A Short Story About a Teen Dealing with Anger
Erik was a mess! All his life, he would explode into anger for the slightest reason and sometime for no real reason at all. He was 14 and felt out of control; and he didn’t know what to do about it.
His mom had long since given up on him. When he was little, she would put him in time out and take away privileges but it didn’t do any good. His dad wasn’t in his life since he was a baby. He didn’t have any brothers and sisters. All he had were his mother and his grandfather.
As a kid, he would throw a tantrum if somebody picked up a toy he was playing with. He never hit anybody – somehow he knew that was wrong – but his verbal abuse was pretty heavy.
It usually didn’t take him long to calm down and he always felt really bad afterwards. And in the middle of his outburst, he felt like he was someone else watching this bratty kid act up.
He had some good friends who had learned how not to cross him. He didn’t like surprises and he didn’t like somebody making fun of him or disrespecting him.
Friends would also come and go. Erik was outgoing and made friends easily. Sooner or later someone would offend him, usually in a tiny way, and he would fly off the handle. Lots of new friends decided life wasn’t worth the drama and moved on.
He got to know his school principals really well. He’d get sent to the office for an outburst and by the time he got there, he was calm again. Principals and counselors always asked why he got angry and it was usually something like “they took something of mine” or “they got in my way.”
Mom had even arranged some professional counseling for him. He enjoyed visiting with the counselor, but nothing really meaningful ever came from it. Erik promised Mom that he would try harder. He really didn’t want her to spend so much of her money for a lost cause.
Erik was beginning to feel like a lost cause. He couldn’t imagine having a relationship with a girl that would extend beyond the first or second outburst.
He played sports and he was a pretty good basketball player; but the first foul usually caused Erik to lose it and he’d end up on the bench for the rest of the game.
Summer was coming up and Mom had just taken a new job where she worked long hours; so she asked Erik to consider going to Grandpa’s farm for the summer. That was fine with Erik. Grandpa was cool; he could swim in the pond; ride the horse; and he liked working with the livestock that Grandpa still maintained.
There were some kids who lived near Grandpa that Erik enjoyed hanging with. They would fish, swim, ride horses, and sometimes camp out in the piney woods on Grandpa’s property.
So that became his summer vacation.
It was good to see Grandpa again; they hadn’t been together since Christmas.
It was also good to renew his acquaintance with Jason who lived on the next farm and with Matt who lived next down the road.
They had fun exploring, swimming, walking into town, camping, and playing video games at Jason’s house.
Everything was cool until the day they were tossing a football around and Matt cut in front of Erik to intercept a pass. That made Erik mad; he stewed for about 3 seconds and then he started yelling right in Matt’s face.
The next thing Erik knew, he was flat on his back with a throbbing jaw. Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs, he saw Matt standing over him with clinched fists.
“I don’t know how you do things in the city, Erik, but around here we don’t get in people’s faces yelling and screaming like that,” Matt told him calmly and evenly, “and if you ever do that again, I’ll hit you again.”
Then Matt stepped back and then he reached his hand down to Erik. “I’m sorry, Erik. I shouldn’t have hit you first. I overreacted.” He pulled Erik to his feet.
“What happened anyway?” Matt wanted to know.
“I really don’t know,” Erik answered, “I lose it sometimes when I think people have gotten in my space or disrespected me.”
“I don’t like it,” he continued, “but I don’t know why I do it and I don’t know what to do about it. In fact, I think that’s why mom sent me to Grandpa’s this summer. She was having trouble coping with my anger and a new job at the same time.”
Jason spoke up saying, “Erik, why don’t you consider talking with your Grandpa about this?” Everybody around here thinks he’s just about the wisest man ever.”
“Maybe I should. I don’t know how he’ll react.” Erik thought for a minute. “Okay, I will . . . if you guys will go with me. You owe me, Matt, because I think part of my jaw is lying back there.”
The boys laughed as they headed across the field to Grandpa’s house.
They fetched some Cokes and cookies from the kitchen and found seats on Grandpa’s front porch.
Erik opened with what had just happened in the field; and then spent a few minutes explaining how he would lash out in rage whenever something displeased him or somebody crossed him. Erik then asked his Grandpa if he could help him.
Grandpa reached over to compare Matt’s fist with Erik’s jaw and said, “I’m glad you went down the first time, Erik. This guy could hurt you.” Everybody laughed.
