Written by Susan H. Christiansen
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  4. Helping Teens Learn How to Handle Angry Feelings (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a series on teen anger. Click here to read Part 2.

Eye rolls, tantrums,  outbursts, and expressions of teen anger are reasonably typical of children aged 12 – 18 but know that you have a problem on your hands when that becomes a common occurrence.

Feelings of anger emerge in childhood and extend through adolescence. Anger is a form of emotion dysregulation (the inability or difficulty in managing and controlling metabolic, physical, and mental processes in the body). Teens may experience a range of angry emotions from mild irritation and annoyance to rage, even for seemingly small incidents.

Anger has been described as:

Whichever term you ascribe to, anger is not a permanent part of a person’s personality. Teen anger is usually brought about by feelings of frustration or betrayal. Each person has a predisposition to respond to emotional situations in a certain way. The environment in the family home and between the caregiver and child can trigger a heightened emotional response, particularly in homes where children do not feel validated.

The invalidating environment is defined as one in which communication of emotion is met with caregiver responses that are inconsistent, inappropriate to the emotion expressed, and/or minimize the significance of the emotional experience.

The meaning of the word anger is often described in other terms:

  • irritable
  • reactive
  • annoyed
  • resentment
  • indignation
  • displeased
  • rage
  • furious
  • infuriated
  • ticked off
  • sullen
  • sensitive
Feelings of anger often contain the urge to strike out, to hurt someone or something, to relieve the pressure teens feel and can’t control or tolerate.  When someone is angry, they may feel overwhelmed and flooded with sensations that are physically uncomfortable like an increased heart rate, hot flashes, changes in breathing, sudden shaking, or clenched jaws or hands. People feel a sudden rush of emotion, it escalates, and oftentimes gets stuck there. This is part of the emotional dysregulation mentioned earlier.

Teens do deserve a certain amount of understanding due to growing up in today’s world. But it’s often easy for parents to justify certain behaviors, letting actions slide without receiving any consequences mostly because they don’t know what to do.

Always Consider Safety First

Safety first. Period. If you are unsafe, leave. Call the police if you need to. Just as everyone else has behavior expectations, your teenage child must learn to manage their emotions appropriately and deal with anger the right way. As a parent, ensure teens understand they will be held accountable for their actions.

    Anger vs. Aggression

    It’s important to distinguish between anger and aggression:

    • ANGER is typically expressed through loud words, sounds, and physical expressions such as a rigid stance. Angry thoughts often center around revenge for perceived offenses. Howard Kassinove, PhD, an anger-expert psychologist, explains how anger erupts:

    “It usually develops in response to the unwanted actions of another person who is perceived to be disrespectful, demeaning, threatening, or neglectful.”

    • AGGRESSION refers to behavior in which the intent is to harm another person, usually for control and domination purposes.

    Future Consequences of Unmanaged Anger

    Research has indicated that when children don’t learn to decrease anger arousal when frustrated, impulsive and aggressive behavior follows them into adolescence and adulthood. Teens who lack awareness of their own response to anger, training in de-escalating emotions, and use of coping tools have problems in several areas of their lives:

    Teens Are Developing an Identity During This Time

    Adolescence is also when teens are developing an identity, seeking out social relationships, and peer pressure is high. The brain’s thinking part (called the prefrontal cortex – behind the forehead) is still developing. It will not reach maturity until your teen reaches their mid-20s. Teens are prone to rash, impulsive decisions that will improve their social standing. They have a tough time when their emotions are high such as during feelings of anger.

    Dealing with an angry child and is hard. As parents, we love our children and want to help them grow into their best selves. We are constantly seeking constructive ways to help our teens recognize, understand, soothe, and manage these emotions. It requires effort and consistency but will benefit your child now and throughout their lives.

    What Event Triggered the Anger?

    It’s fairly normal for feelings of anger to erupt unwarranted in teenagers. Parents can help teens gain some control by helping them develop a sense of self-awareness. Teach them to take a moment to relax and figure out the cause of their anger.

    Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, PhD, author of the book The Anger Workbook for Teens, created a workbook that teaches teens about anger and then gives them assignments to do in the workbook. She teaches them to identify what caused them to feel angry, how to handle frustrating situations, and how to express their anger in healthy ways. In her book introduction, she states:

     “. . . anger is a natural human emotion, but people handle it differently. Some hold in their anger and let it fester, some lash out with hurtful words, some resort to fighting, and some just explode. . . If you struggle with anger, you are not alone.”

    The Concept of Self-Awareness

    The concept of self-awareness is thinking about yourself: your emotions, thoughts, physical actions, and physiological state. Then using that information to make better meaningful decisions.

    Teens need to acknowledge that they are, at least, partially responsible for their behavior and circumstances. Self-awareness activities include:

    • being open to seeing yourself clearly, your personality, values, and passions (what gives your life meaning)
    • being aware of your strengths and weaknesses (positive and negative character traits and tendencies)
    • knowing emotional triggers (such as being hungry, tired, stressed because of running late)
    • self-discipline in creating plans and following through using calendars and routines
    • creating and maintaining safe boundaries (personal boundaries and boundaries in the home)
    • understanding what your emotions are, what caused them, and how they impact your thoughts and actions
    • knowing what your needs are and communicating them to others

    Cultivating the habit of self-awareness would help them understand the true nature of their anger and the underlying cause. It would also help them differentiate between anger and other emotions that may seem like anger.

    Identifying Your Feelings Can Be Difficult

    Emotions like anxiety, sadness, tiredness, hunger, and fear can sometimes feel like anger even though they’re different. Also, there are different types of anger, from mild annoyance to shaking fury. Their ability to decipher what they feel and how they feel is the first step to anger management.

    End of Part 1

    Stay tuned for Part 2. We’ll dig into some important information on:

    • expressing anger
    • acting on anger
    • positive attributes of anger
    • anger management strategies

    It’s all coming up!

    We’ve published Part 2 in this series. Here is the link to Helping Teens Learn How to Handle Angry Feelings (Part 2).”