While adolescence can be an exciting time of growth, it can also be filled with social and mental health struggles. Teens face huge decisions about who they want to be and what they want to do in their lives, while also dealing with a storm of new emotions and experiences. They may rebel at the restrictions left over from childhood, while also feeling nervous about the new responsibilities they must take on. It’s a time filled with new freedoms but can also be a scary and uniquely stressful one.
Given the complex developmental circumstances of adolescence, it should come as no surprise that many teens struggle with anger. Anger is an emotion we all feel, although we express it in different ways. Anger can be a completely normal and understandable response to what teens are going through – but how do you know when it’s too much, or when it’s a sign of an underlying problem? And what can both teens and parents do when that anger rears its head?
If you or your teen is struggling with constant irritability and anger, or anger that seems to come on with no apparent trigger, it could be a sign of mental health struggles such as anxiety, depression of a reaction of traumatic events. If you have concerns about a teen, you are not alone. According to NAMI, 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
Anxiety can surface as excessive worrying, while depression shows up through sadness; both can lead to changes in sleep and appetite. When feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, teens can react with anger and even verbal or physical aggression. If you are worried that this may be the case, it’s important to seek treatment for the underlying depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Remember that dramatic changes in behavior can be signs there is something going on, and a good reason to seek professional counseling services.
Whether anger is a symptom of an underlying issue or a routine response to the stress of the teenage years, it’s important not to allow that anger to fuel unhealthy coping mechanisms or even aggressive behavior.
Here are some ways that teens (and parents) can work to express anger in a healthy way:
- Set boundaries and expectations. While expressing anger is acceptable and healthy, doing so with aggressive or dangerous behaviors is not. Lashing out physically or verbally, damaging objects, yelling, or threatening other people are all unhealthy ways of dealing with one’s anger and may have long term ramifications depending on the severity of the action. As a teen, it’s important to find healthier ways to deal with overwhelming feelings of anger – and as a parent, you can help your teen explore those better coping mechanisms.
- Take a break. When emotions run high, it can be difficult to control one’s reactions and responses, especially when (as is often the case with anger) you’re feeling wronged or slighted. Taking a break gives everyone a chance to cool off and find a healthier way to calm down. Then, you can come back together and talk about what happened. Parents, if your teen asks to take a break, it’s important to respect that and give them time and space before continuing the conversation.
- Recognize the physical signs. Teens may have trouble recognizing anger before it reaches a boiling point where they can’t help but lash out. Check in with yourself – how does your body feel when you’re getting angry? What signs can you recognize early on in your body’s anger response before things get too intense? Common physical signs of anger include rapid heartbeat, clenched fists, feeling hot, or a flushed face.
- Develop healthy coping skills. Find alternative ways to deal with anger besides lashing out. Some common coping skills include:
- Physical exercise (going for a walk, cardio which might include a workout like using a punching bag!)
- Listening to music
- Meditating or practicing deep breathing
- Journaling your thoughts and emotions
- Making art (drawing, painting, etc.)
- And more – anything that allows you to blow off steam without harming yourself or others.
- Role model healthy behaviors. Parents, this one’s for you. You can teach your teen a great deal about how to handle anger by doing so in a healthy way yourself. If you lash out when you’re angry, whether verbally or physically, how can you expect your teen to do differently? Instead, when you’re angry, model the behaviors you’d like to see – expressing your anger calmly, taking a break if you need it, and finding healthy ways to cope with your emotions.
And last but certainly not least, seek help if you need it. Sometimes, anger can be too much to handle. Reach out to a mental health provider in your area – they can connect you with additional anger management resources, counseling, or other options to help you and your teen.
NAMI Online Support Groups – These free, confidential support groups are open to anyone.
School District of Philadelphia’s Student Assistance Program (SAP) – This program can help identify and treat behavioral health issues that affect a student’s success.