What to Do About an Angry Teenager

Any parent who’s been through it can tell you, the teen years can be challenging. Dealing with an angry teenager can be taxing, both emotionally and physically. The truth is, anger issues in teens are probably more common than you think. Hormones are raging, emotions are running high, bodies are changing. It’s a lot both for your teen and for you. 

Understanding more about why teenagers have the occasional (or even often) bouts of anger can help. It can allow you to keep your own reactions proportionate and in check. Knowing signs of anger issues in a teenager can also help you figure out if what you’re experiencing is “normal” or if something more may be going on with your child. Read on to learn what you should know about anger issues in teens and if teen therapy is needed. 

Signs of Anger Issues in Teens

Teenagers are known for their mood swings. They can be difficult to communicate with, often seem stand-offish, and willing to argue or fight with you at any given moment. There’s more to it, too. If you have an angry teen with any of the following signs, you might be feeling desperate for help. 

Signs of anger issues in a teenager:

Excessively arguing with you, their siblings, or others in their lifePhysical aggressionIncreased moodinessVerbal threatsViolent anger outburstsIrrational behavior or thoughtsEmotional outburstsScreaming, yelling, or otherwise lashing outBullying othersSelf-harming

What Causes Anger Issues in a Teenager?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a large portion of teenage anger issues come from hormones. The feeling of rage teens experience can be overwhelming. They often don’t know how to properly manage their emotions in general. Add in the out-of-control feelings anger can trigger, and it’s not uncommon for a teen to feel confused about why they’re feeling the way they do. 

Another element that’s important to address is teenagers’ evolving brains. Since the brain isn’t fully developed by the teen years, how it processes information can be very different from how an adult brain might. In fact, the brain doesn’t reach full maturity until the mid-20s. 

The teenage brain

The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that’s responsible for reasoning. It also helps us make decisions, manage emotions, and control our inhibitions. It’s this part of the brain that undergoes a massive transformation throughout the teen years. 

Scientists have found that long before the frontal cortex is fully developed, the part of the brain known as the amygdala is what controls immediate reactions like fear, and, you guessed it, aggression or anger.  

The underlying lesson here is that a teenager’s brain simply cannot function like an adult’s brain can. Combine the changing frontal cortex with hormones, and we have a recipe for teen anger and mood swings at incredible levels. 

It’s important to note, though, that the root of anger for many teens can really be another emotion entirely. Frustration, hurt, sadness, and powerlessness can all manifest as anger when teens aren’t sure what to do with or how to process their emotions. 

Still, anger is a true emotion that we all need to learn how to handle appropriately. There are healthier ways to express (and get over) our anger, so understanding specific coping techniques is essential for all of us, not just teenagers.   

Tips to Help Your Teen Cope with Anger

Learning how you can help your teenager deal with anger might be one of the best things you ever do for them (and for your relationship). Coping skills aimed at managing intense emotions like anger are something we carry throughout our life. They can serve us in virtually all relationships — from friendships, to romantic partners, to teacher-student relationships, to coworkers and superiors, to familial connections, and more. 

Tip #1: Recognize the signs of teen depression

Sometimes anger can be a sign of something deeper going on, like depression. Recognizing the signs of depression in teenagers is key. It might help you get to the root of the anger while also addressing the deeper issue of teen depression. 

Look for:

New school patterns that develop, including a dip in grades, dropping out of activities your teen once enjoyed, increasing concentration problems, or low energyDrug or other substance use or abuseRunning away from homeExcessive use of smartphones or other technology — often to the point of addiction.Sudden or decreased self-esteem issuesViolent behaviors, especially in teen boysReckless tendencies, including high-risk behaviors like binge drinking, unsafe driving, or engaging in unprotected sex

Tip #2: Connect on a deeper level

It might feel incredibly difficult but connecting with your teenager can be one of the best ways to help them manage their anger. Even if it feels like your child wants nothing to do with you, all teenagers need and want love and approval from their parents. 

Encouraging open communication is a good way to try and connect with your teenager. Face-to-face interactions are often the best way to connect on that deeper level. 

Try to remain calm and not stressed during your time together. Reinforce the idea that you’re there for your teenager.If you can, look for ways to bond by finding something to do that interests your teen. Do they love sports? Watch a game together. Is shopping one of their favorite pastimes? Suggested a day out together. 

When you spend time doing things your teenager cares about and is engaged in, it creates a safe, comfortable space for them to open up.

Most importantly, make sure it’s abundantly clear to your teen that your time together is judgment-free. When they’re opening up to you, you want them to feel heard. Let them know you understand their feelings. Make eye-contact and be as engaged as possible in the conversation. 

Tip #3: Focus on balance

To say teens today are over scheduled is an understatement. They can be on the go from the crack of dawn into the late hours of the night. A lack of sleep, combined with intense pressures and expectations can add to feeling overwhelmed or just having a general sense of anger.

