The teen years can be a struggle for both teenagers and their parents. Kids at this age are notoriously moody. But many parents wonder: Is it normal for a teenager to be angry all the time?
It's natural for teens to have a certain level of irritability, says Tiffany Nielsen, LCSW, social worker and youth residential treatment manager at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. But it could be something more serious if your child's emotions are interfering with their ability to handle everyday activities at home or school. Nielsen explains what causes anger in teens and how to help an angry teenager feel better.
Anger Issues in Teens
Teens express anger in a variety of ways, from radiating silent hostility to snapping at you or storming around the house. There could be many reasons why your teen is upset.
Mental and Emotional Changes
Not only are teen bodies developing through adolescence, but their thoughts and desires are evolving too. A frequent source of friction for teens is wanting to be independent but still having to answer to parents, Nielsen says. So, it's normal for teens to react angrily to the boundaries you set.
Minor and major life challenges are stressful, and no one acts their best when tense or worried. It's normal for teens to be irritable when going through tough situations such as:
- Death of a loved one
- Family arguments
- Parental divorce
- Sibling leaving home
- Trouble with peers
Some causes of anger in teens are due to more significant and concerning issues, including:
- Abuse or trauma
- Mental health disorders
- Questioning gender identity or sexual orientation
How to Handle Teenage Anger
Having a teen who gets angry easily can make you feel like you have to tiptoe around issues to avoid conflict—but that's not a healthy way of relating to one another. Nielsen offers tips for how to ward off and diffuse teen anger.
1. Show Empathy
One of the most important things you can do is "validate the valid," Nielsen says. Try to understand where your teen's anger is coming from. Find something you can empathize with during your conversations. For example: "I would be frustrated too if I had to miss going out with my friends."
2. Be Consistent with Consequences
Consistency is key when it comes to boundaries with your teen. Set reasonable limits and be sure your teen is clear about what's expected ahead of time. For instance, give your teen a curfew and an explanation of what'll happen if your child comes home late. "Consistency really helps your child know and be clear about limits, boundaries, and expectations," Nielsen says. "It's difficult for teens if those things constantly change."
Examples of inconsistency include:
- Taking a teen's phone away for not cleaning their room, but letting them get away with that behavior without repercussions the next time.
- Grounding your teen for a week, but letting them go out to a party two days later.
3. Take Timeouts
Practice pausing conversations when they become heated. This shows your teen that it's all right to step away and take a break when emotions run high—before you regret what you say or the consequences that you throw down.
You can say, "I'm feeling myself getting angry. I need to go into the bathroom for 15 minutes and calm down. Then let's come back and see if we can discuss this." That gives you both some breathing room and time to think more clearly.
4. Discuss Hot Topics at Calm Times
Certain topics are fire-starters, right? Those commonly include discussing significant others, phones, and social media. Don't tackle the big stuff 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 move forward."
Ideally, bring those topics up when you're both calm and set limits before an incident occurs, Nielsen recommends.
5. Teach How to Process Anger
Knowing appropriate ways to cool off when you're mad is a crucial skill. Share with your teen what works for you and let them see you doing it.
"It's not about shutting down your teen's anger but helping them know the right emotional expression for it, Nielsen says. "How can they process that? Do you go for a run? Do you furiously write in your journal? What are things you can do to allow for emotional expression without unleashing it in unhealthy ways?"
6. Look Beneath the Surface
Anger is often a secondary emotion. That means that underneath the anger, there's usually sadness, guilt, or shame, Nielsen says. Teens with depression often don't seem sad—they are more likely to come across as irritable, self-critical, and angry. Consider what might be at the root of 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 to invest in their physical well-being. The following healthy lifestyle choices can boost mood:
- Exercising regularly
- Sleeping eight to ten hours a night
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Engaging in hobbies
8. Seek Support
Dealing with an angry teen can be exhausting and frustrating. It's important to connect with others who can encourage you through a season of difficulty. Reach out to somebody, whether a mental health professional or other parents who can relate.
Warning Signs Your Child Needs Immediate Help
Any teen that has trouble coping with anger could benefit from seeing a therapist. But some situations are more urgent. There are multiple types of treatment for teens with varying levels of care, including residential programs.
Seek immediate mental health services if you see the following red flags in your teen:
- Bullying others
- Cruelty toward animals
- Physical aggression, including destroying property
- Self-harm, including cutting, hair pulling, and burning
- Suicidal thoughts
- Verbal threats to severely harm or kill others
- Verbal abuse toward others
Living with an angry teenager is stressful. But teaching your soon-to-be adult how to handle their emotions appropriately is worth the time investment. It's a skill they can turn to for the rest of their life.