Teenagers, I know how often y’all feel irritated, annoyed, angry or even hatred for your parents. They freak out over minor stuff, they are over-protective, too suspicious and don’t seem to understand that you’ve got a handle on things. Anger with your parents is completely normal, especially when they seem unreasonable, but if you feel like your feelings are a bit stronger than you are comfortable with, let’s talk about them a bit.
You’re too old AND you’re too young: The paradox of adolescence
You’re too old to be treated like a child and you deserve more freedom and responsibility than a six-year-old. At the very same time, you’re too young to be given the freedom and responsibilities of a 35-year-old adult! What a pickle you’re in.
The brain stuff: Why the paradox happens
Those inner structures in the middle of your brain that form the emotional center of your mind (the limbic system) are pretty developed. It’s far along enough that the feelings you feel are quite adult in their intensity. So, yes, you are feeling adult feelings. You’re too old to be treated like your feelings are not developed. Ironically, the last part of the brain to develop is the most advanced part: The frontal lobe. This is the part of your brain that controls impulse control and other executive functioning stuff (paying attention, discipline, etc). It’s also the part of your brain that helps you manage those emotions . . . and it isn’t done cooking until you are in your mid-20’s! There’s the irony: you’ve got a full complement of emotions, but not enough frontal lobe development to really manage it like a 35-year-old. Think of it this way, we don’t judge a 4-year-old for not being able to drive; they just aren’t tall enough or coordinated enough, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get there. You’re much further along in managing your emotions than a four-year-old learning to drive, but you get the point.
They’re challenging your maturity and independence when you’re trying to attain them!
Developmentally, teenagers are supposed to be individuating. That means that you’re supposed to be becoming your own person, with your own thoughts, your own opinions, and your own feelings. When parents cramp your style, you probably feel cornered. Ever seen an animal that is cornered? They aren’t happy about it. And humans are animals. And we don’t like to be cornered. Now add to the equation that you have very adult level anger at feeling cornered, but are missing some of the impulse control and integration skills to keep it in perspective (pesky underdeveloped frontal lobe!). That’s not an insult! Just like we don’t insult the four-year-old for not being able to drive.
They don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager today
Parents all tell themselves that they’re going to remember what it’s like to be a teenager and will never treat their kids the way their parents treated them (overprotective, overly suspicious, unfair, etc. Sound familiar?). However, none of today’s parents could’ve anticipated cell phones, mobile internet, social media, vaping, etc., so they are by definition, a bit out of touch. When parents aren’t sure what they are up against, they often dream up the worst possible scenario and see that as reality. They will try so hard to be up to date that they may research anything and everything they hear about in an effort to not be caught off-guard. This is the overprotection and the overly suspicious pieces of why teenagers often feel anger and hatred for their parents.
They also may not realize that, in fact, you are NOT doing all of the horrible things that they see in the news. Maybe that vape pen they found in your jacket really isn’t yours. Perhaps you aren’t going online and talking to 42-year-old adults that want to abduct you. But parents look out for nightmares and want to be extra sure that you are safe; even if it means that you hate them from time to time. Most teenagers I talk to are able to understand this, they just don’t like being on the receiving end of it. Most parents I talk to understand why teens are so upset with them (Afterall, they were upset with their parents, too).
Their idea of punishment is way too strict for your taste
Sometimes parents really do overdo consequences. I work very hard to advocate for teens in this situation. Parents do need to understand that consequences should be time-limited, and typically not more than two weeks. I’ve heard about parents telling teenagers that they had zero privileges until they decided differently, and this included having a bedroom door. Obviously, I intervened. Consequences do need to make an impact though; you’re not supposed to enjoy them. It is important that the consequences fit the rule that was broken.
However, sometimes the consequences are just fine, but as the teenager, it feels unreasonable because it interrupts plans that you had. In your mind, a lecture would be plenty, maybe taking your phone for an evening. But you got grounded for the whole weekend and are going to miss the premiere of that big movie you had plans to see. It is difficult when you feel like the consequence is too harsh. Your best bet, in this case, is to calmly approach your parents and let them know that you understand why a consequence is needed and why you feel like the one they chose is too harsh. Most important is to be accepting of the consequence as it stands; they may walk away and discuss it further then come back and decrease the length or harshness, but if you lash out, they’ll leave it as-is, or make it worse.
So how do teens handle these feelings of anger towards parents?
Talk to them. Calmly
We touched on one at the end of the last section: talk calmly to them. You may want to wait until you feel calm though. Let them know that you’d like to talk to them and consider asking for a time that works for everybody rather than just jumping in when they get home from work. Explain that you understand their perspective and what the problems are, but that you don’t want to feel so much anger towards them. You MUST be willing to hear them out with this one.
Write them a letter or email. A respectful, calm one
Sometimes writing things out helps you organize your thoughts and feelings in a way that helps you have a calm conversation. Other times, if you feel like a talk may devolve into a fight, consider using the letter or email as an initial contact with them. As with the conversation, it is important that you open up with showing that you are mature enough to understand what they are trying to do and why they feel like it is important. Next, explain how you feel and what your perspective is. It is a good idea to refer back to your understanding of their perspective to help it appear that you are not trying to be adversarial. Watch your word chose, and keep an eye out for using words and phrases that you know are passive-aggressive jabs at them. Those methods will backfire.
Ask an adult you trust to read your letter and suggest changes. They may see things that you missed. When you are comfortable with it, send it to them or hand it to them. It’s not a bad idea to end the letter telling them that while you are angry, that you still love them.
Ask them for family counseling
There are plenty of times when a conversation or letter may not feel like enough to help y’all get the conflict managed effectively. Asking for family counseling is not a bad idea. Some school counselors are willing to facilitate meetings like this, and certainly, counselors like me who are in private practice will be willing to help.
Burn off your anger and stress with self-care
- Get a massage
- Talk to a friend
- Talk to a teacher or counselor
- Listen to music
- Create art (draw, play an instrument, paint)
**Whatever you choose, it needs to be allowed within the parameters of the consequences you are facing**
Remember, they love you more than they’re angry with you
Parents are human, too. And sometimes they will make mistakes. This is their first time parenting you as a teenager, and this is your first time being a teenager. Mistakes on both sides are expected and are ok. Y’all will get beyond the difficult times if you have a way to communicate effectively.
Good parents know that they are parents first, friends second. They also know that they love you, but dislike the behavior; it’s not that they actually dislike you. They will be willing to have you angry with them and know that they are keeping you safe rather than have you in danger, or even hurt, but happy with them. It is a sacrifice that great parents are willing to make. But they do not enjoy seeing you hate them, no matter how much it may seem like it.]
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Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.