There are times when anger issues can translate into serious health and conduct problems for the teen, resulting in the need for teen anger management treatment.
Teens can be angry creatures. They might yell at their friends, slam doors or burst into curses when their favorite team doesn’t win the championship. It’s perfectly understandable. Adolescence can be a time of stress and strain, and the hormonal changes teens experience may make them more vulnerable to emotional wear-and-tear. Often, this anger can be overcome with patient counseling from friends and family members.
Teen Anger Management
Anger tends to kick in when people feel wronged or they sense that someone else is being wronged. As this emotion rises, the body begins to prepare for battle by:
- Increasing the heart rate
- Slowing down digestion
- Increasing respiration rates
- Increasing circulation
The person feels stronger, and as a result, the person is able to confront the issue, stand up for the wrong that is being done, and keep further damage from occurring. People who feel no anger at all might be consistently abused or stepped on. By contrast, people who do feel anger may be able to speak out against those who mean to harm them, and they may stay safer as a result. It’s easy to see why the anger gene has been passed down in human development.
Most people express their anger verbally, through raised voices or colorful language. Even pacing and gesturing can be considered a healthy part of anger management. Letting that anger out is a healthy way to stop the wrong and move forward. But for people with an anger management problem, the anger rarely ends there.
Signs of a Problem
Anger management issues in teens can manifest in many different ways. Some teens may simply seem irritable, either with themselves or other people, and they may be prone to snap when they’re asked simple questions. They may simply seem angry all the time, with no real trigger setting off this anger. For these teens, anger management issues may actually be masking depression. It’s common for depression to manifest in teens in this way. A study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology found that 80 percent of middle-school students experience depression as a mixture of sadness and anger. These teens may need help for their anger management issue, but they may also need help dealing with the underlying mental health problem.
Other teens may demonstrate their anger in violent ways. They may bully or threaten others, getting into frequent verbal and physical altercations with their friends and classmates. They may commit crimes, such as destruction of property or theft. They may also harm animals, including family pets. When they’re asked to perform a task, they respond with challenges and arguments, and the conversation quickly spins out of control. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), these teens may be given a diagnosis of “conduct disorder,” which is an umbrella term for mental illness that is characterized by an inability to control impulses and follow rules.
Teens with anger management disorders might also:
- Become easily frustrated
- Escalate from calm to furious in just a moment’s time
- Throw temper tantrums
- Face disciplinary action at school
- Be shunned by their peers
Anyone can grow angry, but there are some teens who are at higher risk for developing an anger-based disorder. Teens who have been subjected to physical or mental abuse during childhood might face an increased risk, as they attempt to process what has been done to them. Teens who are exposed to frequent images of violence through videogames, movies, television shows or their neighborhoods might also be at higher risk for anger. In addition, teens who were punished for their anger when they were young might also be at higher risk for anger disorders later in life. They never learned how to express the emotion properly, so the problem tends to grow.
Left untreated, anger can cause a wide variety of health problems. According to an article published in the journal Thorax, uncontrolled anger can cause may of the same problems linked to uncontrolled stress, including a depressed immune system, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome. In adolescents, the article states, uncontrolled anger can lead to asthma-related issues. Anger can directly impact the airways, and make an asthma attack even worse.
Some teens turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their anger and make themselves feel calm. Adding substance abuse into the mix can be disastrous, as the adolescent brain is susceptible to forming an attachment to substances and that attachment can persist into adulthood. These teens may experiment with drugs, causing chemical changes in their brains, and then be unable to stop taking those drugs even though they know the use is dangerous. It’s a slippery slope.
Anger also puts great strain on the heart, causing it to work much harder than it should. Anger has long been linked to heart disease, and according to news reports, research suggests that adult men who explode in anger have a greater risk of experiencing a stroke, and they may die at an earlier age than men who do not have issues with anger. In other words, an anger disorder can cause premature death and a life of dysfunction.
Teens with mild anger management issues may benefit from attending a few sessions with a counselor. In these sessions, they’ll learn the fundamentals of staying calm when under fire, and those skills may prevent them from developing an even more serious issue in the future. They might be asked to count to 10, walk around the block or chew gum before responding with anger. They might practice expressing their emotions in ways that aren’t negative or violent. They might also focus on the source of the anger, learning more about why they grow mad and what they can do when anger strikes.
There are some teens, however, who need more intensive help. For these teens, anger may be an overwhelming problem that merits more than a few anger management basics. For these teens, interventions might involve several types of therapy, and perhaps the use of medications such as antidepressants.
Some therapists encourage angry teens to learn relaxation skills. It’s difficult to yell, scream and hit when the body and mind are relaxed, and there are many techniques teens can use to stay calm and focused when anger begins. They might be encouraged to close their eyes and focus on tensing and releasing specific muscle groups, beginning at the head and working down to the toes. Or, they might be asked to think of a specific safe place in which they feel happy and calm, and then bring up images from that safe place whenever they feel angry.
According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, some teens have never learned the finer points of communication. They may not know how to make small talk, or they may not be able to pick up on subtle cues that indicate that other people are uncomfortable or busy. These teens may be blissfully unaware of their behavior, and then become angry when they feel they’ve been “suddenly” rejected.
Other teens benefit from basic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. They learn how their thoughts can be controlled and changed before an angry impulse can take over. The teen might be asked to identify specific bodily sensations associated with anger, and when those sensations begin, the teen might be asked to use relaxation techniques to stop the impulse from taking over.
For some teens, revising anger-related behaviors means changing the way the teen thinks, moves, reacts and talks. It’s a lot to change, and sometimes, teens need to step away from their lives and really focus on these lessons without being distracted by friends and social obligations. With this kind of help, teens truly can improve and gain control over the anger they feel.
Helping With Healing
There’s no question that living with an angry adolescent is difficult. Over time, as the teen becomes more and more angry, family members may develop their own coping skills to avoid provoking the teen and bringing on yet another outburst. When the teen emerges from treatment, families may still not know what to say or do in order to help the teen continue to manage their anger.
These tips from the AACAP may help:
- Pick battles carefully, and let go of minor problems when possible.
- Choose praise over criticism.
- Take a timeout if the teen’s behavior causes parental anger.
- Allow the teen to take timeouts if needed.
- Set limits with enforceable consequences.
Some families benefit from participating in counseling sessions along with the teen. As a group, they address the damage the anger has done and they all look for solutions together. For some families, this means focusing a significant amount of time on communication patterns. Families that consistently fight, argue, yell and scream may be inadvertently rewarding the teen by demonstrating angry behavior. Teens tend to mimic the behavior they see.