Parents of teens often ask about how to deal with an angry teenager. They are baffled and frustrated by the hostile behavior and the lack of impulse control. It is hard for them to understand why their teens are always angry and will not listen to adults’ advice.
Some teenagers’ mood swings can happen quickly. They can be excitedly discussing a new video game one moment and then get angry the next because you comment on their hair.
Why are teenagers so angry
Anger involves an emotional response to perceived threat, insult, frustration, or injustice.
There are two main causes for teenage anger.
Puberty is a time of rapid physical growth and extensive brain development. These rapid changes can lead to an increase in teen aggression and angry behavior.
Many parents blame teens’ aggressive behavior on raging hormones. However, that is not the case. While hormone levels do increase during the teen years, hormones do not determine how adolescence unfolds1.
In essence, troubled teen is like a car with fully functional accelerators and no brakes during this period. Their emotions are intense, while their cognition cannot help regulate them. It’s easier for them to get angry and harder to stop once they get upset.
Different parts of the teenager’s brain develop at different rates. During the teenage years, the emotional part of the brain is among the first to develop while, prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain, is among the last.
Teenagers are one of the most misunderstood species on Earth. Whenever something goes wrong in their lives, we point our fingers at their age.
Common reasons parent attribute to their teenager’s anger include:
- they’re defiant
- they’re unreasonable
- they cannot accept reality
- they’re being difficult
- they try to push your button
- they lose their mind because of the hormones
- they’re in this weird phase and are unpredictable
- they try to assert their independence
- they have too much screen time
- they try to find their own identity
For some parents, the word “teenager” is almost synonymous with mistakes, trouble, being unreasonable or can-never-be-right.
It’s almost as if they can never do anything right if they don’t live up to their parents’ expectations. These repressed teens are often angry.
During adolescence, the teen brain changes promote novelty, independence seeking, social engagement, and creative exploration. Due to this shift, they become more risk-taking, vulnerable to peer pressure, and confused about who they are, which creates even more conflicts and frustrations at home.
At the same time, their cognitive growth allows them to be more sensitive to fairness and relationships. A sense of injustice causes more negative emotions2. These frustrations exacerbate teens’ already strong emotions.
What are the impacts of teen’s anger
Frequent teen anger can put a significant strain on the whole family. Family members are frustrated and don’t know what will trigger more angry outbursts. They may feel as if they are walking on eggshells. When they respond in a way that escalates the conflict, things can spiral out of control.
Adolescent anger also negatively impacts the adolescents themselves, aside from causing family division.
Teens who frequently experience anger are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse3 and eating disorders4. They are also at risk of mental health problems such as depression and suicide.
Warning signs of serious problems include symptoms of depression. Teen depression is serious mental health issue that should not be taken lightly. Deaths by suicide are the second leading cause of death among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 in the United States5.
A study found that suicidal adolescents have trouble handling anger and sadness compared with their non-suicidal counterparts6. They often report experiencing intense anger immediately before their suicidal attempt7.
Anger issues are also associated with stress-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and negative social problems.
It is important to help angry teens develop adaptive coping and anger management skills.
How to deal with an angry teenager
Don’t let fear or pessimism become a self-fulfilling prophecy
Adolescence is a difficult time for parents, so they tend to think the worst of the teens. Adults commonly project negative attitudes or stereotypes toward teens, which does them a disservice.
Others’ opinions about us can shape the way we perceive ourselves and our behavior. When parents think their child’s anger is intentional or they blame the teens for conflict, fighting increases8.
The negative messages adolescents absorb about who they are and what is expected of them will cause them to sink to that level instead of rising above it.
The life experience during adolescence shapes a teen’s brain and future life in a profound way.
Don’t let prejudice and cliche from society lead you astray.
Parenting a teenager can be challenging, but it can also be one of the most fulfilling experiences in life.
Don’t join the chaos when your teenager is angry
Don’t escalate temper tantrum into a full-blown fight. Helping our teens regain control is more important than winning the fight. We need to stay calm even when our teens seem out of control.
When our children are angry and disrespectful, it’s easy for us to get angry, too. This is a natural reaction that can lead to a cycle of negativity.
Instead of getting upset, try saying, “I don’t like it when you get angry at me, but I do understand why. I love you no matter what.”
Don’t try to reason with them
It’s tempting to reason with an angry teenager and try to make them understand. However, when someone is angry, whether it is an adult, teenager or toddler, stress hormones impair their cognition9.
At times like this, you need to appeal to the person’s emotional brain instead of their logical brain. Offering reasons will only make them more upset.
Empathize and describe their emotions
Empathizing is the best way to reach the emotional brain and calm the anger.
But it is difficult to do when you are frustrated yourself. So the second best thing you can do is to describe how they feel.
Here are some examples:
- You are very angry because I just commented about your hair.
- You feel unfair that you cannot stay out late with friends.
- You were annoyed when I said you should have done your homework first.
- You felt hurt when your sister wouldn’t let you borrow her jacket.
Then ask them to tell you more about how they feel. Help them stay on talking about their feelings instead of attacking the person who made them angry.
Narrating one’s feelings is effective at regulating anger, especially when it places events in the past tense and includes some positive emotions10.
Paraphrase from their perspective
After actively listening to their narration, paraphrase it using your own words but do it from their perspective. Focus on what they feel and what is important to them11.
The key here is to do it from their point of view, not yours, even if you don’t agree with theirs. When your teen is angry, the goal is to help them regain their cognitive control.
Here are some examples:
- My words felt so hurtful. It was as if I didn’t care about your feelings.
- Your little brother was so disrespectful to you that he didn’t care that you were going to be late for school.
- Dad yelled at you and it felt horrible. You didn’t understand why he did that when you were just explaining your side of the story.
Create a supportive and connected family
Become supportive parents. A study shows that social support from family and teachers is associated with less anger in teenagers12. Additionally, adolescents show fewer angry episodes when they perceive that the family is united.
By pushing boundaries and exploring the unknown, adolescents can develop critical character traits that can lead to a lifetime of adventure and purpose.
Parents often create boundaries to protect their children. When an issue does not pose a threat to safety or health, let them explore and decide on their own, while you provide guidance. Experiencing natural consequences can be the best teacher for your adolescent to learn the cause-and-effect. Make time to connect with your child and support their autonomy instead of arguing.
Teach coping skills to handle anger in healthy ways
Teach your teenager adaptive coping skills. Learning stress coping strategies, such as meditation, deep breathing and reappraising the particular situation, is a great way to handle and prevent angry feelings13.
Do not encourage maladaptive coping strategies such as avoiding the topic because that is associated with negative outcomes in teens. Using avoidant strategies to deal with anger are related to the use of alcohol or substances such as marijuana3.
If your teen’s intense emotions and anger are causing serious problems, seek professional help, such as family therapy from a clinical psychologist, immediately.
Need Help Motivating Kids?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate in learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.
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