My Angry, Fatherless Teenage Son
by JD's Mom
My husband and my son's father passed away in March of '08. Since then I have noticed my son becoming more and more angry and emotionally out of control. He barely passed 7th grade last year, finishing with 1 C, 2 D's and 3 F's. He has begun smoking and his choice in friends has changed to an older, rowdier crowd who all seem to come from troubled homes, or at the very least, single parent homes. I think he sees himself as from a troubled home or maybe he sees himself as damaged because he doesn't have a dad.
My son's girlfriend tells me he scares her when he gets mad. He goes from perfectly calm to yelling and screaming in a split second over something really small, and grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her. He has pushed her down on the couch and thrown himself down on top of her to make her hold still and "listen" to him, so he can get his point across.
My son and I get along really well, except if I don't go along with his plans or insist he do chores before he goes to hang out with his friends. Sometimes he completely ignores me and my request, sometimes he yells and screams and gets in my face, and sometimes he surprises me and just does it, so he can go have his fun.
If I yell, or raise my voice even the slightest bit, I might as well shut up and leave right then, because the only response I will get is irrational screaming. I have to take a very neutral tone with him, almost to the point of overdoing the saccharine sweetness. This will get a response, usually the one I want, but it feels so phony and manipulated, I have a real hard time doing it.
My question: does my son have anger management issues, how bad, and what do I do about it?
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello, and thanks for asking your question on this site so that others might benefit. My condolences for the loss of your husband.
I can tell you're very concerned about your son, and that you want to do the right thing for him so that his problem does not get worse. You ask if your son has anger management issues. There is no official diagnosis for anger management issues, but from what you have told me I would say the answer is definitely yes.
I'm guessing since he finished 7th grade last year that he's 14-15 years old. That's good, as you want to intervene with his anger issues when he's as young as possible.
I want to look at two areas regarding your son's anger, and what you can do:
1) Grief-related anger--You say your son's anger got worse after his father's death, and that is certainly understandable.
I'm guessing that he has not fully grieved the loss of his father. That's not unusual, since most people don't fully understand the grief process or how to move through it. Anger is part of the grief process, and when it is not completed, a person can become "stuck" in anger. That could very well be part of what your son is dealing with. I suggest you read this page on grieving to learn more, and possibly to come up with some ideas regarding your own grief as well.
I do suggest that you look for opportunities to talk about your husband with your son. When you read the above page on grieving, you will see how important that is. One mistake some families make is to avoid talking about the deceased to avoid the pain and uneasiness, but that actually makes things worse, not better.
If you and your son are open to this, just casually swap stories about his dad. Maybe do this with other family members as well, if that's possible. Also share what you loved most about your husband, and what bothered you the most. This is essential to the grief process. This will possibly open the door for your son to talk about how difficult it is for him to not have a dad.
Again, look at your own grief as well. If you have not grieved, or you are blocking some aspect of your grieving, your son will not open up. I offer telephone counseling, by the way, if you are interested in getting some help with this.
2) Unhealthy power from anger--It sounds like your son is able to control you and others with his anger. This also is not unusual, as many people are afraid of extreme anger, and don't know what to do about it. You definitely do not want this to continue. The message he is getting from the world around him is that his anger will help him get what he wants, and that it will help him get out of what he doesn't want.
I highly recommend you read this page on parenting teenagers with anger management problems thoroughly (if you haven't already), and try some of the recommended communication processes with your son when he's angry.
I think you can see that there is help for you here. Do not give up on your son or on your ability to resolve your situation. You can definitely make the necessary changes to bring emotional healing to your family.
Believe in yourself. Believe in your son.
My best to you,
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