This is a common question that parents ask, and it’s worth noting that it’s not unusual for a teen to be angry, sometimes really angry. Because adolescents are changing so much—physically, mentally, and socially—and face many big decisions, their emotions can be especially volatile. And parents often bear the brunt of that teen anger.
However, teen anger doesn’t always come from the same place. Sometimes teen anger is an appropriate expression of emotion, while at other times, it may be catalyzed by a mental health disorder. Sometimes, explosive, violent, or even typical outbursts of anger are due to an anger problem that might need to be treated with anger management.
What Is Healthy Anger in Teens?
Using “healthy” and “anger” together may seem like an oxymoron. However, anger is a natural emotion and can be expressed in healthy ways when teens have the tools to do so. When something is unjust, unfair, upsetting, or threatening, healthy anger can be an appropriate response. For example, if a teen comes home from school expressing anger because a teacher punished them for something they did not do, that anger is healthy and natural.
Parents may need to help teens find ways to express and process that healthy anger. While teens may raise their voices or show emotion in another way, like crying, expressing anger should not be harmful or violent to anyone or anything. Talking about what happened, including validating the teen’s point of view, is essential. Good ways to process the anger include vigorous exercise, like going for a run, or doing something creative to release the energy and emotions behind anger.
How Can Parents Decipher Unhealthy Anger in Their Teen?
Unhealthy anger is when the level of emotion does not match the cause or gets out of control or violent. When a teen gets angry often, that is also unhealthy. The physiological changes in heart rate and chemistry associated with teen anger are not meant to be sustained for long periods of time or with that level of frequency. When a teen explodes at any little thing, that is likely to be unhealthy anger. Research shows that higher levels and frequency of teen anger are associated with teen depression.
There are times when teens may be experiencing something emotionally troubling that they are not sharing with their parents, which causes them to be irritable and get angry more easily. Taking the time to find out what may be troubling them can help resolve a situation like this. Likewise, there may be times when hormones are impacting their mood. Hormone-induced anger is typically not a long-term situation, however.
What Are Some of the Reasons Behind Teen Anger?
There are many different reasons why teens get angry. However, if teens feel this way all the time, anger may be a symptom indicating that there is a more severe problem that needs to be addressed, such as:
- An underlying mental health condition
- Substance abuse
- Unprocessed trauma
- Learned behaviors due to family dysfunction
- Unprocessed emotions.
All of these are issues that should be addressed with professional help. A mental health or substance abuse diagnosis requires appropriate medical and therapeutic care. A teen who has learned negative behaviors from others may need anger management classes or therapy. Likewise, someone who is using anger to express all of their other emotions will need therapy to learn to manage their emotions more appropriately.
Why is Anger in Boys More Common?
Teen boys are much more likely to be irritable or angry when they have an underlying mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another condition. According to the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, males exhibit symptoms of depression through anger, aggression, irritability, and violence rather than expressions of sadness or hopelessness.
Moreover, teen boys are less likely to seek help and more likely to succeed with a suicide attempt than their female peers. Therefore, parents must be aware and understand that behaviors that may seem disruptive or dangerous to the family could be signs of a serious underlying mental health disorder.
How Can I Help My Teen Manage Their Anger?
A big part of addressing the question ‘why is my teen so angry?’ is taking time to investigate what might be causing this teen anger and whether it is normal, healthy anger or unhealthy anger. Anger management can take some time to implement successfully, but it is also essential to know if there is a deeper issue, such as a mental health disorder. If a teen is irritable, short-tempered, or getting angry often because they are depressed or anxious, have bipolar disorder, or are struggling with untreated trauma, parents need to get them the professional help they need.
At Newport Academy, our Admissions team and clinical experts can help parents identify whether a teen is experiencing healthy anger—or whether they have an underlying mental health disorder. Contact us today to find out how we help clients get to the root causes of their anger issues, so teens and their families can move toward greater harmony and well-being.
J Family Med Prim Care. 2017 Oct-Dec; 6(4): 775–779.
J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2011 Apr; 39(3): 463–474.