Anger in Our Teens and in Ourselves

Being the parent of an angry teen brings up the anger in ourselves.

Karen is a 9th-grader and has been feeling that nothing is worth it anymore. As hard as she tries, she just doesn’t seem to fit in. The day before she had tried out for the school play, but when she got on stage, she froze up and just stopped in the middle of her audition. Now, everyone in the school must know about it and Karen is sure they’re laughing at her. She’ll never let them know how bad she feels. She knows what they’re thinking and they’re right — she isn’t good enough and she’ll never fit in. Karen hates them all.

Chris punched his fist into the bedroom wall. But it wasn’t enough. He picked up his soda can and threw it into the hall. The brown sugary liquid dripped down the walls and onto the carpeting.  “You can’t make me!” he screamed.  “I’m not going anywhere with you!  I’ll do what I want!” Chris ran down the stairs and out the front door. His father ran after him, yelling at him to get back in the house, but he had already gotten into his car and sped away. Chris was so mad at his father. He had better things to do than go visit family. He and his friends had plans, and his father wasn’t going to run his life. He knew he’d feel better when he smoked some weed.

What do these young people have in common?

They’re battling with anger.They are not getting what they want and things are not the way they think they should be They are feeling intense displeasure or antagonism toward someone or something that comes with the realization that things are not always in their control.

Anger is a feeling; not a behavior.

Anger takes many forms ― from indignation and resentment to rage and fury ― and it is the expressions of the forms of anger ― the behavior ― that we see. Katie represses her anger and withdraws. Chris is defiant and destroys property.They will continue their behavior, or it may escalate, until they decide to look within themselves to the roots of their anger.

Anger can be harmful or healthy.

Anger is a frightening emotion. Its negative expressions can include physical abuse, verbal violence, prejudice, malicious gossip, antisocial behavior, sarcasm, addictions, withdrawal, and psychosomatic disorders.This can devastate lives ― destroying relationships, harming others, disrupting work, clouding effective thinking, affecting physical health, and ruining futures.

But, there is a positive aspect ― it can show us that a problem exists, as anger is usually a secondary emotion brought on by fear. It can motivate us to resolve those things that are not working in our lives and help us face our issues and deal with the underlying reasons for the anger, such as abuse, grief, and trauma.

Being a parent of an angry teen brings up the anger in ourselves.

Teens face a lot of emotional issues during this period of development. They’re faced with questions of identity, separation, relationships, and purpose. The relationship between teens and their parents is also changing as teens become more and more independent.

This can bring about frustration and confusion that leads to anger and a pattern of reactive behavior for both parents and teens. Unless we work to change our own behavior, we cannot help teens change theirs. We need to respond rather than react to each other and to situations. The intention is not to deny the anger, but to control that emotion and express it in a proactive way.

What can we do for our teen and for ourselves?

The first step to identifying and managing anger is to look within ourselves. Parents and teens can ask these questions of themselves:

Where does this anger come from?

What situations bring out this feeling of anger?

Do my thoughts begin with absolutes such as “must,” “should,” “never,” “if only?”

Are my expectations unreasonable?

What unresolved conflict am I facing?

Am I reacting to hurt, loss, or fear?

Am I aware of anger’s physical signals (e.g., clenching fists, shortness of breath, sweating)?

How do I choose to express my anger?

To whom or what is my anger directed?

Am I using anger as a way to isolate myself, or as a way to intimidate others?

Am I communicating effectively?

Am I focusing on what has been done to me rather than what I can do?  

How am I accountable for what I’m feeling?

How am I accountable for how my anger shows up?

Do my emotions control me, or do I control my emotions?

What were my childhood experiences of anger ― in my family, with peers, at school, in myself?

Listen to your teen and focus on feelings. Try to understand the situation from your child’s perspective.  Blaming and accusing only builds up more walls and ends all communication. Tell how you feel, stick to facts, and deal with the present moment. Practice relaxation and meditation. Show that you care and show your love. Work towards a solution where everyone wins. Remember that anger is the feeling and behavior is the choice.

Seek professional help for your teen, yourself, and your family when the behavior is not just a temporary response to a frustrating situation and when there is abuse, violence, chronic hostility, depression, or a risk of suicide.

Books on Anger Management

Calming the Family Storm: Anger Management for Moms, Dads, and All the Kids by Gary D. McKay & Steven A. Maybell  This book offers powerful anger management tools for handling the anger that’s inevitable in all families, and shows how to create changes that will result in less anger, more effective expression of anger, and a happier and more harmonious family life. Also addresses anger issues related to divorce, single parenting, stepfamilies, and the problems of domestic violence and child abuse.

Anger, Rage and Relationship: An Empathic Approach to Anger Management by Sue Parker Hall  This is a powerful and timely work that enhances and extends the field of ‘anger management’ considerably. Reading it has given me many points of reflection and its richness and clarity have already helped me personally as well as professionally in the role of therapist. An inspiring read. – Jim Holloway, Adlerian Counsellor and Psychotherapist, Cambridge Counseling (UK)