How Parents Can Help Troubled Teens Cope With Anger

Helping Troubled Teens Understand and Express Angry Feelings

Teenage girl rolling her eyes while her mother talks to her

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Many teens get into trouble because of an inability to appropriately discharge feelings of intense anger. Teens become angry for various reasons and express these feelings in a multitude of ways, but all have in common the struggle of experiencing a painful emotion and not knowing how to manage it. Inappropriate expressions of anger can have serious consequences for troubled teens, but most have the capacity to learn better ways of coping. Here's what parents can do to help.

Understand Your Teen's Anger

Anger is an emotion that is quite often challenging for teens and at times can be overwhelming. A teen who doesn't know how to cope with angry feelings may feel a strong desire to act directly on these feelings, even when it puts them or others at risk.

Underneath anger are often difficult emotions, such as hurt, frustration or sadness that a teen tries to avoid or isn't aware they are feeling. When a troubled teen is acting out their anger in problematic ways, it can often be helpful for the teen to get in touch with what is driving this emotion and how to express and discharge it in healthier ways.

Why Anger Isn't Really the Problem

Feeling angry isn't really the problem for most teens. Although anger can produce significant physical and emotional discomfort, it is an appropriate response to being hurt or feeling frustrated or powerless. Anger is a real and important emotion to experience and be aware of; it's the expression of this emotion that becomes a struggle for many troubled teens.

Much like a toddler who has a temper tantrum when upset or unhappy, a teen experiencing similar emotions often attempts to deal with anger by discharging it onto other people or objects. Many parents are forced to deal with teens driven by anger who punch holes in the wall, get into fights or are mean to others or themselves.

Strategies to Help Teens Safely Express Anger

The challenge in helping explosive teens is keeping them safe while they learn ways to recognize anger and deal with it more constructively. There is a great deal that parents can do to help an angry teen learn ways to successfully cope with anger, here's how to help your teen deal with their anger:

  • Participate in physical activities. The impulse to do something physical when feeling angry is strong in most teens. Involvement in sports and other exercise helps in expressing anger on a regular basis.
  • Hit a punching bag. Teens need safe ways to get their anger out, a punching bag works well, so does hitting a pillow repeatedly, or using a foam padded bat.
  • Take a time-out or time-in. When anger escalates teens may need time alone to calm down and yell, cry or whatever is needed so they stay safe and others are not negatively impacted.
  • Get into music. Popular with most teens, music works well to help teens identify and express feelings of anger, whether through singing, dancing or playing along with songs filled with rage.
  • Identify triggers to anger. The better your teen can make the connection between what leads to angry outbursts, the more control they'll have in expressing this emotion.
  • Creatively express angry feelings. Both writing and drawing can be used effectively by teens to express and understand anger.

When a troubled teen still isn't able to get a handle on their anger it's time to consider getting professional help to get to the root of their anger and learn ways to manage these feelings.

Expressive therapies help teens express anger, anger management groups provide an opportunity for teens to learn from each other, individual therapy provides a safe place to explore this difficult emotion. Keep in mind that uncontrolled anger is sometimes associated with mental health disorders in teens, so make sure to get professional help for your teen if their anger continues to be a problem.

By Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW
Kathyrn Rudlin, LCSW, a writer and therapist in California specializes in counseling and education for teenagers with mothers who are emotionally disconnected.