Throughout their development, children will often have tantrums and fits of anger – it’s a normal part of growing up and asserting themselves (remember your child’s toddler phase and the ‘terrible twos’?). Compared with toddler tantrums, however, teenage displays of anger can be downright frightening and even harder to manage as they grow taller and more intimidating to deal with.
So how should parents approach this behavior and help their angry teen? You may be dealing with a different beast compared with their toddler years, but just like that difficult time, navigating teen anger takes a careful approach and a lot of patience. As hopeless as it might seem some days, it’s important to know that you will overcome this difficult stage together just as you did before – there is light at the end of the teen hulk tunnel!
It can also be hard to cut your angry teen some slack when they’re acting this way, but don’t forget that their volatile nature has its roots in puberty and all the volcanic hormones that come with it. Hormones may not be avoided, but the effects of those hormonal changes can be managed with the right techniques. Keep reading for tips on dealing with your teen’s anger and how to communicate with them a little better.
Why are Teenagers so Moody/Angry?
Before we delve into management techniques, it’s important that we first understand where teen anger and angst comes from, and answer the question: ‘What is it that makes teens so angry?’ As your teen makes the transition from child to adult, their body and brain have a volcano of changes rushing through them – emotions are heightened and exaggerated due to hormones, hence the yelling and door slamming over issues we find trivial!
As your teenager navigates all these emotional and physical changes, they view the world through a different lens and may not always process things in a rational way. Following a study of teenage brain scans, Dr. Nicholas Allen from the University of Melbourne discovered that teen with certain brain structures tend to be angrier than usual because “their emotions develop much faster than parts of the brain that help [teenagers] manage these emotions.”
In this sense, levels of teenage anger may differ depending on each person’s brain structure, but this doesn’t mean the anger itself is completely out of their control. Firstly, let’s identify whether or not your teen qualifies as emotionally volatile enough to have anger management issues. (If not, the techniques and tips in this article may still be valuable to parents of teens!):
Signs your teen needs anger management
- Frequent verbal threats
- Destroying property
- Becoming violent with siblings/parents
- Self-harm attempts
- Irrational outbursts
If your teen displays these types of behaviors on a regular basis, this can be a red flag that things have gone beyond normal teen angst and into the kind of anger that needs to be managed with the help of therapy and counseling. For now though, take a look at the following methods you can use to improve communication with your teenager and the techniques to help them deal with their anger.
How to Communicate with an Angry Teen
Getting teenagers to sit down and chat with their parent can be a difficult task, especially for ones prone to angry outbursts, but there are ways of approaching your teen without angering the beast further! In the aftermath of an angry episode, it may be tempting to just discipline your teen and walk away, but sitting down to reflect on an anger-filled rant can be hugely beneficial to your relationship with each other.
The more often you talk openly and without judgment to your teen, the better you will also be able to determine whether their angry state is simply down to hormones and mood swings or perhaps a sign of an underlying problem such as anxiety or depression. If you are concerned it could be the latter, consult our Related Questions section (below) for more details.
To help you communicate more effectively with each other, here are some calm conversation starters as well as some honest questions your teen could be asking themselves:
Start a discussion with…
“It’s okay if you don’t want my help right now. But I’m always here when you need it.”
“We don’t have to talk about it. I understand if you want to manage things on your own. But if you are unhappy, you can talk to other people besides me about it.”
“I can see that you’re frustrated/anxious right now. Is there anything I can do to help or take your mind off it?”
Questions for teens to ask themselves…
- Where is this anger coming from?
- What usually triggers this feeling?
- To what or whom is my anger aimed at?
- Is there an inner conflict I’m ignoring/haven’t resolved?
- How do I usually express my anger?
- Can I resolve the situation on my own?
- Is this situation/person worth my energy and time?
Asking these questions of themselves can help your teen bring greater self-awareness into their lives and take a step back from their behavior. Assessing how they feel before each angry sensation rises in them can help it from spiraling out of control. As with everything, this will take practice, so be patient with them as they learn to ask these questions.
Anger Management Techniques for Teens
As well as finding better ways to communicate with them, giving your teen the tools to help themselves will teach them how to regulate their emotions more effectively now and throughout their adulthood. Helping your teen understand their specific anger triggers, for example, can help them deal with the build-up of anger before it gets out of control. Here are a number of techniques that can hopefully be beneficial to your teen in dealing with their anger issues:
Spotting aggression vs anger
We all express feelings of anger and we’re all perfectly entitled to do so, but your teen may need reminding of the difference between feeling anger and being aggressive. Aggression is taking action based on how angry we feel like smashing an object or being verbally abusive, but the feeling of anger can be kept to ourselves without hurting any innocent bystanders (or priceless vases!). Let them know that feeling angry or frustrated with a person or situation doesn’t justify an aggressive reaction of physical or emotional abuse.
Teach the ‘Self Talk’ technique
Psychologists and co-authors of the book ‘Anger Management for the 21st Century’ Dr. Tony Fiore and Dr. Ari Novick suggest that anger-prone teens need to develop a technique known as ‘self talk’ to help them cope. As it sounds, self talk is the process of changing your outlook by talking yourself into a rational, calm place. So before your teen’s negative thoughts have a chance to become exaggerated and irrational, they need to calmly tell themselves something like: “It is understandable that I am upset after X/Y/Z just happened, but getting angry will not fix anything.”
