Household aggression. It’s a really, really difficult topic to discuss, and profoundly difficult to experience. It often brings up confusion, shame, helplessness and hopelessness in families who are already struggling under the weight of daily life. Our communities are still taking baby steps towards cooperation and de-stigmatization, and an empathic or compassionate response is often lacking if a family does reach out for help. This cycle has a ripple effect on everyone: the family itself, and also on people who interact with a family living with household aggression. It can show up looking like not being able to go to work, impulsive behavior, aggression at school. The emotional response to household aggression can be ups and downs in mood, fatigue, and the urge to medicate with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, or illegal drugs and alcohol.
Aggression in homes of adolescents can be created by multiple external and internal family stressors. This post is not intended to serve as an intervention If your family is experiencing the immediate danger of chronic violent encounters between members. If this is happening to you, please seek assistance from local law and/or mental health support agencies. However, many families share with me how they experience chronic, low grade aggressive behaviors between members. In these circumstances, I notice a strong constant thread: When our thoughts, feelings, and chronic stress go unexpressed and build up, and we then communicate our needs using blame, hostility, or sarcasm, we become reactive.
Teens are making their decisions from their limbic(read: emotion) brain centers and they don’t have a fully matured prefrontal cortex (read: rational). They are really vulnerable to reactivity and impulsivity. When parents fall in to the same downward spiral of reactivity as their teen, the conversation takes a supreme nose dive- either into a shut down mode or explosiveness. Families thrive in an environment of connectivity. Families struggle in the face of chronic reactivity.
In June of this year, the magazine Healthday News reported on a new study about teens and connectedness. I’m republishing an excerpt that can be found on Reddit, and a link to the site with the lengthier report.
“Young adults who had higher levels of connectedness (feeling engaged, supported and cared for at home and at school) when they were teens were as much as 66% less likely to have mental health problems, to experience violence, to take sexual risks, and to engage in substance use (n = 14,800)”.
The data in this study, as I understand it, shows that when adults in an adolescents’ life use connectedness- caring, supporting, and understanding- teens experience significantly reduced vulnerability to health risks, making their opportunities for success as adults more available. Here’s five things to keep in mind to create a culture of connectedness in your home:
- Empathy. We have all made mistakes or responded inappropriately. Parents can dramatically shift reactivity with an apology or “I totally understand how you would feel that way”.
- Listen. You know you’re listening when you can repeat back the last three thoughts you heard from another.
- Replace humiliation with encouragement. Parents are human, and humans are wrong some of the time. And when parents encourage their children, there’s the added bonus of feeling encouraged yourself.
- Focus on solutions, not problems.
- Create agreements with your child, not rules. And revisit them often; teens are learning how to be adults and are not at the finish line yet.
These suggestions are not intended to replace boundaries for safety or respect, but as a guide for adding to your interactions with your teen. If you’re looking for more resources or strategies to reduce household aggression, reach out with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the Schedule buttons on the Scheduling page. And, as always, I’m so glad you’re here!