Dealing with anger in teenagers

Read our advice on why teenagers get angry

anger in teenagers

Teenagers are busy trying to make sense of the physical changes happening to them, as well the changes in their emotions and sometimes moodiness, sexual attraction or a desire to be in control can make them angry. Just like other emotions, anger is perfectly natural and it is neither right or wrong to feel angry. But how our anger manifests itself can be hurtful, scary and destructive. 

Just like pain, anger itself can have an important function to tell you that what is happening is not acceptable and that something needs to change. Feeling angry can be an early warning sign that important needs aren't being met, a push towards making changes or a way of showing other people how we feel and what we need to happen. 

It can be difficult to deal with the strong emotions that you feel when you're angry. Feeling angry and not expressing it can make us feel powerless and helpless, it can make us ill (depression or aches and pains).

Dealing with a meltdown

Sometimes, teenagers seem to push you too far and the resulting arguments and conflict seem a bit like childhoold tantrums. When young people have strong feelings, often they are not able to think straight or listen to reason. They get flooded with emotions. What they may need is to get their feelings out safely and to calm down enough to sort out the problem. Read more about what to do if your teenager becomes violent

Don't take it personally

It's very likely that your teenager's anger will often be directed at you, and they may want you to listen to them and do something. But much of the time they are upset or angry about issues which have little to do with you. The row could have been started by an argument they're having with a friend at school and they may think you are interferring. Listen and take responsibility for things they might want differentlly from you, but don't get upset or angry back. It's important not to let their anger become your anger as strong feelings can be infectious. 

Listen carefully

Make it your starting point to understand them rather than a need to win the argument or make them behave. Listen to the tune, not the words. So instead of hearing 'I hate you! Why don't you leave me alone?' you hear, 'I'm really upset, I'm trying to manage on my own and it feels like you don't trust me!'.

By trying to understand what is really going on beneath what they are saying, you can help them work out what they are really feeling, and what it is they need. Just the act of listening to them helps to lower the emotional temperature and can bring them back into balance. It can also help to name what you think your child might be feeling, for example, in the face of apparent screaming anger, to say, 'You sound really frustrated, or  'It sounds as if you're feeling scared.' By naming the emotion, you can help your teenager work out what they want or need. 

Set limits on your teenager's behaviour

Understanding your teenager's feelings and needs and why they act the way they do is not the same as condoning or accepting some behaviour. Once you have calmed them down by listening and restored the thinking/feeling balance, you can then set limits on their behaviour while helping them find ways to solve the problem. So you might say, 'I'd like you to find a way of dealing with this without shouting at me or slamming doors. What do you think would help you?'

Wait until the storm is over

When calm is restored, you need to acknowledge the painful and strong feelings your teen has been experiencing. Help them work out how they were feeling, what they needed, what they can do to express such feelings in the future and get what they need without hurting themselves and others. 

Sometimes simply recognising and accepting their feelings and needs is enough. Other times you may need to help your teenager work out what they are going to do. Moving on may mean having to accept there is nothing you can do to change a situation, but you can always change how you act or feel about it. First you need to let the initial flush of emotions die down. What often block any advance is all the anger that is flying around. 

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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