How to Deal With Teen Tantrums

There’s no reason to hang your head in shame when you’re dealing with teen tantrums. Despite common assumptions, parents are rarely the blame.

Sure, moms and dads can sometimes be great contributors via rough handling, poor example, or both. We are all used to seeing these modeled on bad detective shows. But there are just as many good homes where the kids go crazy and it has nothing to do with the parents at all.

In fact, I know of the most perfect Father who gave His kids everything; He was a great Provider, created the perfect home environment, made quality time for His kids every evening, and yet, they rebelled against Him (you guessed it; our Heavenly Father and His kids, Adam and Eve).

The issue of teens throwing fits is not easily parsed. There are many possible reasons for their attitudes and behaviors:

Physical and emotional problems. We have a tendency to lump all of this into the category of “hormones,” but I think it has more to do with adjusting to adult emotions and responsibilities for those emotions. While we need to treat our young people with understanding, we also need to remember that excusing lack of self-control will only lengthen the period of time it will take them to get their feelings in check.

Mental state. So much of how we react to life has to do with our inner thought cycles. Teens that allow their thoughts to run rampant and who listen to dark music and other entertainment (including social media) that encourages negative thoughts are going to be caught up in negative thought patterns, and these patterns will eventually show in the ways they interact with others, their eating habits, their ability to listen and learn  and their inability to react correctly to the challenges of life.

Parental provocation. We parents can be caught up in a fear-trap. Instead of expecting the best, we can assume the worst and then lash out at the slightest hint of trespass before obtaining all the facts. We can also over react when a true trespass has taken place, instead if sitting down and sorting things out in a rational manner (in other words, we need to act more grown-up ourselves).

Fear. Of the future, of rejection, of just about a million things.

Outside influences. I never thought of throwing a fit with my own mother until after I attended a teen emotions class at school. The curriculum suggested ways to express anger towards one’s parents in non-destructive ways. Well, before that time it had never occurred to me to be angry with my mom, but I thought perhaps I wasn’t being natural or “normal” so I went home and picked a fight with her so I could express my anger in the correct manner (ridiculous, I know). She told me later she was totally shocked at the change in my personality, but had no clue at the time as to where it came from. While busybodies and misguided peers fall under this heading, professional counseling often shows up here, too. (Don’t rule out addictions, and remember they aren’t limited to sex and substance abuse; video games, gambling, food, and social media can become ways to avoid painful growth and retard the natural maturing process.)

Rejection of truth (rebellion). God doesn’t have any grandchildren; our young people are going to have to choose God for themselves. We don’t want to produce a bunch of powerless “cultural Christians.” It’s God working wonders in a personal relationship with Him, or it’s no Christianity at all. Lots of kids who are raised knowing the truth will be easy converts, others are going to buck and squirm while they work out their own salvation with “fear and trembling.”

Thankfully, there are ways to deal with these reasons:

Take care of the physical, help them through the emotional. There may be ways to encourage proper diet, sleep, etc. that will help them get a handle on physical feelings of depression and anxiety. When they have down days, it’s great to come along-side and share stories of when we were young and what helped us.

Train them how to think rightly. This is so very big, but something we almost always neglect. We all need help with our thinking, and there is only one place where truth and light can be found; the Word of God. Start early and get your children in the habit of thinking God’s thoughts, such as those suggested in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Read here for a suggested reading list for teens that will help.

Keep from overreacting and jumping to conclusions. This has to do with reigning in your own thoughts, but it also has to do with being alert to the Spirit of God. There are times when you absolutely MUST ask probing questions, other occasions when a little emotion is called for, but most of the time a calm face (even if you are panicking inside; “You did WHAT?” in your brain only) is what is required. This will give you a chance to model how to keep your emotional/mental self in check.

Be astute when it comes to outside influences. This doesn’t mean we lock our children in a closet, but we do need to be careful who they are rubbing shoulders with. When we become aware they may be associating (or being entertained by) people who will encourage dark, destructive behavior, we need to pray for wisdom. Sometimes all it will take is a little talk about how we may have had to overcome such associations in our own pasts, or stories of the lives of others. It is also helpful to give positive examples of people who were successful because they hung around with people who influenced them for good. Educate them (after you’ve educated yourself) as to what constitutes good counsel.

(Here’s something thought-provoking: Psychology vs. Christianity)

If a nice talk does not do the trick, we may need to remove the child from certain people and situations, but this is always tricky because we could be stirring things up further. Sometimes, though, this is exactly what is needed.

Now for the type of tantrum that is spiritual in nature:  Rebellion.

We parents often misunderstand this one altogether. We take the rebellious behaviors of our teens personally. We think they are defying us because they are trying to hurt us in particular, when it really isn’t about us at all.

The heart of this type of a fit is the Pride of Life. When you feel you have the world by the tail, you don’t want to submit yourself to a God who might mess with your plans.

Yes, I know we have been so careful to teach them from young people to give their whole beings over to Christ, but that does not mean they will automatically follow-through and surrender to Him. The choice is theirs, just like the choice is ours.

So this is where the bucking and squirming comes in. You can’t make them choose any more than you could make them have green eyes or brown hair. Even God will not transgress their choices.

However, you can help them along through these practices:

Make your home so full of the light and truth of God that rebellion cannot feel comfortable there. Those who desire to submit to God will have little trouble (although they will have conflict every once-in-a-while), those that aren’t submitting to God will have issues, but at least they will be brought out into the open.

Contrary to popular culture, it is not our job to make everything in life easy for our children. Although it is a marvelous thing to be best friends with our young people, sometimes we must risk all in order for our children to become mature.

Here are things we need to keep up, no matter how intense things may get:

Speak the truth in love. Don’t pick and prod, but don’t be a push-over, either. Confront them when you are led to, even if it means possible reactions.

Keep to your rules. If it was wrong to stay out all hours before they began pushing buttons, it’s still wrong when they become defiant.

Demand respect. It’s every bit appropriate to require that while they are in your presence or the presence of their younger siblings that they treat your space, your belongings, each person, with respect. If they are of adult age you just may be hurting them more than helping if you allow them to break the rules everyone else is required to follow. Besides, if you have other children in your home you are responsible to protect them, too.

Don’t rescue them from real-life consequences. Don’t allow their tendencies to throw a fit intimidate you. If they are late for work, don’t call and make excuses for them. Don’t make a car payment for them if they have been mishandling their money. The buzz phrases around here are, “Face your fears,” and, “Own your stuff.”

Don’t be afraid to show them the door if they don’t comply. (This is for those of adult age, of course.) It’s not harsh or cruel; any other institution (and family should be our most revered institution) requires  adherence to rules, even college dorms (which are notorious places for young people exercising “freedom”).

If your teen does not believe you, have her read this from California State University Northridge (in LA).

Show unconditional love and respect. Don’t smother them or chide them unnecessarily. Give them space, allow them to question, don’t act like a self-righteous vigilante. Don’t act like they are the devil incarnate. Give credit where credit is due, even if you don’t feel like it at the time.

Don’t allow them to divide and conquer. As parents you need each other’s support, and your child needs to see you as a combined front. Believe it or not, when you stick together your child will be more secure and have more reasons to examine their own behaviors.

Pray, pray, pray. I have heard testimony after testimony about rebels who were prayed into the Kingdom. Go into their room and anoint it with oil. When they are out, when they are struggling, while you are conversing, any time they come to mind pray in your understanding, pray the Word over them, pray in the Holy Spirit (this has been the most effective for me). 

Focus on your vision. Specifically, ask God for a vision for your child, something that goes beyond what you see in front of you. The Apostle Paul said this:

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!

2 Corinthians 5:16, NLT

And don’t forget to practice diffusing a situation. Here are some pointers:

Go in armed with prayer. Before, during, and after.

Speak the fruits of the Spirit. This is the best way I know to invite the Holy Spirit to rule.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Don’t allow yourself to be talked into a corner. Be as objective as possible by pulling yourself out and looking at the situation as if you weren’t personally involved.

While the teen and young adult years can be the most challenging and heartbreaking part of parenting, they can also be the most fun and rewarding.

The best way to go through is by keeping your eyes on Jesus, being thankful for the blessings, and walking in faith of God’s promises, such as Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

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8 thoughts on “How to Deal With Teen Tantrums

  1. Thank you for this encouragement and counsel. I needed to hear these truths today. We have 3 teenagers just now, and I often feel despairing. I’ve needed to learn to distance myself from them in some ways (not taking their machinations personally), remind myself to keep hugging them and telling them I love them, and pray, pray, pray! I cannot be the Holy Spirit to them, but I can pray for His powerful work to be effective in their lives. He is bigger than their hearts and their problems!

    • This also sets us free to realize the ultimate choice is up to our children, so we don’t need to carry around a lot of guilt and regret when they go a different direction.

  2. I have read your blog for years and am so grateful for all of your wisdom! Please don’t ever stop blogging, lol! I refer to your site frequently for all sorts of helpful information. (I am still waiting for you to repost your granola bar recipe that was lost when your old site was hacked several years ago, lol!! No pressure! Haha!)

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