Anger is a completely normal human emotion. We all feel anger at times and may experience difficulties in expressing it appropriately. In teenagers, hormonal changes can cause dramatic mood swings, making life difficult for them as they learn how to become more independent.
Pushing boundaries and taking risks are a natural part of growing up, but what happens when your teen is struggling with anger issues? What can parents do to help teens cope with anger? Learning to understand and recognize when anger is becoming a problem will help parents respond better and support their children through these difficult adolescent years.
Normal anger in teens
So, your teen seems to be constantly angry about something. It feels as if they snap at you all the time and quickly become grumpy when things don’t go their way. They seem irritable and broody and really just want to hang out with their friends rather than spend time with you. It’s certainly not easy dealing with an angry teen, but we can find some comfort in knowing that this is a normal part of their development.
Do you remember when your toddler would say, “Me do it,” raring to do things for themselves? Well, as your teen grows and matures, they wish for less parental input into their decisions and actions. Your advice may become largely unwanted and you might struggle to find a healthy middle ground. With them wanting more control over their life and you eager to help and guide them, your home could witness a fair share of angry outbursts and arguments.
As your child approaches and enters puberty, their adolescent brain undergoes some significant changes. It develops rapidly, with the prefrontal cortex (the part responsible for decision-making) still under construction. This is why many adolescents are more impulsive and emotional and will act at times before thinking about the consequences.
An angry and argumentative teen isn’t necessarily a problem. When your teenager gets extremely annoyed or frustrated, anger can certainly burst to the surface. If there is no verbal or physical abuse involved, this is considered a completely normal part of human development.
When does anger in teens become a problem?
While it’s normal for a teenager to be moodier, extreme anger that results in verbal or physical abuse is a problem. Research tells us that aggression in moments of rage can serve as a release for stress. However, we also know that this isn’t a healthy long-term solution to anger. The study provides some interesting insights into what is happening in the adolescent brain and how things like internet usage, sensation seeking, and social and dispositional factors can impact adolescent aggressive behaviors.
It’s important to remember that anger is a valid emotion and we should never tell our teen to not be angry. Even though this feeling is perfectly normal, we do need to teach our teenagers that expressing their anger through violence or aggression is not okay. Verbal aggression includes speaking in a mean or insulting way, while physical aggression can include hitting, slamming doors, or throwing things.
While anger can certainly lead to aggression, it is important to know that they are not the same thing. Anger is a feeling, but aggression and violence are actions that can lead to problems if expressed in an unhealthy or dangerous way. Teenage anger outbursts can certainly feel overwhelming and intense at times, but they don’t necessarily lead to aggressive or violent behavior. If your teen is expressing their anger aggressively or violently, it’s definitely time to get some help to manage the situation.
How can you respond to your angry teen?
Talking to your teenager about their anger in the heat of the moment isn’t the best course of action. Wait until they are calm before airing your concerns. It’s important to remind your teen that you were once their age too, so you know how difficult life can be during the adolescent years. Let them know it’s normal to feel such strong emotions.
You can then remind your teen that even though you understand their struggles, you still expect to be treated with respect and have reasonable boundaries in place.
If you find that your teen’s anger is escalating, you could try some simple strategies to help them calm down. Using a neutral tone and staying calm yourself will certainly help to prevent the situation from escalating further. Always be respectful and remember that your teen is probably feeling shame and guilt along with their anger, which will make them highly sensitive to any perceived insults.
Here’s how to calm down an angry teenager:
- Avoid responding to any rude questions or insults.
- Try to give your teen some choices in managing the situation. It may help to say something like, “Would you like to talk about this now, or shall we take a break and talk later?”
- Try to separate the behavior from the person and explain boundaries and consequences in a calm, non-threatening manner.
- It’s better to take a break than become angry yourself, so don’t be afraid to walk away if you need to.
- Listen closely to the issues and seek to understand your teen’s perspective.
If these strategies don’t work or your teen’s anger has escalated to the point where you feel threatened or unsafe, it’s often best to exit and give your child space and time to calm down. You can have a conversation later, when they are in a better frame of mind.
When to seek professional help
If you find that your teen’s anger often results in physical and verbal aggression, violence, or other behaviors that are not age-appropriate, you need to consider getting professional help immediately. A specialist can determine if your teenager’s anger problems are due to an underlying mental health issue and assist you in securing the help and support you need to get the situation under control
If your teen admits that they have trouble controlling their anger, it’s a good idea to discuss the issue with the family doctor and seek a referral for mental health support. Learning some effective anger management skills will benefit your teen for life and help them get their anger under control before it becomes an even bigger issue.
If your teen is physically abusing you or threatening to commit suicide or self-harm, you should immediately call for police and paramedic assistance.
Parenting an angry teen is a challenge many families face. Learning to recognize what’s normal and what isn’t will help identify when teenage anger outbursts start to become a problem. Seeking help early will give your teen the best chance of learning to express their anger in more appropriate ways so that it doesn’t follow them into adulthood.