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Tame the tiger of teenage angst with these troubleshooting tips

Dealing with children's rage can be tough for parents, but Lisa Salmon reports there is much practical advice on taking the heat out of flare-ups without losing your cool

Parenting teenagers is rarely easy and when tough issues arise it can be hard for mums and dads to know what to do for the best.

But there's a wealth of advice out there on how to handle teen trouble, and psychologist Michael Hawton is one of the latest to offer help in his book Engaging Adolescents.

Hawton believes the most difficult issue today's parents face is how to help their teens manage an increasingly complex digital and social media world.

"Parents are facing an unprecedented and more complex parenting landscape than a generation ago," he says.

"Not only do they have to manage behavioural problems, but now they are also being called on to look after their teenagers' stress and anxiety levels in a way that wasn't so apparent 20 years ago."

He says teenagers are more tired than in the past due to the overuse of devices, which many take to bed with them, resulting in record levels of sleep deprivation.

The result: tired teenagers are less able to tolerate frustration.

"The complexity of the landscape means parents have to be better equipped to handle teenagers' problems, but they aren't sure or confident of how to intervene in a meaningful way so their teenagers' well-being is enhanced," Hawton adds.

Handling tricky issues with teenagers requires parents to have a considered approach, Hawton says.

"It's hard for parents not to feel provoked and to fire back at the teenager if the teenager fires up or becomes rude, but that's exactly what they need to do if they want their teen to get better at self-regulation," he says.

Hawton points out that when pilots face an emergency, they keep a lid on their emotions by following a process. Parents also need to adopt this approach and by doing so they can learn to ditch reactive responses and focus on solutions by being well-prepared when they engage with their teenager.

One way of doing this is by using the so-called PASTA approach to resolving conflicts.

  •  Prepare: plan what you're going to say by writing down your thoughts. Be clear about what you want to change, what you're willing to negotiate on, what your bottom line is, and what will happen if you can't work things out.
  •  Appointment: arrange a time and place to meet your teenager where you won't have to rush your discussion.
  • Say: say something positive; say what the problem is; say what you want to happen.
  •  Tame the tiger: acknowledge your teenager's feelings and needs, but if they're attacking or disputing what you've said, don't go on the counter-attack. Instead, use their attack as information about the way they feel, then try to reset the conversation and solve a different aspect of the problem.
  • Agree: agree on some things that will happen, apply a timescale for such action if possible, and try to emphasise what's in it for them.

As well as a series of case studies to illustrate how his methods can work, Hawton includes five advance techniques for taming tigers.

  • Tell your teen you can't go on unless they settle down.
  •  Name the pattern they're re-enacting - such as regularly blaming someone else - and ask them to avoid it.
  •  Be curious by digging a bit deeper emotionally and asking a question.
  •  Ask for more responsibility from them.
  • If they insult you, don't just sit there stunned. Teenagers will spit out insults if they feel miserable or backed into a corner, so respond with something like: "You must've had a bad day to be that nasty to me when we're trying to work out a solution. I hope you feel better."

By responding with sympathy you're refusing to be their victim and sending a message you want to sort out the problem with them.

Hawton adds: "Parents don't have to become professional mediators in order to use these skills, but they do need to work out what they need to say and how to say it back to the teenager when the teenager starts to ramp up their emotions."

Engaging Adolescents: Parenting Tough Issues With Teenagers by Michael Hawton is published by Exisle Publishing, £14.99. Available now

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