Tuesday 25 October 2016

Parent Zone: 'My teenage daughter is angry all the time'

Angry teenager. Picture posed.
Angry teenager. Picture posed.

An angry teen and a child who sticks to the same colours are among this week's problems

Q: HOW do you suggest I deal with a 14-year-old girl who curses non-stop, refuses to listen to her mother, is rude and constantly complains?

It certainly sounds as though this is a terribly unhappy and angry teenager. Not knowing the background of this situation makes it difficult to reply in a specific way to your question.

However, it does raise issues about teenagers and their development that need some outlining.

The teenage years are not quiet ones. Unlike the toddler years, where we can easily observe all the changes in development, the changes during the teen years are invisible to all but the careful observer.

Mood swings are common, inability to think through situations and plan ahead are common and a host of other brain-based difficulties arise.

Our teens are struggling with a host of challenges in school and out of school. Their relationships with other teens become increasingly more important to them and their need for independence means they will often rebel at home as well as in school.

All of this is normal and expected behaviour. There can be other problems that arise however. Many teens experience bouts of depression. Often they give voice to their depression by complaining that everything is boring.

They lose interest in activities that used to be pleasurable to them. Sometimes they withdraw from family and friends. It can be confusing to try and discern if these behaviours are part of the typical teenage developmental process or if they represent a real mental health difficulty. Sometimes the Wisdom of Solomon is required.

I'm going to make a guess here, based on the information you have provided me. I think your daughter is in the throes of conflict and intense unhappiness.

It could be that she is experiencing difficulties in school of a substantial kind or is having problems with her peer group or friend.

She could have experienced bullying or relationship troubles. There are so many things that can cause a girl her age to act this way it is hard to be certain without knowing more.

I think you should sit down with her and tell her the truth. The truth is that you believe she is unhappy and angry and you want to help. Sometimes just starting with the truth will put you on course to solve the problem.

If she is responsive to your honest interest in helping her she may open up and tell you what is troubling her. If she will not engage with you then you might want to think of another family member who can speak with her.

Sometimes a grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle, can break the ice. The most important thing at this point is to remain calm and realise your daughter needs some help.

If a family member can't talk with her then perhaps your family GP will sit and have a chat.

Referral to a counselling service is sometimes necessary in cases like this. Be patient, do not retaliate in anger if possible and open up communication with your daughter. She needs emotional support, guidance and someone who will understand.

Q: My son is in playschool and is always happy to bring home his art work to show us. I have noticed that over the past year, including this September, he only uses black and brown colours. Is this something to worry about?

I would not be the least concerned about a child who only colours in black and brown. It could be they just like those colours.

Interestingly, children's art is the doorway to their inner life.

However we need to be careful in our interpretations. Sometimes what seems like a dark and dreary use of colour is only a result of a limited number of colours available.

At other times it is just a favourite colour. Sometimes it is just force of habit. We can't make assumptions without some evidence to back them up.

Is your son showing any signs of unhappiness at home or in school?

Does he like to go off to school and does he come home happy?

Has his teacher spoken to you about him and expressed concerns?

How is his sleep pattern? Has it changed recently? How are his moods throughout the day?

All these questions are important when you try and discover if a child is experiencing any upset in their lives.

Children who have been traumatised often portray in some way or another signs of trauma in drawings.

Rarely will it be just the choice of colour though. I wonder if you are colouring with him at home.

It might be interesting just to sit with him and do some drawing with a wide variety of coloured pens, pencils and markers available to both of you.

You don't need to talk to him. In fact you just might sit and draw and say to yourself, aloud: "Hmmm, I think I want to colour the tree brown and the leaves green but I wonder what purple leaves would look like."

Children need to have their creativity stimulated and this is one good way to do it.

After all, leaves don't always have to be green do they? Lemons do not always have to be yellow.

In short, I don't think you need to worry. Follow my suggestion and see what happens.


David Carey is Director of Psychology, City Colleges and Dean of College of Progressive Education; send your questions to davidcarey@herald.ie





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