Parenting an angry teenager is difficult. Teenagers’ emotions can swing from joy to anger with surprising speed and intensity. This is a natural part of the stage of maturity they are going through. And it can be very frustrating for the teenager as well as parents and the rest of the family!
When anger becomes a deeper issue, outbursts are more frequent and every interaction can feel hostile. The home really does feel like a battlefield.
There is hope! When intense feelings are involved, there is evidence of a desire for something better. Following are 11 suggestions to help you help your angry child work through the anger and find better ways to manage it.
Understand Some of the Underlying Reasons your Teen is Angry
There are many reasons for people to feel anger. It is an emotion that can be triggered by many different kinds of situations or events. Honing in on the cause of the anger can be crucial step in diffusing the anger and helping your child work through it in more healthy ways.
Frustration is one of the more prominent underlying issues, especially for teenagers (emotional experiences are heightened during adolescence according to Laurence Steinberg, a leading expert on adolescence). When we set our desires on something that goes differently than we hoped or expected, we experience frustration.
During adolescence, frustration can be a very frequent experience. Teenagers have all kinds of hopes and desires (such as getting a boyfriend or girlfriend, winning a game, staying up late, getting a drivers license). The greater the goal, the greater the frustration when they are thwarted.
Another leading underlying cause of anger is Isolation or Rejection. Teenagers care deeply about being accepted and belonging. Being rejected by a friend or peer group can be devastating at this stage of life. The feelings of loneliness and questions about identity that come from alienation can naturally lead to anger.
When teenagers experience Harm or Threat they often respond in anger. The hurt may be as “small” as a cancelled outing with a parent or friend, being made fun of or being ignored.
Teenagers are very sensitive to perceived injustice. When they feel someone has treated them (or someone else) unfairly, they often react in anger.
Fear is another common source of anger. Teenagers feel a wide array of fears – not making the team, not getting a date to prom, failing a test, etc. These fears easily create frustration and anger.
Anger can also be a Learned Response. Our society has many examples of people responding in anger. Add to that a significant person (parent, boss, coach, relative, etc.) who models overt displays of anger, it’s easy to see how a teenager could learn inappropriate ways to experience and express anger.
Don’t Give Up
Parenting is difficult no matter what the issues are. Intense anger emanating from your teenager can push you to the edge. But your teenager who is struggling with this powerful emotion needs you more than ever. Don’t give up! Fight for the health of your teen. Continue to express your love and concern. Remember that even though it feels like your child hates you, they need you to stick with them now more than ever.
Hang on to Your Sense of Humor
This may sound a bit odd, however humor has a way of helping maintain perspective and endurance in difficult situations. This doesn’t mean to minimize your child’s feelings or make a joke out of the anger (especially in the heat of an angry moment). It’s more about taking a step back, getting emotional relief and gaining perspective.
There is more going on in your teen’s life, your life, and the life of your family than the issue at hand. You need to remain healthy for yourself and your family in order to handle things appropriately. Laughter has an amazing way of improving health, releasing tension and giving perspective.
Listen to Them
When the angry emotion builds up, there is a lot pressure to let it out. Parents are often at the receiving end of the release whether or not the child is actually angry at them or someone (or something) else.
Stay calm. Put aside the natural emotional response you feel as best you can, and listen. Pay attention to what they say and how they feel. Try to step into their shoes and really understand their perspective.
As you listen, try to discern the deeper issues that may be causing the anger. Give them time and opportunity to admit how they are really feeling. Wait through tears and silence. Don’t judge or give advice. Just listen.
Don’t Take it Personally
Although it’s directed at you in the moment, it may not be you they are angry with. Even if it is you that they are angry with, don’t take every outburst or personal attack to heart. Remember that there are more influences on their lives than just you.
However, make sure you consider the underlying issues and take them seriously. If there is something that you are responsible for or need to apologize for, do it. Not only will an apology be respected (sometimes not until later), but it will also model and teach how to take responsibility appropriately and apologize respectfully.
