Did you know that 1 in 5 teens have anger issues? How do you know if your teen’s anger is getting out of control and what can you do about it? Learn the warning signs for when teen anger may be more than “normal teenage angst” and how to manage anger.
Teens differ from adults in their ability to read and understand emotions in people’s faces. Adults use the prefrontal cortex or “thinking part” of the brain to read emotional cues, but teenagers rely on the section called the amygdala or “emotion center.” The amygdala processes emotional reactions such as “fight or flight” causing teens to react atypically and display anger aggressively.
Boys are three times more likely to develop anger issues than girls. Boys are also more likely to express their anger through violence, acting out in a dangerous and destructive way.
Where Does Teenage Anger Come From?
Anger forms in the amygdala. When large amounts of information are sent to the brain, the amygdala produces hormones that create strong emotions such as physical and emotional alarm. When the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, it dictates an appropriate response to the hormones, usually ignoring the amygdala and preventing outbursts or anger. The problem is that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s for many individuals. Until then, the amygdala has the power to dictate responses to the hormonal rush. Without a fully developed prefrontal cortex, the underqualified amygdala often causes teens to act out of control, violent, or angry.
7 Common Anger Disorders
Teenage anger can be short lived or last for extended periods of time. When anger lasts for extended periods of time, it creates anger disorders such as:
Passive or Avoidant Anger – Passive anger is usually not obvious and is difficult to identify. Teens displaying passive or avoidant anger are aloof and abnormally silent. A study in Psychology of Violence found participants that did not or could not express their emotions properly had more extensive histories of aggression than those who could express their emotions (Daffern and Bucks 2015).
Oppression – Being a teenager means more independence and self-identification. This can cause conflicts with authority figures, creating anger in teens.
Social Confusion –Teenagers social lives are complicated. Friends come and go, creating complicated situations that create anger.
Puberty – Hormones released during puberty create many emotions. Puberty can make teens unpredictable and cause difficulties controlling anger.
Stress – Stress comes through social situations, school pressures, and after school activities and often overwhelms teenagers, creating anger.
Hunger – Have you heard the phrase “Hangry?” It’s a real thing! Being “hangry” means being angry due to hunger. “Hanger” occurs when blood-glucose levels fall, making it difficult to function normally, and instead, creating anger.
3 Ways Teens Display Anger
Teens express anger through assertive, passive, or aggressive behaviors.
Assertive – Responding to anger in an assertive way is a productive use of anger. Teens express this through assertive, non-aggressive communication that gets their point across without harm or threat.
Passive – Teens may ignore anger because it makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. This does not address the problem and increases stress. Passive displays of anger may lead to ulcers.
Violence and aggression create short and long-term health problems. Headaches increase, as does the risk of stroke. Hypertension, social isolation, memory loss, and sleep disorders also occur. Handling anger aggressively may also lead to depression, which affects 20% of teens and is the #1 cause of teenage suicide when left untreated.
There are many healthy and effective teenage anger management methods available and should be considered.
1. “RAIN” — an acronym for the following steps:
Recognize what’s going on – Consciously acknowledge thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The first step dealing with anger is recognizing its presence.
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is – Accept that you are experiencing the emotion. Reacting to troubling situations by numbing oneself or focusing attention elsewhere does not address the problem. If you don’t accept the emotion, you can’t deal with it in a healthy way.
Investigate with kindness – Observe what’s going on physically, mentally, and emotionally. What part of your body feels tense, achy, or hot? What are your thoughts? Feelings? Use these questions to get in tune with what is happening within you. A greater understanding will increase your ability to diffuse the situation.
Natural Loving Awareness – Natural loving awareness begins when identification of the small self occurs, opening feelings, emotions, and stories. Remember that emotions are fluid and in constant motion. Nothing else is required for the N part of the RAIN technique other than resting in natural awareness.
RAGE (Regulate And Gain Emotional) Control is a video game similar to the old Space Invaders game. Players wear a monitor on one finger to track heart rates as they play. If that indicator rises, indicating that they’re hyper – players lose the ability to shoot. Only when resting heart-beat levels return do players regain game abilities.
Alien Therapy is another video game with bio-feedback capability. If players’ heart rates get too high, the game limits their abilities. Once they calm down, players regain game functionality.
Angry Heart is a game that increases self-awareness. A trained educator encourages teenagers to write what makes them angry, place it inside a balloon and tie it up without inflating it. This small balloon represents their heart. They then insert that into a larger balloon which they do inflate. Participants discuss how they may hide feelings from others and how they present themselves to the world. After exploring these issues, participants are encouraged to pop their balloons and may share what makes them angry.
3. Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is another easy, yet effective anger-control method. It activates the body’s natural “Relaxation Response,” a physical state of rest that decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Deep breathing does not require a special group or meeting area and can be done on one’s own.
4. Relaxation and Thought Control
Former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Psychology Major Allie Nelson, talks about the different ways we express anger and how to deal with it.
Don’t Ignore Aggressive Teen Anger
When teens display anger aggressively, they become a risk to themselves as well as others. If your teen displays the warning signs, you have options. Act soon. Remember, almost 7 in 10 teens overcome anger issues with treatment.