If you live with a surly, moody teenager then I wrote this post for you! I want to give you a bit of a laugh (hopefully) and also give you some ideas on how to handle your bad tempered and unfriendly teenager. I am comparing the video game Angry Birds to the relationship between angry teens and their parents.
For the uninitiated, Angry Birds is one of the most popular casual games that has arrived on smartphones and multiple other platforms. It is quite addictive and I am a bit uncomfortable admitting how much time I have spent playing this game.
In the game, players slingshot a variety of different birds towards various structures that hold some otherwise defenseless pigs. There is apparently a huge rift between the birds and the pigs and they basically hate each other. I tend to like analogies and this game reminds me of some of the difficulties that parents have dealing with their angry teens.
Teenagers can be very emotional and often times this is channeled into angry words and behaviors. This can be especially challenging for parents. I realize that comparing parents to pigs may not be favorable. Don’t get me wrong, I have ultimate respect for parents and the amazing ways that we (including myself) show up for our kids. However, sometimes we can be unprepared, caught off guard and generally handle our kids anger poorly.
Here are some thoughts on the different expressions of teen anger and how parents can respond.
The Red Bird
The red bird is the most balanced of all the birds. It flies straight and does a minimum amount of damage. This is similar to a “normal” level of teen anger that is not terribly surprising or hard to deal with. All teenagers get irritable, feel like complaining and generally act disgruntled at times. This is not unusual and most parents can manage this with some listening, empathy and appropriate limits.
The Yellow Bird
The yellow bird can cause some quick damage. It can pass through several walls, specifically soft materials. It is useful when you are trying to bring down taller structures, often striking at the weakest point. The yellow bird could be compared to the teenager who uses quick bursts of anger to challenge your authority. This may include some emotional manipulation that attempts to bring you down by striking at your weak points.
Teens are often at a disadvantage when trying to get what they want. Some will use quick flashes of anger that can even be mean and accusatory. “I hate you and you are ruining my life” or “This is probably why Dad left you.” Does this sound familiar? You may be able to fill in the blanks on this one.
The trick is that this works on many parents. We are human and respond to direct challenges and assault on our character or our parenting skills. Teenagers are smart, even crafty and they pay attention. Stay calm and recognize that your teen is using the yellow bird on you. Don’t give in to the temptation to strike back in hurtful ways. You can also acknowledge the emotions they are feeling, even though their expression may be inappropriate.
The Blue Bird
The blue bird is small, but especially effective because it attacks at multiple points. It explodes in the air, splitting into 3 separate birds. This is helpful when trying to hit structures that are far apart from each other. When teenagers are angry at their parents they will often focus on several points of attack.
This may be the teen who expresses anger by complaining about everything and having a constantly negative attitude. It could also be the teen who is always picking on you and pointing out all of your faults.
Teens can be strategic and they often know that applying pressure in several areas may cause their parents to cave in. It may be helpful to have an honest conversation about what is really bothering them, what is underneath all that irritability and expressed anger. This may be difficult, but it could lead to some understanding about their primary emotions (sadness, fear, grief) and where they are coming from. Watch out for the blue bird!
The Green Bird
The green bird acts as a sort of boomerang and it is used when trying to hit inaccessible spots from the left. This little guy can take down even the most fortified buildings by knocking on the back door. This would be the passive-aggressive teen who makes a show like everything is OK, but then hits you from behind.
He doesn’t usually appear angry, but you will often find yourself getting angry at him for what he is doing or failing to do. I know this one well, because I was an excellent green bird as a teenager!
It takes a perceptive and self-controlled parent to deal with this kind of angry teen. This is the teen who does his chores all wrong and you just know it is on purpose. Even so, you end up stepping in to do the job right. Win for the green bird! It takes patience to work with this kind of indirect anger. You may need to be direct, even a bit confrontational in pointing out this unhelpful, negative pattern. With love of course! Keep your eyes open for the green bird.
The White Bird
The white bird drops explosive bombs that do a small amount of damage. This is useful against weak materials, such as wood. The white bird is not very powerful, but it can be good when targeting certain areas. This is the teen who throws out sarcastic comments and minor insults when they are angry. This can be bothersome and not fun to be around, but not terribly harmful.
Don’t get me wrong, this kind of angry teen can really get under your skin. You may need to say, “I know you are angry, but that kind of behavior is not OK with me.” Then follow up by letting them know what kind of consequences they can expect if they don’t make a change.
This bird is most effective when the bombs are dropped into opening where they can get down to the bottom and cause problems. Pay attention to the areas of your parenting where you leave yourself wide open and vulnerable. Maybe you promise consequences, but rarely follow through. Maybe your teen knows that if he makes fun of your weight problems that you will react in a big way. Consider what your weak points might be.
The Black Bird
The black bird is one of my favorites and it easily does the most damage. The black bird explodes after a while, once it hits any surface. It is effective against the hardest structures, such as rock buildings.
There are definitely times when teenage anger can be explosive and even devastating. Teens can have violent blow-ups, hysterical melt-downs and everything in between. This may include punching holes in the walls, running away, threats of harm to parents or even self-harm.
This type of angry expression can be especially hard for parents to deal with. Anger can be an incredibly raw and unsettling emotion. It can bring up so many other emotions and memories of past experiences. Often the best thing to do is pay attention to maintaining as much physical and emotional safety for your teen as possible.
Don’t get in their way, but try to guide them to less destructive options. The anger will pass and they will calm down. If this type of struggle becomes a regular occurrence it may be wise to get some professional help for you and your teen.