Acknowledge Them and Appreciate Their Feelings
As you listen and try to understand your children’s perspective without judgment or advice, they will eventually run out of words. Lovingly and calmly affirm them for who they are, acknowledging their worth as valuable people with valid emotions.
Remember that emotions are subjective responses that are neither right nor wrong (it’s the behavioral response, or acting out, that has the moral implications). Having the emotion of anger is normal, so acknowledge that what they are feeling makes sense and appreciate their feelings.
Responding without judgment or advice but with affirmation and appreciation is a wonderful expression of your love, care and concern as a parent and advocate for your child’s best interests and well-being.
Help Them Find Healthy Ways to Release Their Anger
Listening, acknowledging, appreciating and apologizing are important first steps toward helping your teenager release their anger. Eventually, you will want to help them consider the sources of their anger (if they haven’t already identified them and considered them specifically). Some good questions to direct them through this process are: “Who is it, specifically, that is making you angry?” “What exactly is it that is making you angry?” “What’s the biggest source of your anger?”
Pinpointing the true source of the anger allows your teenager to understand it and work through it rather than attacking a substitute, denying that they are angry or avoiding the problem.
Help them learn how to reason through the problem using questions to guide their thinking process… “What is making me feel angry?” “What is the problem?” “Whose problem is it?” “Are there things I can do to change the situation that can reduce my anger?”
A great way to help them resolve their anger is to develop an action plan for working through the anger. Brainstorm together healthy ways that they can express and release their anger (get away from the situation, divert your attention, use music, hit a punching bag, write in a journal, talk to a friend, laugh, cry, etc.).
Then help them make their own plan. Include the questions that pinpoint the problem as part of the plan. This helps them think it through. Also build in some of the healthy ways they can release their anger from those you brainstormed together.
Have Rules and Consequences
Your teenager needs to learn that some ways of expressing anger are not appropriate or acceptable. The goal is to help them establish their own self-regulation, but they need help and guidance that you can provide through the boundaries of a discipline plan.
At a time where everyone is calm, explain to your child that it’s okay to feel anger. What’s not okay is lashing out in uncontrolled anger. Therefore, there are some rules that need to be followed with consequences that will result if the rules are ignored. For more ideas on how to establish a discipline plan see How to Positively Discipline your Teenager.
Control Your Own Anger
Teenagers are influenced greatly by our actions. An important step toward helping our teenagers deal with anger is to evaluate our own response to anger. It is very difficult to help your angry child if you are losing your temper too. In addition, the way we deal with anger will teach more than our words.
Moderate Screen Time
Teenagers need boundaries around how much time they spend in front of screens. Excessively viewing content on screens such as movies, TV shows, internet content and video games will affect the development of teenagers’ brains. There is a direct relationship between violence viewed on screens and violent behavior of teens.
With appropriate boundaries around phone, computer, TV and other screen usage, teenagers will learn how to be more creative with the use of their time. As they get older and learn more responsibility, it’s good for parents to give them a little more independence so they can learn how to moderate their own time.
- Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
Human beings are amazingly complex. The emotional, physical, mental, spiritual and social aspects of our lives are intertwined in such a way that each affects the other. A healthy lifestyle will help moderate mood swings and improve each of these important functions of our lives.
Encourage your teenager to eat right by providing healthy meals and snacks. Work toward consuming less sugar and fat combined with more vegetables and lots of water.
Teenagers also need plenty of sleep. The ideal is 9 or 10 hours of sleep a night because of all the development that the brain is going through during adolescence. Much of the cleansing and progress of the brain occurs during sleep. Many teens think they only need 5 or 6 hours of sleep, but a healthy sleep pattern demands more.
Along with eating right and sleeping enough, physical exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. There are many ways to do this like joining a physically active club, sport or gym. But it could also be walking or biking to school, taking the dogs for a walk or jumping on a trampoline.
Anger can become a very difficult problem for a teenager and their family. If it becomes a constant problem or destructive to your child, family or someone else, please seek professional help through your school or community. Sometimes there can be deeper issues (such as depression) that professionals can help your teenager work through and become healthy again.