Help your teen work towards balance in their life. Whether that means taking short brain breaks where they can put the pencil down every few hours (or close the laptop), or it means taking up yoga, meditation, or something else that can help calm the mind, being aware of how stressed we are, and taking action to decompress is a life-long skill that can help well beyond the teen years. 

Tip #4: Teach self care 

Adding on to the previous idea of finding and maintaining balance, helping your teen understand the importance of self care can be incredibly beneficial. When it’s instilled from a young age, teens can become engrained with the idea that “me time” is important, whether we’re 15, or 50. 

Encourage your teenager to read for pleasure, get outdoors for a walk, watch a movie, or do anything else that’s just for them. Even a 15-30 minute break in a regularly hectic schedule can do a world of good for the mood. 

Eating healthy is another part of self care that’s important during the teen years. A balanced diet can help with mood, energy levels, concentration and focus, and motivation. Help your teen by having fresh fruit, high-protein, low-sugar snacks available. Limit how much processed foods you keep on hand. 

Finally, healthy sleep habits that are developed during the adolescent years can be helpful throughout the rest of your teen’s life. Understanding the importance of sleep is crucial. When we’re tired, everything from our ability to fight off sickness, to how well we can concentrate on tasks at hand can be affected. 

Tip #5: Get active

Research shows that getting your heart rate up is good for the mood. In fact, people who do at least some form of physical activity regularly have mood boosting effects.  

If you have a teenager who struggles with extreme anger or has an inability to control their rage, encourage them to get active. You don’t need an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment to focus on your health. Going for a run, taking a brisk walk, or creating a simple circuit training routine with little to no workout equipment are all ways you can get the blood pumping and the attitude adjusted.

Tip #6: Find creative outlets

Creativity is good for the soul and for a positive attitude. Drawing, painting, sculpting, music, theater…anything creative that resonates with your teenager can help them learn to manage their anger. Some teens may even find they’re able to channel anger in an expressive manner through a creative outlet. Art, theater, and music can all stem from inspiration that comes from anger (or any other emotion).

Tip #7: Identify triggers

Knowing what sets us off is powerful. When a teenager can identify what upsets them, they can try to avoid it. Better yet, they can practice managing triggers so they can navigate anger in a healthy way rather than letting it control their life. 

Tips for Parents of an Angry Teenager

There are several ways parents can help angry teenagers. Don’t be deterred by any resistance your teen shows, either. They may not be able to aptly express what your help means to them, but deep down, they’ll know (even if they can’t admit it today) that you’re coming from a place of love and concern. 

“Families that identify the issue as family anger, and seek help as a family rather than singling out the teen as the problem, usually have better outcomes.”

Talkspace Therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD 

Listen to your teen’s emotions

For this to be effective, you need to not just listen, but also really hear what your teen is saying. Reassure them that you get it. Validate their feelings and help them see that they’re not wrong, per se, for feeling angry — especially if they’ve experienced an injustice. We all feel angry when things aren’t fair. Try to relate to them and let them know that you understand. 

Avoid criticizing their decisions

As hard as it may be, avoid criticizing your teenager for their choices. You can let them know, using positive words and language, that there are other options for them. Role playing and talking openly about other decisions they can make in the future might help. 

Even if you vehemently disagree with your teenager, take a pause, count to 10, and remember that the goal is to connect with them. If they see your response as critical, it might make it harder for them to open up in the future. 

Remember that me time isn’t just for teens

Let’s face it…raising kids can be really hard! Remember to practice what you preach and give yourself some much-needed self care, too. Making time for yourself so you can regroup and refresh will help you be more patient and more understanding when dealing with your angry teenager. Talk with other parents who are experiencing the same age and phase you are, and be sure to remind yourself: this will pass. 

When to Seek Help for Your Teen’s Anger Issues

While anger is a normal emotion we all experience from time to time, and it can even be healthy in certain circumstances, it can become problematic if it’s extreme or if a teen or a young person just can’t seem to get it under control. 

“Normal adolescent behavior can involve detachment from family and gravitation toward peers. When the detachment involves erratic emotional assaults against themselves or others, or a complete lack of attachment toward family and activities that they used to enjoy, help is available.”

Talkspace Therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

When is it time to get help? If you feel your teenager’s anger has passed the point of healthy anger, seeking professional help is smart. 

Anger management therapy, expressive or art therapy, and even group therapy settings can all be beneficial places for teens to learn more about their emotions of anger. A therapist will also be able to identify places where uncontrolled anger may be related to a mental health condition that might need skilled intervention and support. 

Sources:

1. Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making. Aacap.org. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Teen-Brain-Behavior-Problem-Solving-and-Decision-Making-095.aspx. Published 2016. Accessed November 29, 2021.

2.Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, May 1). More evidence that exercise can boost mood. Harvard Health https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood. Published May 2019. Accessed December 10, 2021.

2. Adolescent Brain Development. Ithaca: ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence Cornell University Family Life Development Center; 2002:1-3. https://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_brain_0502.pdf. Accessed November 29, 2021.

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