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Slammed doors and angry outbursts may be just typical behavior that goes along with the highly combustible teenage years. Teens are transitioning from being completely dependent on parents as children toward the autonomy found in adulthood. This is a developmental phase fraught with supercharged emotions, including acting out in anger.
But when does “typical” teenage moodiness and anger become deeply concerning?
When a teen begins to display increasingly aggressive, hostile, even violent behavior towards others there may be deeper emotional issues involved. These angry expressions may be symptoms of a mental health issue that should be addressed by the family physician first, and then possibly a psychotherapist. At the very least, angry or violent outbursts will land the teen in a heap of trouble and needs to be addressed as early as possible. The social landscape today leaves little room for angry or aggressive behaviors to be exhibited at school, in the workplace, or anywhere.
Anger, however, isn’t always expressed through outward behaviors. Some teens may use passive aggressive methods to express anger. These might include ignoring a parent entirely or being disengaged when a parent attempts to chat. A test of wills often gets set up when a teen is feeling hostile or angry with a parent, with the teen resisting any cooperation or negotiation when a parent attempts to reason with them.
Adolescents who seem to be unequipped in managing their frustrations and anger may benefit from acquiring specific anger copings skills for teens, which can be taught through individual and family therapy sessions. These coping strategies may be all that are needed to help the teen learn to navigate their impulsive tendencies toward expressing frustration, and channel them in a socially appropriate manner.
WHY ARE TEENS ANGRY?
Adolescence is a time for transition. Teens are in that limbo space between childhood and becoming an autonomous adult, leading them to have conflicting feelings about things that were once set in stone. Now, as a teen, the idea of going on a family vacation isn’t as desirable as it was in younger years. This sets up a type of inner confusion or turmoil as the teen struggles to find his or her new way of relating to his parents. They desire to achieve some sense of independence and autonomy, but in many ways are not yet emotionally mature enough to manage the various circumstances that can emerge in daily life.
When a parent attempts to intervene, to provide some boundaries or guidance for the teen, they may be met with an angry response. This push and pull as the teen attempts to become more independent can be destabilizing during the adolescent years. Teens feel they are owed a certain amount of independence and freedom, but parents are all too aware of what too free of a rein can lead to. Parents attempt to assert some control, which can result in an angry or verbally rude teen.
It is important, however, to understand that as parents it is essential that poor anger management issues are not being displayed for kids and teens to emulate. Kids model their parents’ behavior, so if their parent is verbally abusive, or yells and screams routinely, then it is understandable that their adolescent may mimic these dysfunctional communication styles.
Hormones that fluctuate wildly in adolescence may be another source of the emotional outbursts. Puberty can cause the teen to experience a roller coaster of emotions, including a short temper. Another possible explanation for teen anger is a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety disorder. Mood swings, extreme irritability, and angry outbursts when combined with other symptoms associated with a mental health disorder should be evaluated by a mental health professional.
What Are the Signs of Teen Anger?
The teen brain is still under construction, not fully developing the important executive functions until about age 25. This region of the brain that regulates executive function can be underdeveloped in some teens, impacting how they manage judgment, emotions, decision-making, and self-control. Kids whose brains haven’t yet matured may lash out in anger when they feel slighted, disappointed, or frustrated, usually because they lack any real coping skills.
Some of the signs of an undeveloped teen brain’s executive functions are these symptoms of anger management problems:
- Getting into heated arguments, both at school or at home with siblings
- Exhibits excessive emotional outbursts, rage
- May bully others
- Is difficult to reason with
- Engages in relationship or dating violence
- Makes verbal threats
- May be cruel to animals, younger siblings
- Excessive arguing, loud fighting
- Destroys property
- Exhibits symptoms of depression, self-harming behaviors
- Exhibits physical violence towards others
MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS THAT INCLUDE ANGRY BEHAVIORS
Sometimes a teen that exhibits angry, violent, or destructive behaviors has a mental health disorder that underlies the symptoms. Such mental health disorders might include:
- Conduct disorder. This disorder features a disregard for rules or social standards, violates the rights of others, physically harms others or animals.
- Depression. Teens with depression may display exaggerated mood responses, including extreme irritability, angry outbursts, or agitation.
- Oppositional defiant disorder. Is characterized by being highly reactive to situations, difficulty tolerating frustration, and difficulty regulating emotions.
- Borderline personality disorder. Teen BPD features unpredictable mood swings, dangerous or aggressive behaviors, and general temperamental behavior.
