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Teen Tantrums

boy angry at video game

If you're teen has ever said to you, "You're trying to ruin my life!" you're not alone. Because adolescence is a time when children seek greater personal control - an impulse that is appropriate and good, it can also be a time when parents and children disagree.

These disagreements can be distressing for parents. Dr. Glenn I. Latham states, "In an effort to wrest control from their parents, adolescents frequently resort to reactive behaviors which can leave parents in a quandary as to how to respond" (147).

There are solid answers, however, about how to deal positively with reactive adolescent behaviors.



Researchers from BYU assert that good discipline comes down to good teaching (Young et al. 13). Their proactive teaching approach to discipline can be applied to handling tantrums with children of all ages.   
Because teen children are old enough to reason with, you can work with a teen before he reacts with tantrum behavior.   
In an article by BYU professors and researchers, "A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An Alternative to Punishment," Young et al. outline three steps parents can take.

The first step is to assess risks (10). What are your personal "risks" when you deal with a reactive teenager? It is certainly tempting to react to a teenager who failed to fill the car up with gas, lost his driving privileges for the next weekend, and is now angry and yelling at you.   
While handling this would be difficult for any parent, it's also important to frankly assess your personal "risks."   
Are there behaviors that really push your buttons? Can you create ways beforehand that will help you keep your cool in these very difficult situations?

The second step in dealing with a teen's reactive behavior is to consider ways to create a safe environment. "If the home is rich in love, praise, and support, occasional use of reasonable punishment can help parents teach and direct a child" (Young et al. 11).   
It's as important with older children as it is with young ones to praise them for the many great things they do each day. "Sean, thanks for putting away your dishes after dinner. That's a nice help."

The third step in dealing with teen tantrums is to recognize yourself as a teacher (Young et al. 12). It is said that respect begets respect.   
It's true: many times human nature guides us to respond in the way we're being spoken to. Because "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1), your soft words during your child's reactive episode will offer him a chance to calm himself down.   
See "Things to Try" for more suggestions in dealing with a reactive adolescent.

Dr. Latham suggests that in order to respond proactively and calmly to a teen tantrum, we should actually "put down in writing a description of the behaviors [we] anticipate will happen, script a proactive response, then practice that response with a spouse, family member, or a trusted friend" (153).

man talking to teenage boy

Dr. Latham suggests that we should "Expect children to be reactive. They are not yet fully civilized or adequately experienced" (156).

However, this doesn't mean we need to sit back and allow teen tantrums to run the show in our homes. We can respond proactively, and remember that the best kind of discipline we offer as parents is teaching.


Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 1994.   
Young, Richard K., Sharon Black, Michelle Marchant, Katherine J. Mitchem, and Richard P. West. "A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An Alternative to Punishment." Marriage & Families, August (2000): 9-15.