Many times, I have encountered teens who are angry with their parents. Often, it is clear to the parents that they made some mistakes and missteps that have facilitated this deep resentment. Yet, other times, I speak to parents who cannot understand the anger. They read all the books and internalized their messages. They were loving and supportive all the way through. They even enjoyed a good relationship with their child in the past and now things have quickly gone sour.
These parents understandably come to me with a different attitude. They are concerned that their child has some type of mental illness. They send their child for psychiatric evaluation and therapy if they can somehow get him to go. They, the parents, are clearly not the problem, so their focus is on the child’s issues.
I think this is a huge mistake. While I am not ruling out the possibility, I don’t remember one case where a child possessed anger towards his parents where there was not some rationale behind it. Yes, it may have been blown out of proportion due to hypersensitivity or misunderstandings, but there was a solid kernel of truth that needed to be unpacked and addressed.
When parents dismiss the child’s anger, it serves to exasperate his anger. The child feels: My parents always blame me and never acknowledge their mistakes. I am the crazy one. They think that they are always right. This adds much pain and resentment. Much of the initial anger often stems from the child not being heard, and now he continues not to be heard even as he openly expresses his anger and calls for attention. What could be more frustrating and painful than that?
The correct approach and where the path to reconciliation and healing begins is the parents taking the precise opposite approach. Instead of shifting the blame on the child and writing him off as crazy, they need to do the opposite. They should think: If my child is angry, there must be something that we have done to trigger this anger. Certainly, we did not intend this, but we must have missed something along the way. They must tell him, “We see you are so angry, and it hurts us to see your pain. We want to know why and understand where we want wrong and what we can do to move forward.” Then, they must be mature enough to listen and look hard to understand, rather than look to respond defensively. A defense is not what the child is searching for right now; he is looking for understanding and validation.
Let me give a common example that parents can easily overlook. A child is difficult growing up. He often gets into fights with his siblings and 90 percent of the time he is at fault. But what about the few times he was provoked, and his siblings took advantage of the negative view his parents developed towards him? He can understandably be angry that he was always viewed as the bad one. His parents never believed him when he said that his sibling started the fight. Yes, it is hard to blame his parents, and maybe one can say he deserved it, but understandably, in the child’s mind, he was being treated very unfairly. He feels his parents favored the other children.
Allowing and encouraging our teen to explain his anger, assuming he is sane and rational rather than the opposite, is an absolute game-changer. Very quickly, when he feels heard, the relationship begins to turn around.
Rabbi Kestenbaum, the author of “Olam Hamiddos,” “Olam Ha’avodah,” “Run After the Right Kavod” and “The Heart of Parenting,” is the mashgiach in the bais medrash of Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck. His is a featured speaker on TorahAnytime.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.