By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
Do you find yourself getting frustrated with your teen? So does every parent at some time. What about anger – has your relationship with your teen turned into a fight for control, and it seems that all your exchanges with your teen seem to be out of anger? For many parents, this is the sad reality of their relationship with their teenager.
Why So Angry?
According to Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, in her ParentingTeenager.net article, “Today’s Angry Teens,” a teenager’s anger is borne out of immature coping skills to daily stress. In addition to seeking independence and less parental control, which results in a stubborn and argumentative adolescent, teens are trying to deal with everyday stress as well as a host of emotional issues including:
- Changes in their bodies
- Trying to establish an identity
- Dealing with friends
- Positive and negative peer pressure
- School demands
- Too many extracurricular activities
- Parental expectations
- Feelings of being treated unfairly, such as being accused of something they didn’t do
- Not getting a chance to voice their opinions to authority figures
In addition, some teens are dealing with high-stress situations such as separation or divorce of their parents or a chronic illness in or death of a loved one.
“It’s no surprise that our teens might become overloaded with stress,” Botto said.
Anger is an Immature Coping Mechanism
If we think about it, adolescents are dealing with these stresses for years. As adults, most of us would have difficulty dealing with these types of emotional stresses long-term, too. Both adults and teens are prone to develop depression in these situations, and while depression is often marked by despair and hopelessness, it can manifest itself as anger.
“Depression and anger are two sides of the same coin. They are the behaviors most used by survivors to cope with their damaged lives,” according to Suicide and Mental Health Association International.
A teen’s anger is borne out of her poor coping skills:
- Getting angry is a way to feel in control – Botto explains how getting angry is the only way most teens know how to avoid feeling sadness, hurt, or fear.
- Teens have unreasonable expectations – When a teen is unable to get what he wants when he wants it, he feels out of control, which makes him angry.
Teaching Our Children Healthy Ways to Express Anger
Anger is a healthy, normal emotion if expressed in a way that doesn’t hurt the teen or others around him. But because teens have difficulty in regulating their strong emotions, they may also have difficulty in expressing their anger in an appropriate way. As parents, we need to focus on modeling and teaching our teens how to handle stress – and anger – in a healthy way.
Botto said it’s easy for parents to lose control of their own emotions when dealing with their teen’s anger: “Parents are often caught by surprise and react by either yelling or arguing back, or punishing their teen for showing their anger. Instead, parents need to see this show of anger or rage as a signal that their teen is battling with or facing a situation they cannot handle on their own, or is overwhelmed by the demands of his or her daily live.”
Her advice to parents is to:
- Ask your teen what unresolved conflict she is facing.
- Listen to your teen.
- Focus on her feelings.
- Understand the situation from your teen’s perspective.
- Help your teen work towards a solution.
- Show your teenager that you care.
Not all teens express their anger in the same way, just as is the case with adults. Parents should be on the lookout for:
- Withdrawing, which is indicative of a teen who is repressing his emotions and can result in depression and psychosomatic disorders.
- Turning to alcohol and drugs, or other forms of self-medicating.
- Defiant or destructive behavior, include violence toward others and self.
If these danger signs develop, your teen may need professional help to resolve his anger issues. Unresolved issues can cause lasting damage to your teen’s critical thinking ability, ability to have a close and loving marital relationship and friendships, and ability to learn how to self regulate his strong emotions.