Your Teen’s Anger May Actually Be A Cry For Help

Aggressive Communication is the most common teen communication strategy. This may not be news to you…

But what may be surprising is that aggressive communication isn’t something that is a result of your teen being angry and wanting to hurt you or cause pain. In fact, aggressive communication can sometimes be a cry for help.

Aggressive Communication occurs when someone doesn’t know how to express their needs and feelings because it feels too vulnerable. 

That is not what you expected!

Contrary to popular assumption, aggressive communication isn’t really born out of a desire to be aggressive, forceful, or hurtful.

Aggressive communication is a defence mechanism against being blamed for something, because being blamed makes them feel like a bad person, or unloveable, or unwanted. 

At the root of it, there is a struggle to feel heard and seen and listened too. When someone doesn’t feel secure within themselves, they will skirt responsibility, and blame others in order to diffuse a situation or avoid feeling like they have screwed up. It sounds like: 

“It is your fault that I can’t come to the table on time. You never give us enough warning”
“If you don’t do what I say and apologize for taking away my cell phone, I won’t ever talk to you again”
“You NEVER listen to me. I ALWAYS get blamed”

Over time, this strategy gets so habitual, that they don’t realize they are even feeling vulnerable. All they know is that it helps them feel like they have power in a situation when they perceive that they have none. This is when we see aggressive strategies become more forceful and more intimidating. The persons communication goal is to feel heard, to feel they matter, to feel they have a place in the conversation. Their method of achieving that may be to shut down, belittle, threaten, or cause fear in order to get their way. 

It sounds like: 

“@&*% YOU! You’re a terrible parent! You don’t give a @#%^ at all!!”

Slamming a door. Storming off. Throwing things. Screaming and crying. Eye rolls and sighs. Throwing head back in exasperation. 

“I hate you”

“Ugh this is so stupid and lame”

“What is wrong with you? What are you so mean and stupid? I don’t care at all what you have to say” 

“You can’t control me”

Does this sound familiar? 

If you want to help them change their communication style, the best thing to do – starting now – is to speak with a clear assertive and compassionate tone yourself. No matter what they fling at you, respond calmly and cooly. Eventually they will have to match you in order for the conversation to move forward. 

What not to do?

Do not get caught up in their strategy. Don’t yell back. Remember they don’t yet have the cognitive capacity to change their strategy without being taught an alternative strategy. Especially because, for them, their strategy is working! They are getting what they need to out of it.

They rely on you to help steer them in a new, healthier, and more connected direction. 

That being said, please read this important disclaimer:

Violence is never OK. You never have to put up with violence or aggression, including from your kids.

Even if you are compassionate and understanding of the reasons behind their anger, it doesn’t mean that it is OK for them to treat you this way. 

You can understand that they feel scared and vulnerable and still enforce boundaries and rules of respectful communication. 

If a conversation is getting heated like this, it is safest and most productive to end it and pick it up later when everyone has cooled down. 

You can say “I am ending this conversation until we can communicate more calmly and respectfully. I am open to hearing your concerns when you can communicate them respectfully”.

They may argue back. Simply repeat this sentiment and walk away to a safe location for you, or, if you feel safe with them still, let them storm off so they can cool down in private.