Understanding Teen Anger
Are you shocked by the power struggles you are experiencing with your teen? If so, you are not alone. Parenting a teen can come with a lot of guilt, worry and frustration, particularly if your child seems to spend the majority of their time upset with you.
Teens can feel powerless, overwhelmed and ignored by the world, potentially leading to bullying, aggression, depression, suicide risk and substance abuse. Although anger is a normal emotion in moderation, managing intense emotions can be difficult for everyone—particularly teens. Both explosive and suppressed anger can result in serious problems for your teen, and it is important to understand some of the underlying issues that can lead to teen anger.
Why Are Teens Often Angry?
- Search for Identity Teens have the developmental task of separating from the beliefs, values and identity of their parents to find their own path in life. Many teens feel like their parents are a barrier to their independence and react by lashing out, yelling or becoming physically aggressive. If mismanaged anger is not addressed, resentment can build. Before you know it, you and your teen are in a destructive power struggle.
- Brain Development Teens may look or act like adults at times, but their brains are not yet fully developed. The parts of the brain that control emotions (limbic system) and impulse control (frontal lobes) are still forming, making teens more likely to make impulsive, angry decisions. Hormonal changes, such as increased testosterone, also can have a profound impact on anger management.
- Depression Teens who are depressed often fall into two categories: blaming themselves or blaming others. Self-blame in a depressed teen can lead to self-punishing behaviors, such as social withdrawal, feelings of guilt, cutting themselves and suicide risk. Other times depressed teens blame other people-- "You ruin everything: I hate you!" This teen rage is often fueled by depression, and it can respond to treatment with therapy and sometimes medications.
- Trauma There are a wide range of events that can lead to severe anger in a teen. These might include parental divorce, death of a family member, a relationship breakup, bullying, sexual harassment, abuse and a range of other potential traumas. Teens often respond to trauma by lashing out at those around them, many of whom may not be aware of the traumatic event. Depression and fear can be powerless emotions, and many teens turn to anger instead as a way to regain control after a trauma.
- Academic Failure Teens today are under significant pressure to measure up to the expectations of peers, parents and teachers. If a teen cannot achieve good grades, they may internalize a sense of failure. Will they ever get into college or get a job? Life at this age can seem like it is pass/fail, and the pressure to achieve can lead to anxiety, depression, resentment and anger.
- Learned Behaviors Anger management skills can be modeled and taught. Teens often learn emotional coping strategies from their parents and peers. Parents who cope effectively with sadness, frustration, fear and anger give their teens the tools they need to express their own emotions appropriately. Helping your teen process anger and other underlying emotions is an important part of developing effective problem-solving skills.
- Substance Abuse The combination of anger and substance abuse can have serious consequences. Teens that frequently use anger to cope with life challenges may turn to alcohol or other drugs to suppress unresolved anger issues. Likewise, alcohol and other drugs can exacerbate anger and create additional problems for your teen. Psychotherapy and/or a drug treatment program may be needed to address these issues.
Because anger is an emotion that can have negative consequences, it is important to address anger problems before they escalate. A licensed therapist can use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Strategies might teach relaxation, assertiveness and problem-solving skills so teens can effectively manage their anger.