Give them coping skills
According to KidsHealth.org, writing down thoughts and emotions can be a great distraction for teens and assist in calming their mental state down. Encourage your teenager to write their anger triggers in a journal in order to vent out on paper what they are immediately feeling, and hopefully this will address what makes them angry. Emptying our mind onto paper and seeing it in black and white helps us to make sense of things and give us better clarity when we come back to them.
Be an appropriate role model
This step may be aimed more at you as a parent, but this will undeniably benefit your teen in shaping their attitude towards anger. Far more effective than any lecture you give your teens on anger is how you actually behave in front of them. Be a good role model to your teen in showing the appropriate way to deal with anger – especially if they are the source of your anger!.
If leaving their bedroom messy or getting into (another) fight with their sibling has you stressed, tell your teen: “I’m angry you didn’t do your chores like I asked nicely, so now I’m taking a break for a minute and when I come back, we’ll talk about your consequences.”
Sometimes, teens who display particularly aggressive behavior and anger issues simply need to brush up on their problem-solving skills. Teens with little or no problem-solving skills in their repertoire will resort to using aggression to get their way or to resolve a situation e.g., instead of asking for help with a homework question, they will throw the book across their room instead!
Whatever your teen’s dilemma, ask them to approach any issue they face with five possible solutions – depending on how complex the issue is, they can make a list of pros and cons relating to each solution. Every time they use this method, they get an increase of confidence in their problem-solving abilities, and it teaches them that they are capable of doing so without resorting to aggression.
Anger Management Activities for Teens
As valuable as the above techniques can be in managing their anger, your teen can also benefit from making anger management fun in the form of different games and activities. And don’t worry if you think your teen will see the following suggestions as ‘lame’ – we’ve listed plenty of different ways to manage their anger, so that even the most cynical teen will want to give them a try!
The ‘Angry Heart’ game
This is a game often used by anger management professionals in counseling sessions as it provides a great visual aid for anger and what it represents. To play Angry Heart, teens must write down their feelings and what makes them angry in a piece of paper and slip this into a balloon and tie it shut. This balloon should not be blown up though – this represents their heart. Teens then place this tied-up balloon containing the paper inside a larger balloon and blow this bigger balloon up.
A counselor or parent then asks participants to write their name and how they present themselves to the world e.g. ‘shy’, ‘happy’ ‘class clown’ and elaborate on why they present themselves outwardly like this. Parents can then discuss the downsides of hiding things on the inside and the risk of ‘popping’ and ‘bursting’ just like the balloons. Lastly, teens can choose to pop their balloon and share their angry feelings inside or keep it hidden if they choose to.
The ‘Thumball’ game
For teens who don’t find it easy to open up, this ball game can be a great conversation starter. The anger management thumball is a small soccer ball with talking prompts written on each section – these can be things like ‘Where do I feel anger in my body…?’ or ‘Someone I admire controls anger by…’ The idea is to sit in a circle (perhaps with family or just one on one with parent and teen) and pass the ball to each person. When it’s your turn with the ball, you look under your thumb and answer whatever prompt is underneath.
This game can help open up further conversations about your teen’s anger style, what triggers their feelings and how they can control them. Playing this game as a family can help give your teen a greater perspective on how others deal with their anger and gives everyone the chance to express themselves – you also get to play ball too!
Get them into exercise
Getting your teenager into regular exercise could be one of the best decisions you make for their anger management. Teens have plenty of negative hormones to contend with, but exercise releases feel good hormones known as endorphins! Not only this, but regular bouts of physical activity will train your teenager to redirect their anger to more productive use. Instead of slamming doors and yelling at you or their siblings, they can go for a quick run or jog to let off steam.
Next time your teen is in the heat of an angry moment, tell them to plug into their music and go for a run or even just a quick walk – this will help them get perspective on their situation and think more rationally about the whole thing. The more your teen exercises, their moods will stabilize, they’ll find they sleep better and this contributes to lower anxiety levels.
They may be more likely to take up exercise regularly if you join them on jogs and runs too! Sure, most teenagers may not want to be seen jogging in public with their parents, but you can still share weekly exercise together indoors by trying things like yoga and dancing games. You could also encourage your teen to join a sports club or get them the gift of a gym membership to help them work out their anger independently.
What are the signs of depression in my teenager? The low mood swings of teenagers can appear similar to depression, but this is mostly normal as they experience the hormonal roller-coaster of puberty. If you’re concerned your teen could be genuinely depressed, some warning signs to look out for are: constant low energy, problems concentrating, change in eating habits, neglecting/shutting out friends, self-harm and/or talk of suicide. Let them know that they are not alone and urge them to get support.
How can I discipline my teen? Disciplining your teen shouldn’t be seen as a punishment but rather, teaching them about appropriate behavior. To make things easier, try involving your child when talking about setting limits and curfews etc so that they feel more respected (but know who’s in control). Let them know the consequences of bad behavior in advance too, so that appropriate punishments don’t seem ‘out of the blue’.
How should I help my teen deal with cyberbullying? Knowing when to get involved in your teen’s online use can be tricky, but when it comes to threats from cyberbullies, this needs to be taken seriously. Make your teen aware that they should always come to you or another adult they trust with a cyberbully threat. Next, tell them to save the evidence so that they can report the bully if possible. Otherwise, make sure they never respond to the threats and immediately block the sender.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare