Dealing with teenage angst

Over the past fifteen years, I have had many parents ask for advice for dealing with teenage angst... “He always seems to overreact”. “She’s always crying over little things”. “She never tells me anything”. “He’s acting out, but I don’t know why”. “She’s always moody”. “He’s started taking risks that he normally wouldn’t”.

The truth is, teenage angst is the result of frustration and anxiety that comes about from the biological changes and development that is occurring in your teenager’s brain. Whilst we can’t take it personally, we need to take it seriously and know that while our teen might be screaming, “Go away, I never want to see you!”, we need to know to not give up, they need us to be there for them, to accept them unconditionally and to really listen to what they are trying to say to us.

As our teens battle hormones, emotions, and a strong drive to rebel, they still need our unconditional love. The ultimate parenting challenge is to love your child through their teenage angst. So, here are some tips for the battlefield:

1. Listen, don’t lecture. 

Teens want to have a conversation, but they won’t attempt it unless they know that Mum or Dad is willing to listen. It’s frustrating when someone listens just long enough to jump in to try to fix it or to offer advice or a lecture, when all you want is a listening ear. Many times parents miss the real issue because they fail to listen to the end. They walk away thinking they’ve fixed the problem when they never really heard the heart of their teen.

Be an active listener: Stop what you are doing. Look at your teen. Give your full attention. Listen to what they are saying. Repeat back to them what you have understood the issue to be, and then, if they are still asking for an answer/assistance – give it.

2. The key is validation; Empathy and understanding will earn trust and respect.

Teens need to know that it is okay to have feelings and emotions. We may not understand why our child is having an outburst, or share their take on a situation, but we must never dismiss or make them feel that they are not allowed to express their feelings. The key is validation.

Validating = sending the message ‘Your feelings are okay’.

“I can see that you are really upset by what your friend said to you.”

By simply validating, without solving, you are opening up room for acceptance and dialogue. You are telling your teen – ‘come as you are… I’m here to listen and to try to understand’.

Invalidating = sending the message ‘You should not be feeling the way you do’.

Some examples of this might include; “You’re overreacting”, “If you can’t handle this little thing, how are you going to cope in Year 12?”, “Get over it!” “Don’t act like a baby.”

The ability to feel comes from our being made in the image of God. When God sent his son to earth as a man, Jesus, he gave us the true example of how we should live and act. And while we do not know a whole lot about how Jesus dealt with teenage angst, or unrequited love, or too much homework; we do know that he was fully man – full of emotions. He wept. He was filled with joy. He became angry. Your teen may appear overly dramatic, sometimes even irrational. But they have a right to their feelings. This is how God made us.

3. Accept the emotion, not the commotion.

It is important to acknowledge and validate feelings, but to also teach the appropriate way to respond. There will be times when your teen needs to learn how to cope with the emotions they are feeling. They have a right to be upset; they do not have the right to be rude or disrespectful.

The key to this is to remain calm, be respectful and show understanding.

Don’t try to fight fire with fire; a yelling match will not end well. Nor will it teach your teen how to deal effectively with issues in the future. 

4. Get them moving

The last thing your moody teen may want to do is get up and move, but it’s one of the best ways they can feel better. Exercise can help burn through anger, frustration and anxiety. It also promotes better sleep. So hand them their earbuds and send them out to walk, run or kick a ball; they will learn a healthy way to deal with stress in the future…. And where possible, lead by example.

5. Pray

One of the most powerful things in your teen’s life will be the support of a praying parent/guardian. Pray that they will feel validated and accepted. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help guide your teen, because you and I won’t always be around; and as we know, sometimes life can be hard.