Nobody ever said the teenage years were going to be easy. You expect some eye rolls, backchat and grunts. But you might not have been quite so prepared for outbursts of anger from your teenager. You can feel totally at loss how to deal with them and succeed at anger management for teens.
Teenage aggression can be shocking and scary. Dealing with it in a calm and measured way can go a long way towards diffusing it quickly to get things back on track.
Understanding teenage anger
The teenage years are tumultuous times. Adolescents are going through some huge changes and facing some big stresses as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. It can be an exciting time but also one of confusion and conflict.
Through the teenage years children are slowly moving away from their parents and getting ready to go out into the world. Clashes occur when they come up against parental rules, or behaviour which they don’t agree with. Especially when it is at odds with them trying to assert their new found independence.
As they separate from you teens can feel like they want to do things by themselves, but they can also feel more alone in the world, which can be pretty scary. It can help to keep in mind that:
Anger is an emotion, not a behaviour. It is often a response to frustration. It can also be a reaction to feeling scared or sad.
It’s often also fuelled by hormones, which can cause emotional changes as well as physical ones. Teens can feel out of control as their hormones cause mood swings that they can’t seem to easily predict.
It helps to be aware too that while your teen looks like an adult their brains are not yet fully mature. The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which regulated self-control.
This is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. And this is another reason why teenagers can be impulsive and cannot always think and act in a reasoned manner.
Adults think with their pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s rational part.
“In teens brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”
If you can understand a bit about the teenage brain it can help you reframe their anger outbursts.
You can understand that they are more reactions to their own feelings rather than just bad behaviour to try to wind you up.
Here are 7 great tips to succeed at anger management for teens:
Diffuse your own anger first
When your teen kicks off your knee jerk response might be to yell back. It’s a totally understandable response to anger. But it never helps.
So when your teenager erupts take a moment to compose yourself before you react. This might be as simple as taking a few deep breaths or counting to 10 under your breath.
Only respond when you have taken a moment or two to diffuse any rising anger or frustration (or even fear) you feel yourself.
Listen, don’t talk
One of the best things you can do when your child is angry is to listen to them. Let them vent their frustrations and feelings and listen to what they are saying.
You can nod and let your child know that you are hearing them but don’t try to reason with them or talk too much.
It’s enough just to be there and to be with them as they work through their rage.
Empathise and validate their feelings
If you can keep telling yourself that this anger is an emotional response and that your teen is distressed it can help you stay calm. While you can say this silently to yourself, out loud say things that acknowledge your teen’s feelings and show you are supportive.
This might be as simple as saying something like ‘I can see you’re really angry. I’m sorry you’re feeling so upset.’
Don’t try to reason with them when they are angry
In the same way that a toddler can’t listen to reason when they mid-tantrum a teenager cannot listen to you when they are mid-rage.
When we are angry the fight or flight response in our brains kicks in. This is the most primitive part of the brain that floods your body with adrenaline, preparing you to either fight an enemy or run away from it.
Your angry teen is running on feelings not thought. And the adrenaline can have some pretty big physical effects too, raising your heart rate, speeding up your breathing and tightening your muscles, ready for action.
The thinking part of the brain shuts down and this is why trying to reason with your teen will have little effect.
Help them find their own ways to calm down
An angry teen is often reluctant to do anything you say but try to encourage them to find some easy ways to calm down.
Suggest easy distraction techniques – taking deep breaths, counting backwards from 10, getting out for a walk, shooting a few basketball hoops – anything that takes their mind a little away from the enormity of their feelings.
They might be so mad that they are resistant but if you keep trying it can be a useful tool they can adopt themselves to calm down next time they flare up.
Be prepared to leave the room
If nothing you do calms your child down and their anger is escalating it might be time to leave the room. Sometimes they need space to vent and to let out all their rage.
Stay close by but try to judge when it’s best for you to walk away and leave the room.
Spend time with them
It can be tempting to try and talk to your teenager straight after their outburst but it’s often better to suggest doing something completely unrelated together. It can be just watching TV, going for a walk or grabbing a snack.
You can talk to them later about why they got so angry and find out more about what they are feeling and whether you can do anything to help.
Often your teen doesn’t want you to fix their problem but just to listen and to ‘get them’.
When anger turns to aggression
Anger is a common response to teenage stress. When it turns into aggression then it’s not acceptable and we must let our children know that it will not be tolerated. If your teenager is violent towards you then the best thing to do is to walk away and give them space to calm down.
If aggressive behaviour happens often then it might be worth suggesting to your teen that they should speak to a counsellor. It can be scary and frustrating not being able to control anger and speaking to a professional who is outside of the family and who will not be judgemental can be really helpful. They can work with them on recognising triggers for their aggression and practising techniques to diffuse it.
If your teen seems pent up with aggression then looking for other ways to help them offload some of this energy can be useful too. This could be taking up a sport, taking up running or taking up a hobby that they can get really passionate about. Finding a good male mentor to work with on a project can be a really steadying influence too.
You can’t always make things better when your teen is angry. But how you respond can make things better or worse for future outbursts. It’s worth trying out these techniques to cool the flames.
Remind yourself too that as hard as this stage can be – it is just a stage. And it won’t last forever.