Reader’s Question: Our 14-year-old daughter has difficulty controlling her anger. She has extreme outbursts fairly frequently here at home—screaming, cursing, and even throwing things when she doesn’t get her way. She appears to have no respect for us and very little consideration for her two younger siblings. At school and in other people’s homes, however, she’s a model citizen. She’s a straight-A student about whom all of her teachers have nothing but praise. When I describe her outbursts to friends and family, they are disbelieving. Is it too late to do anything about her anger issue?
I flunked fortune telling in graduate school, so the answer to your question is “I don’t know.” Nonetheless, it’s certainly worth a good try.
You’ve told me enough to know that what you’re describing is not an “anger issue.” Rather, it’s an issue of narcissistic disrespect and ingratitude. Mind you, today’s kids come by the latter fairly easily. Generally speaking, their parents give them entirely too much. In the vernacular of an earlier parenting era, all too many of today’s kids seem to think that money grows on trees (or in their parents’ wallets and pocketbooks). The completely unnecessary personal smart phone at age 10 is the emblem of this ubiquitous over-indulgence.
It’s a short hop from over-indulged to disrespectful. Entitlements and respect for the source of said entitlements are incompatible. More often than not, entitlements engender an “I deserve” attitude. When the entitlers are parents, the outcome is likely to be as you describe: thanklessness, demands, and rages when demands are not met.
In short, a problem of this sort does not arise independent of a certain set of home-based circumstances. If you’re going to solve this problem you will first need to accept that you provided the medium in which it developed. In that regard, the question becomes, “Are you willing to radically change your ways?”
Your daughter probably believes that exemplary grades and behavior outside the home place her beyond the reach of consequences. You need to demonstrate the fallacy in her thinking. Do so by removing from her room all possessions save essential clothing and school supplies. Box them up and put them in a storage facility. Cancel her cell phone contract. If she has a computer in her room, move it to a common area.
Do the above when she’s out of the house. When she comes home and asks for an explanation, tell her that her disruptions and disrespect will no longer be tolerated; that when she has been disruption- and disrespect free for a continuous 30-day period, her possessions will be returned with the understanding that if she backslides, her next rehabilitation period will jump to 60 days. If, during said 30 days, she has an “incident,” the 30 days begins over again the following day. When her rehab is complete, however, things must not go back to “normal.” You have to change your indulgent ways as well or a relapse is inevitable.
You can do this. Just keep Admiral David Farragut’s famous order in mind: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”