How To Stop Yelling at Your Teen-ager

By Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

She called me a “stupid bitch!”, said Angela, aged 14,  referring to her exasperated mother. Angela’s parents brought her to my office  complaining about her defiance, her angry outbursts and poor school performance.  Angela shouted and cursed at her parents and they shouted and cursed right back. Mom and Dad routinely blamed each other for Angela’s problems in loud verbal battles. Angela cranked up her ipod to drown out the noise.  There’s a reason kids listen to lyrics like, “Head like a hole, black as your soul.  I’d rather die than give you control.”  Home, for this family, resembled a war zone, complete with Improvised Explosive Devices and hostile forces.

The Importance of Trust

“How did Angela lose trust in you?” I asked the parents.  They looked at me dumbfounded.  After we talked for awhile the parents admitted they had not considered that the relationship with their daughter required trust in them. They believed that Angela should just listen to them simply because they had authority over her.   The relationship fractured due to Angela’s broken trust in her parents judgment.  Angela no longer believed that they cared about her.  When that happens, parents have little or no influence over their teen.

Children long to please parents when they believe their parents want what’s in their best interest.  When degrading, hostile language and behavior substitute for discipline, the relationship breaks down.  Then the teen will do everything in her power to avoid her parents and reject their influence.  We cannot make our teenagers do anything.  The only power we have over them is the power to influence based on the quality of the relationship.  Most of us want our children to ultimately grow to:

  • Live independently and financially support themselves.
  • Find a mate they can love and feel loved by.
  • Achieve their full potential.

How To Repair the Damage

To accomplish those ends parents can do a lot to teach, guide, encourage and support, but only if you have the listening ear of your teen.  Once teens stop listening to and respecting you, you’ve got some repair work to do.  To repair a damaged relationship with your teen do the following:

  • Admit your part in the damage to the relationship.
  • Apologize and share how you plan to improve.
  • Ask your teen what she needs from you in order to trust you.
  • Share your best hope for your teen to have a good life.

Give Your Teenager Hope

When we yell at our teens it weakens our position.  No one listens to a yelling voice.  It helps when you listen more than lecture or yell.  When a teen feels heard and understood, he is more receptive to listening to you.   Tell your teen your own best hope for him.

  • “You have real talent in math.  I know you’ll feel very proud of yourself if you stick with your studies and win that scholarship.”
  • “I ask you to help around the house because I want you to know how to care for your own home someday.  I also want you to have good relationships with anyone who lives with you.”
  • “When you watch too much T.V. I notice you seem grumpy and unhappy.  You’re a lot happier when you go outside and do something active every day.”

Angry homes are fearful homes.  Parents unload their fears on their kids.   “You’re never going to amount to anything.”  “No one will ever want to hire a lazy bum like you.”  “You’re going to end up a loser like crazy Uncle Ed.”  Kids unload their fears on the parents.  “You don’t care about anything but your job.”  “You just want me to stay home all weekend and be miserable like you.”  “I’ll go crazy if I have to listen to you lecture me again.”

Parents need to give their kids the hope that they can achieve their full potential.  So don’t unload your fears on them.  They need someone to believe in them.  If their own parents don’t believe in them, where can they get the strength to keep struggling every day to do better?

If You Can’t Help Them, Find Someone Who Can

If your relationship with your teen is so damaged you can’t even try the suggestions here, don’t give up.  You can still influence your teen by supporting her to have relationships with other adults who can provide a healthy influence.  Perhaps your teen has a great relationship with a grandparent or other relative or a counselor.  Perhaps you can support your child’s relationships with teachers, coaches, pastors and youth group leaders.  Don’t give up trying to improve your relationship.  Consistent signs of love and support, over many years, even if rejected by your teen, still make a huge difference in the lifespan of your relationship.  If you keep at it, eventually they will come back for Thanksgiving dinner and thank you.  But only if  you stop yelling.