Count to a hundred, walk away, picture palm trees, stretch, get a drink of water, anything to allow you a few moments to collect yourself. Learning to stay calm, even passive, takes intentionality and practice, but it enables us to deescalate a difficult interaction, as well as respond thoughtfully, rather than react viscerally. If you already know you and your teen are prone to this sort of battle, develop a code word, like “enough,” and agree to take ten minutes away from one another when one of you says it. Also remember that only urgent matters need to be dealt with immediately. Important matters can wait until you are ready to do your very best parenting.
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