Q My teenage son is getting more aggressive and angry this year than I have ever experienced before. As he turned 15, he became rebellious, unresponsive to my husband, and he doesn’t want to spend much time at home. He does not complete his basic chores at home. We are having a difficult time understanding what is going on and how to have him respect us more, and be open to our advice.
A First recognize that your son is changing very rapidly at this stage in his life. The influence of his peers and the changes in his body at age 15 are strong forces that he has little control over. Additionally, he is moving towards a tremendous amount of independence soon—driver’s license, dating, and becoming an adult. This puts pressure on him, some of which is expressed through anger and snapping at people.
In American culture, separating from parents often involves a rebellious stage, which is difficult to deal with. Understanding these common dynamics and patterns can help you to not take it personally. Speak with other parents or even boys his age; it will help normalize the situation for you. You are not alone.
Has your son undergone any encounter that has left him more angry than usual? This could include a fight at school, arguments with his parents or siblings, academic or sports challenges, or attempting to date and feeling rejected or hurt. These incidents and situations can get magnified at this age because of the vulnerability in attempting to fit in, succeed, and be seen as likeable and competent. Unless he has a very solid sense of confidence, he will feel shaken, scared, and angry.
Try and have a conversation that encourages more self-revelation. This is most facilitated by questions without an agenda or advice-giving. Building a good rapport with your teenager is your biggest task at present. Talk about things that interest him, keeping the conversation light and easy. Be careful to not judge.
Letting him know that you care and want to support him is better than demands and confrontation.
Encourage him to bring his friends home. Acknowledge things that he is doing right; this will help him feel better about himself and less shameful of his mistakes or shortcomings.
Once in a while, offer to work together on his chores. This may help him realize that members of a family need to work together to keep the household in good shape. To you these may be obvious things, but to him they need to be demonstrated more directly. At this age focusing primarily on himself and his friends is where most of his energy will go.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com