There are two main sources of anger in children and teens: one is the danger that occurs as a result of facing new daily challenges, and the other is interpersonal relations.
First, for teenagers facing new challenges, anger is part of the process. New challenges include dealing with the bodily changes of puberty, sexuality and increasing independence from parents. They can also include new social situations that are baffling and demanding, school and peer pressures, college anxiety, and all the other awkward and anxiety-provoking challenges that the passage through adolescence entails.
Second, anger resulting from interpersonal relationships — primarily, the relationship between teens and parents and social stresses with peers – is usually because a teenager feels a sense of being unwanted or being treated unfairly. Neglect, broken promises, inconsistency, hypocrisy, double messages, being over-protective, teasing, and the arbitrary exercise of power are just some examples of what can lead to these feelings.
The degree of a teenager’s anger also varies according to his or her makeup and other things such as age and temperament and his or her ability to tolerate stress and situations that are around them. Their gender also plays a role. While most males tend to act out their anger aggressively, females – although more willing now to express anger outwardly than in the past – tend to subsume it in other feelings such as depression.
Because parents tend to misunderstand teenage anger; they frequently mishandle it. Mishandling it may include denying that the teen is angry at all, ignoring it, attempting to eradicate it by abuse of punishment, complying with it, resorting to bribery, or refusing to set limits. All of those responses result in impeding anger from serving its function; to communicate to the parent what’s bothering the teen. Understanding your teenager’s anger is the first step in dealing with it. Understanding your own anger is the second step.
Parents need to understand their own motives and styles of anger management. Questions parents should ask themselves: Are you confused about your anger? Are you trying to exercise excessive control over your teenager? Do you feel an unconscious identification with your child that interferes with good judgment? Are you afraid of your teenager’s anger, or applying a standard of “perfection” in which anger is not permissible? Dependency, egocentricity, martyrdom, vengefulness – these are all personality traits that parents need to address in themselves before they can clear the way to reacting to their teenager’s anger more productively.
Thus, while most anger is normal, when parents mishandle their teen’s anger because of their own non-comprehension of it, they can cause problems that otherwise would not ensue; they affect what I call an anger metamorphosis, in which the child begins to see his anger as a bad, threatening, and disruptive feeling and therefore goes to great lengths to repress it. When anger is repressed, it evolves into symptoms that we especially see in teenage years. It can become the fuel for generalized anxiety states, depression, school failure, conduct disorder and other behavior disorders; criminal-type behavior, drug addiction, and a host of other problems. These legacies of mishandled anger will only grow if parents don’t realize that the original anger was healthy to begin with – that it carries a message of need that must and can be addressed directly, without fear.
Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.