A friend called me, upset almost to the point of tears. She and her 16-year-old had fought because she wouldn’t let him go to a party at a house where she didn’t know the parents. “He went to his room, slammed the door, and turned on some loud music. I opened his door and told him he was grounded from computer and X-Box, and he swore at me!” When I asked her why she’d grounded him, her reply was, “Well, he can’t treat me like that!”
This is a scenario all parents dread, and many will have to face some day. What do you do with an angry teen who spouts disrespect at you? Often the situation just deteriorates until both parent and teen are yelling words in anger that they later regret when everyone calms down.
Let’s rewind the tape. First of all, she shouldn’t have been surprised when her son got mad at being denied the party. Did she think he would say, “Okay, Mom, I understand”? What he did next was a natural reaction and may have been a wise choice: he removed himself before he said anything inappropriate. While slamming the door and playing loud music irritated his mom, both were expressions of anger that didn’t hurt anyone. Had she left him in his room and gone off to deal with her own anger, things would have ended better, and she could have addressed the unacceptability of slamming doors at a later time.
In this alternate reality, she might tap on the door an hour or so later and use a little empathy: “Hey, I know you’re disappointed about missing that party. Can I cheer you up by buying you dinner at McDonald’s?” If she is met with a sullen response and an insistence that the only thing that would make him happy is going to the party, she could say, “Okay, I get it. But if you change your mind, just let me know.” Later he might wander out to where she is and mumble, “I’m kinda hungry. McDonald’s might be okay.” At which point she could say brightly, “Great! Let me just get my purse and we’re out of here.” Neither the party nor the door-slamming incident would be mentioned during dinner, and an uneasy peace could reign.
At another time, maybe the next day or so, she could bring up the slammed door. She could say that while she understood how angry he was, slammed doors – and violent responses in general – were not acceptable. He is welcome to go into his room and play his loud music, but he cannot slam the door on his way. She might casually mention that she’s heard of parents removing the doors of their teen-agers’ bedrooms and then say, “Tell you what – let’s make an agreement. I’ll let you keep your door if you promise not to slam it.” Odds are good he’ll agree.
I’ll leave you to ponder this: You’re an adult dealing with an emotionally immature, hormonally-charged adolescent. Which one of you should be able to control your feelings and use a little diplomacy? You can do this; it just takes practice.