Teenage tantrums

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 2, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,
Is it unusual for a thirteen-year-old boy to have occasional temper tantrums? I've heard that adolescence is like a second toddlerhood, but does it include such outbursts? Similar to his toddler tantrums, he was tired, frustrated, and not getting his way.
From: ML, Arlington


Hi ML,

Are you saying the tantrums actually look like they did when he was a toddler? Like getting on the floor and kicking his feet, or banging walls? Screaming at the top of his lungs?

No, this is not typical. What experts mean when they say that teens are a lot like toddlers is more that they are incredibly ego-centric, that their moods can come and go in a flash, that they can be difficult to reason with. But I've never known anyone to mean actual physical tantruming. Are there parents out there who have? Please write in!

Meanwhile, considering that your son must be feeling a level of frustration, alienation and/or confusion that is atypical, I wonder:  Have you checked in with the school? What are they noticing? Changes in behavior? Changes in friendships? At home, is he sleeping? Eating? Is there a computer in his room that could be a source of the problem -- for instance, that he's playing role-playing games deep into the night and not getting enough sleep and thus can't cope with his real life?

Start by talking to him, describing the changes in behavior that you're seeing ("You know, I wondering if something's going on for you. I've noticed you seem different lately...")  That may take you no place the first time, but just knowing you've noticed may be important to him. Teens who are acting out often feel out of control and don't know how to help themselves. I don't want to diagnose or pathologize via email, but I think you do need to gather some information and get the conversation started. Something's going on.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.





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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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