The teenage years are a notoriously turbulent time, as young people seek independence and look to assert their unique identity, often without yet possessing the right emotional and life skills to effectively do this. One area parents can particularly struggle with is teen anger management, which can appear in many shapes and forms and usually hints at an underlying issue.
While deep emotions are difficult enough to deal with, it sometimes seems impossible to break through the angry façade, without parents losing their cool too and erupting in matched anger.
As a parent, you are a coach to your adolescent, and the first step you can take toward teen anger management is to assure them (and yourself perhaps) that the actual emotion of anger is not a bad thing in and of itself.
Anger is the emotion you feel when you can’t get something you desire, believe you deserve, or feel something you love is threatened in some way. It is both a mental and physical reaction to something that you think “isn’t right”.
Counselor, author, and lecturer David Powlison defines anger as “active displeasure toward something important enough to care about.” You identify a perceived wrong, disapprove of it, feel displeasure about it, and are moved to say or do something about it. Anger has been called the “moral emotion” because it makes a statement about what you value.
It functions like a warning signal, telling you that something needs attention. If ignored, the problem doesn’t go away, and pain and hurt will only get worse. God designed anger to work in that way. He never says “Do not be angry” but rather, resolve your issues in a godly way, without sinning (Ephesians 4:26). Your teenager might be relieved to have this truth confirmed, as it is common to feel that anger is sinful and therefore needs to be suppressed.
The Bible does caution that we should not be quick to anger (Proverbs 14:17), which means we need to exercise self-control in how we allow ourselves to become angry or express it, but putting a lid on it will never work; it can come out in passive, indirect ways such as negative attitudes, sarcasm, depression and a focus on death, or in physical ways like fights, setting fires, and damaging goods and property.
The next step in equipping your child for anger management is to suggest positive ways that can be an outlet for anger but can also help to unearth the more profound, secondary emotion. This could include giving them time and space in which to calm down; anger is generally a short-lived emotion and can burn out in the right conditions, without being further fueled by an anxious, emotionally charged parent.
They can go to their room or outside or to a place where they can have some privacy while they restore rational thinking. Journaling is an excellent way to release tension; it is extremely therapeutic and can help decipher and clarify what the teen is grappling with. Encourage them to talk to God about their feelings, and, when they are ready, to have a conversation with a parent.
All too often, parents are the objects of frustration, given the limits they are likely imposing on their teen, who might feel like they are grown-up, but are not as independent and well-equipped for life as they might think they are. In this instance, it’s important to establish some boundaries for what will be accepted in the conversation, and what won’t (name-calling, swearing, etc.).
Parents too, need to know what is off-limits for them in the discussion such as patronizing or talking down to their child as if they are stupid, intimidating them or manipulating them through character attacks, and feeling entitled to expressing anger because of their level of authority.
It can be difficult to ascertain when a “phase” has turned into an anger management problem, but if the issue persists to a point where your child’s emotions are severely disrupting their normal functioning and that of the whole household, some external counseling is advisable to regain some control and give them the guidance they need to make constructive progress.
Some of the warning signs to look out for include difficulty in learning new tasks, losing friends, throwing or breaking things, a lack of accountability on the part of your teen, being overly critical of others, threatening harm to themselves or others, self-harm, irrational thinking or behavior, criminal activity and/or substance abuse.
Given that anger is usually a symptom of a problem rather than the cause, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment plan, and a counselor will assess which techniques and strategies will best get to the heart of what is troubling your teenager and how best to help them move forward.
Teen anger management: Treatment Options.
Here are a few of the common treatment types for a teenager with anger issues:
Teen anger management can be unpacked through cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained counselor. The counselor will talk through issues troubling your child and aim to address any underlying mental health issues that they might be struggling with.
A biblically trained counselor will connect what your teen is going through with God’s word and help them to reflect on the concept of self-control and that it is acceptable to be angry, but that the expression of this anger needs to not include a sinful response.
With social media, increased academic pressure, and a host of other stressful factors impacting teenagers’ lives today, there is little wonder that the vast majority of youth feel overwhelmed, which leads to many negative effects.
Teen anger management is one of them, and may be resolved by stress management therapy, which includes teaching relaxation techniques and other essential tools to cope with new stressors that are bound to present themselves all through your child’s life journey.
This type of therapy uses novel environments and other activities to expose those struggling with teen anger management to new and challenging situations in a controlled manner.
This method will be employed if different environments, such as starting a new high school, are an anger trigger. Experiential therapy coaches the teen through the circumstance so that they can learn to handle their emotions more appropriately, which is a critical component of anger management.
Channeling teen anger management into creative activities like art, music, dance, or storytelling can be quite effective as a type of therapy and coping mechanism. Through these mediums, teens can also find a way to express themselves and potentially develop a new passion or uncover a strength that could boost their self-esteem.
Providing your teen with tools to navigate anger can be an invaluable gift in preparing them for life’s hardships and how they will conduct themselves in relationships with future employers and colleagues, and with their future spouse and friends.
Once again, it is worth reiterating that the goal is not to eliminate anger completely but to give them the ability to assess why they are feeling the way they are, and how they can control their emotions. Some questions to help unravel anger include:
- When does your anger occur?
- What are you wanting, that you are not getting?
- Why does it matter so much to you?
- How are you responding to the pressures you face?
- What are you actually living for, in reality, and not just in theory?
- What parts of scripture are especially relevant to your situation?
- How does God call you to respond?
- How could your life change if you were to respond in a godly way?
Ultimately, by helping break through teen anger, you are giving your child the ability to see their sin, confess it before God, and mature in their faith so that they become wise, godly adults.
“Looking Through the Bars”, Courtesy of Hussein Xodie, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Full Focus”, Courtesy of Tim Gouw, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Thinking”, Courtesy of Nubelson Fernandes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Witnessing”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License