The teenage years can be a struggle for both teens and their parents. Kids this age are notoriously moody. But many parents wonder: is it normal for a teenager to be angry all the time?
It’s normal for teens to have some level of irritability, says Tiffany Nielsen, LCSW, social worker and youth services manager at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. But it could be something more serious if your child’s emotions interfere with their ability to handle daily activities at home or school. Nielsen explains what causes teen anger and how to help an angry teen feel better.
Anger problems in teens
Teens express anger in a variety of ways, from exuding quiet hostility to snapping at you or storming around the house. There can be many reasons why your teen is upset.
Mental and emotional changes
Not only do teen bodies develop during adolescence, but their thoughts and desires evolve as well. A common source of friction for teens is wanting to be independent but still be accountable to parents, says Nielsen. So it’s normal for teens to react angrily to the boundaries you set.
Small and big challenges in life are stressful and no one behaves at their best when they are tense or worried. It’s normal for teens to be irritable when they go through difficult situations, such as:
- Death of a loved one
- Family quarrels
- Parental divorce
- Brother or sister is leaving home
- Problems with peers
Some causes of teen anger are due to more important and concerning issues, including:
- Abuse or trauma
- Mental disorders
- Questioning gender identity or sexual orientation
How to deal with teenage anger
Having a teen who gets angry easily can make you feel like you have to tiptoe to avoid conflict, but that’s not a healthy way to relate. Nielsen offers tips for fending off and spreading teenage anger.
1. Show empathy
One of the most important things you can do is “validate what’s valid,” says Nielsen. Try to understand where your teen’s anger is coming from. Find something you can empathize with during your conversations. For example, “I would also be frustrated if I had to miss hanging out with my friends.”
2. Be consistent with the consequences
Consistency is key when it comes to boundaries with your teen. Set reasonable limits and make sure your teen is clear ahead of time what is expected. For example, give your teen a curfew and explain what happens if your child comes home late. “Consistency really helps your child know boundaries, boundaries, and expectations and be clear,” says Nielsen. “It’s hard for teens when those things are constantly changing.”
Examples of inconsistency are:
- Taking a teen’s phone for not cleaning his room, but letting him get away with that behavior next time with no repercussions.
- Ground your teen for a week, but let them go to a party two days later.
3. Take time outs
Practice pausing conversations when they get heated. This shows your teen that it’s okay to step back and take a break when emotions are running high before you regret what you say or the consequences you throw down.
You can say, “I feel I’m getting angry. I have to go to the bathroom for 15 minutes to calm down. Then let’s come back and see if we can discuss this.” That will give you both some breathing room and time to think more clearly.
4. Discuss current topics at quiet times
Certain topics are fire starters, right? Those usually include discussing significant others, phones, and social media. Don’t tackle the big things in the heat of the moment after something has happened.
You can say, “Hey, let’s talk about this one day after school, when we’ve had a chance to think about it.” We can sit down and talk about how to proceed.”
Ideally, you’ll bring up those topics when you’re both calm and setting boundaries before an incident occurs, Nielsen recommends.
5. Learn how to handle anger
It is a crucial skill to know the proper ways to cool down when you are angry. Share with your teen what works for you and show them how you do it.
“It’s not about suppressing your teen’s anger, but about helping him find the right emotional expression for it,” says Nielsen. “How can they process that? Are you going for a run? Do you write furiously in your diary? What are things you can do to allow for emotional expression without letting it go in an unhealthy way?”
6. Look below the surface
Anger is often a secondary emotion. That means that anger, guilt, or shame usually hides sadness, guilt, or shame, says Nielsen. Teens with depression often don’t appear sad – rather, they appear irritable, self-critical, and angry. Think about what might be causing your teen’s anger. Are there other emotions at play? And can you talk to your teen about it to better understand what’s really going on?
7. Encourage self-care
One step your teen can take to reduce negative emotions is investing in their physical well-being. The following healthy lifestyle choices can improve mood:
- Exercise regularly
- Sleep eight to ten hours a night
- Follow a nutritious diet
- Pursue hobbies
8. Find support
Dealing with an angry teen can be exhausting and frustrating. It is important to connect with others who can encourage you through a difficult period. Reach out to someone, whether it’s a mental health professional or other parents who can identify.
Warning Signs Your child needs immediate help
Any teen who has trouble dealing with anger can benefit from seeing a therapist. But some situations are more urgent. There are multiple types of treatment for teens with different levels of care, including residential programs.
Seek mental health care immediately if you see the following red flags in your teen:
- Bullying others
- Cruelty to animals
- Physical aggression, including destruction of property
- Self-harm, including cutting, pulling hair and burning
- Suicidal thoughts
- Verbal threats to seriously harm or kill others
- Verbal abuse against others
Living with an angry teenager is stressful. But teaching your soon-to-be adult how to properly manage his emotions is worth the time investment. It is a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.