“Actually, I’d like to ask a couple of questions, if you don’t mind,” Grandpa began.
Grandpa began, “I think I should say this for both you boys. You would agree, Matt, that you reacted pretty quickly too, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Sorry about that Erik.”
“Do you boys realize that you’re about to lose it, or is it a total reaction?”
Matt spoke first, “In my case, I thought Erik might hit me, so I overreacted.”
Erik thought for a minute, and then cautiously said, “When something happens, I can feel my reaction building up. I think something like, ‘This guy just offended me and I don’t have to take that.’”
“So,” Grandpa asked, “it’s your thinking about being offended that causes you to go off on somebody, right?”
“I guess that’s right,” Erik agreed.
“Then the solution is simple; don’t think that thought,” Grandpa suggested.
“Huh,” all three puzzled boys said.
“Let me tell you about an old friend of mine,” Grandpa settled back in the settee.
“George and I grew up together in the 1960’s in Alabama. We were so much alike. We liked the same things; we read the same books; and we worshipped the same God. The only difference is that we didn’t go to the same school; worship in the same church; and the color of our skin was different.”
“George got along well with everybody, but there were other kids at his school that seemed to get in a lot of trouble. When people – crude, ugly people – said unkind things about George or his community, many of the other kids would respond angrily. They would often fight. In those days, the black kids who fought always wound up in jail; usually with a few bruises that came from being arrested and not from the original fight.”
“But George never fought or responded with anger. I asked him why. He told me that his grandmother, who had been born on a plantation to slave parents, had taught George that a wise man always is the master of his thoughts.”
“What she meant was that when you realize that you’re thinking about anger, blame, or excuses, the best thing you can do is send those thoughts away. Just say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to think about that.’ It’s not easy at first, but the more you send negative thoughts away, the easier it becomes.”
“George told me he learned that his own thoughts could cause him more trouble than the taunts of crude people and he learned to control his negative thoughts by sending them away, out of his mind.’
“George was convinced that over time he trained his mind to filter out negative thoughts. He used periods of peace when the negative left to think of appropriate responses instead of angry responses. In time, George became a famous diplomat and served our State Department all over the world. He was an expert negotiator.”
“So what does this mean for me, Grandpa?” Erik asked.
“When you realize that you’re going to become angry, simply say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to think about that.’”
“It’s important that you say it out loud – that’s the way your subconscious learns from you.”
“George told me that when he was in diplomatic negotiations and somebody said something offensive, he would put his hand over his mouth like he was deep in thought and say softly to himself, ‘I’m not going to think about that.’”
“Erik, you have three more weeks up here and I think that’s just enough time to break your habit of reacting with anger. Jason and Matt, you can help him.”
“I want you to look for ways to get in Erik’s space. Not mean spiritedly. Just crowd him in ways that make him uncomfortable.”
“Erik, when you feel the urge to respond angrily, speak into your hand and say, ‘I will not think about that.’ Boys, let me know how it goes for Erik.”
Jason and Matt were up to the challenge. They tried to aggravate Erik in all sorts of ways. Early on, he responded angrily a couple of times and they called him on it.
As the weeks passed, Erik reacted less and less angrily, and learned a lot about the give and take of a relationship. He discovered that the ‘thoughtful hand in front of the mouth’ gave him time to react in a more acceptable way.
Erik’s confidence grew day by day. Both of his friends and his Grandpa commented on the difference.
Like George, not being angry gave Erik time to look for positive things in his life.
He realized that he was looking forward to going home and let his mom and his friends get acquainted with the new Erik.
School was going to be different this fall. He had no doubt that he was not going to react with anger at his friends. He was simply “not going to think about negative things.”
Life had become exciting. It’s amazing how much good could come from a sock in the jaw.
Note to parents:
This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts. The danger of rumination is stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and worse.
Your children can understand the simple principle that “if I think a lot about something that makes me sad, I can choose not to think about it.”
This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace – http://findingpersonalpeace.com.
The eCourse leads one through a process of turning a habit of sadness into a habit of peace.
The concept works for virtually every negative emotion that results from negative thinking.
This story is fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
To read other short stories on life issues for kids and teens, click here.
Copyright 2013 findingpersonalpeace.com. Birmingham, Al USA. All rights reserved.
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