- Intermittent explosive disorder. IED symptoms may include sudden angry outbursts, including violent assaults, rage, and property damage.
Teens who exhibit unreasonable or chronic anger should be assessed by a mental health professional. The psychotherapist or psychiatrist will first rule out any possible medical explanation for the anger or intense moodiness. In the absence of a health issue the teen will be evaluated through an interview and various assessment tools to arrive at a diagnosis.
If a mental health condition is identified, the doctor will design a treatment protocol that will include individual and group psychotherapy sessions, with the type of therapy dictated by the diagnosis. If these interventions are insufficient for managing the teen’s anger symptoms, a residential treatment plan may be a better treatment option. The residential program provides a much more intensive treatment approach that allows the teen to work on various coping skills that will transfer to their regular life when he or she returns home. Interventions might include:
Psychotherapy. One on one sessions with a psychotherapist help the teen to open up about any underlying issues that may be related to their anger. Therapists may use cognitive behavioral therapy to guide the teen toward adopting new ways of coping with frustration and anger.
Family therapy. The family members will join the teen for therapy sessions, allowing them to learn improved communication skills, for parents to learn boundary setting skills, and for the family to gain a better understanding of how the mental health disorder impacts their loved one.
Group therapy. Peer support is an intrinsic element of teen treatment programs. These sessions allow the participants to gain new insights by listening to each other’s personal challenges and stories, while providing support for each other.
Complementary activities. Residential treatment programs designed for adolescents should include several complementary activities that keep them engaged in the treatment process while also enhancing the overall treatment outcomes. Such activities might include recreational therapies, such as equine therapy or surf therapy, as well as holistic activities like yoga, mindfulness meditation, art therapy, and drama.
For teens that have a co-occurring substance use disorder, a residential program may offer medical detox services and dual diagnosis treatment protocols to address both the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder in tandem.
6 ANGER COPING SKILLS FOR TEENS
When a teen is acting out in anger, it is important for parents to establish a plan to help them better manage their emotions and frustrations. Parents should initially set very specific rules and boundaries regarding the expression of anger within the household, and expectations for how they conduct themselves at school and beyond. By setting anger rules and boundaries with consistent enforcement, the teen is made aware that hostile behavior is unacceptable. Parents can equip them with some anger coping skills for teens that will provide more positive ways to manage feelings of anger, such as:
- Teach conflict resolution skills. The words we use are powerful tools for diffusing feelings of anger towards someone. Teaching teens how to communicate their feelings about an issue that is upsetting them in a constructive way can allow for a calm discussion to ensue about resolving the issue.
- Have them keep a journal. Suggest the teen use a journal as a method of purging frustrations, emotional pain, and angry feelings, getting these negative emotions on paper often diminishes their power and frees up emotional space inside.
- Encourage physical activity. Teens should be encouraged to get out and get regular exercise, through team sports, recreational leagues, running, cycling, surfing, hiking, activities that reduce stress, elevate the mood, and enhance sleep quality.
- Teach problem-solving skills. Show the teen how to resolve a problem in a calm, controlled way by having the teen come up with some possible solutions for a problem. They may need extra help with an assignment or guidance for resolving a relationship issue, and brainstorming potential solutions makes them feel more in control.
- Show them relaxation techniques. Teach the teen some relaxation techniques that can be accessed when something sparks an angry response. These can be doing deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, doing art, listening to soothing music, or taking a walk. Eventually they will begin to turn to those activities when they feel anger bubbling up.
- Model appropriate behavior. Most importantly, model appropriate anger management skills for teens and habits within the home environment. Teens emulate their parents, both the good traits and bad ones. Be an example for your teen by managing your own temper. Avoiding verbally lashing out, cursing, and physical aggression to give them a positive role model.
BNI Treatment Center a Leading Residential Mental Health Program for Teens
BNI Treatment Center is a Los Angeles-based residential mental health center that works with youth aged 12-17. Teen anger is a common concern among parents and teachers, as it can be disruptive and threatening. Teens may benefit from a more intensive approach to treatment that includes psychodynamic therapy to examine any underlying causal factors or unresolved emotional pain.
Anger coping skills for teens are taught through our cognitive behavioral therapy, which will guide the teen toward adopting a different mindset when they feel angry or frustrated, that will lead to more constructive, and peaceful, resolutions and behaviors. At BNI Treatment our integrative program is an effective blending of both traditional evidenced-based therapies, and experiential therapies that appeal to teenagers, helping to keep them engaged in their own recovery. For more information about our program, please contact BNI Treatment Center today at (888) 522-1504.