Anger is an emotion that can sometimes be tricky to understand. This can especially be the case for teenagers, who are navigating adolescence, puberty and hormones, which can have a big impact on their mood.
Why do teens get angry?
We all get angry – it’s a normal response to certain situations. Getting angry can even be a good thing, as it stops you from bottling up emotions and helps you to identify when you’re not happy or satisfied with something. It can also act as a positive motivator for you to make changes or address issues.
Teens get angry for all the same reasons that adults do. However, teens are still growing and learning, and might not yet have the strategies to manage their anger and other emotions. They are also experiencing puberty and hormonal changes, which can affect their emotions and contribute to seemingly random mood swings. Their brains are still developing, and they might be still learning how to identify and manage their emotions. For a teenager, intense emotions may feel all-consuming and they might not know how to express them – including their anger – in a healthy way.
It’s important to understand that your teen isn’t ‘choosing’ to be angry. When they behave poorly or ‘act out’, they might not realise that they’re being rude or hurtful. Feeling angry can be a very distressing experience and your teen could feel overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings. Keeping this in mind can help you to empathise with your teenager and help them more effectively.
What is the root cause of anger?
The first step in helping your teen to manage their anger is to figure out why they are angry. Anger often masks a deeper problem and can be driven by a situation that is making them feel:
- anxious or fearful
- ashamed or guilty
- like they have no control
Common reasons why teens might experience more frequent or intense anger include:
- conflict with family or friends
- bullying or peer pressure
- changes in their life, such as parental divorce, adoption, moving schools
- low self-esteem
- death of a loved one
- traumatic events, such as abuse, natural disaster or an accident
- undiagnosed mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD
- substance abuse (e.g. alcohol or drugs).
When is anger related to a mental health issue?
It can be hard to tell when teen anger is just a ‘phase’ and part of ‘normal’ adolescent behaviour, and when there’s a deeper issue. Anger isn’t always linked to a mental health issue, but checking in with a professional may be helpful if your teen:
- is physically aggressive (e.g. they are throwing things, shoving people, getting into fights)
- has unexplained bruises and scars
- is deeply frustrated by inconveniences that might seem minor
- can’t fall asleep, or seems to need very little sleep
- has withdrawn or cut themself off from friends and family members
- is focusing on people who have ‘wronged’ them or frequently talks about getting revenge
- seems very sensitive to rejection or takes neutral comments as insults or criticism
- never seems happy or excited, even when good things happen.
When does anger become a problem?
If your teen’s anger is leading them to harm themselves or other people, or if you feel you are in danger, this can indicate that their anger is a problem and they need support from a professional.
Some behaviours that indicate your teen needs extra support with their anger include:
- physical violence or aggression
- excessive arguing with parents, siblings, teachers or peers
- regular emotional outbursts that may include yelling, screaming or lashing out
- verbal threats harming people or animals
- destroying property
Remember that dealing with anger is different from being subjected to physical violence. When there’s physical violence towards siblings, or even towards parents in the case of older teens, it’s actually a type of domestic violence. You can read more about what to do in a crisis here.
So, what can you do right now?
It’s hard to talk about things in the heat of the moment, so giving things time to cool down is probably a good idea. Try to work out where the anger is coming from, and have a chat to your teen about how they can manage their anger. Sometimes, just knowing that you understand can help them to calm down. Let your teen know that you’re on their side, and look for a solution together that works for both of you.
If nothing seems to be working, it might be time to get some extra help. You can talk to your GP about referring you to a psychologist or a counsellor who can help with teen anger issues. You could also try:
- ReachOut Parents One-on-One Support, to speak with a family professional who can help you to figure out the best next steps for you and your family
- ReachOut Parents Online Community, to anonymously make a post and ask other parents for their advice
- Headspace, to access individual and family counselling services
- Relationships Australia, to get more information on family conflict and to access individual and family counselling.