How to Help Teens With Anger Issues and Violent Behavior
Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart. Teens can be amazing but they can also be extremely difficult.
They may surprise you with their newfound political ideas, their deep sense of loyalty to their friends, or their ability to compute advanced calculus. But when you tell them they can’t stay out past midnight, their behavior might feel like it’s reverting to toddlerhood.
As difficult as it may feel, arguments and rebellion can be normal during the teenage years. Teens are finding themselves and becoming more independent, and that’s a good thing. But while many behavior problems in tweens and teens are just passing phases, some cannot be ignored.
When it gets to the point where your teen is displaying violent or aggressive behavior, they need your help.
Related: 10 Tips for Living in Peace with Your Preteen
Extreme teen anger can be a sign that something else is going on with your child’s mental health. While angry outbursts can definitely be affected by development and hormonal shifts, this can be a warning sign that your teen may be struggling with mental health issues.
Why Is Teen Anger Common?
Teenagers are maturing physically and emotionally at a fast rate. This growth can often lead to extreme moodiness, acting out, poor decision-making and impulse control, or disruptive behavior.
But when these angry feelings lead to teen violence, others can get hurt. Not only that but young adults who struggle with anger management skills are suffering too—parents are responsible for helping them find healthy ways to express their strong emotions.
Parents don’t have to do this all alone though. Mental health professionals and other caregivers can work together to help young people with emotional regulation.
If your teen is having angry outbursts at home, you might feel frightened or distressed, especially if they are now taller and stronger than you. Here area few ways to help your teen express their emotions in healthier ways as they navigate these memorable but often challenging years of their lives.
Anger Management Strategies
Parents are their teens' first role models, and they can do a lot to help troubled teens regain their self-control.
1. Role Play Problem-Solving
If your teen tends to lash out in what should be a non-threatening situation, they may need some help knowing what to do instead. Talk to your teen about calming techniques such as deep breathing or going to their room for a self-imposed “time-out”.
Then, act out a few situations and let them practice these strategies. You can reenact situations that happened at home and have your child practice a different way of reacting, or if you feel that could be too triggering, you can come up with your own situations to roleplay.
Teens will often respond well to humor, so go ahead and make the roleplay situations a little silly.
Having a space to write out their feelings can help teens deal with them constructively. Buy your child a journal or let them pick one out. Suggest that they use to write anything they want.
You may want to skip telling them explicitly to write about their difficult feelings. Teens often bristle when they feel that you are telling them what to do. Just let them write anything they want and they will likely use it to deal with their feelings on their own accord.
3. Choose Your Battles
If your teen is feeling emotionally overwhelmed, it probably doesn’t help if you are constantly correcting them. You are likely exhausted too. Focus on the biggest problem first. You and your teen need to pour your energy into preventing violent behavior.
To preserve enough of your energy to fix this problem, it may be wise to let go of smaller problems, such as whether your teen remembers to unload the dishwasher or whether they completed all their homework.
Choosing your battles takes the pressure off your relationship, which in the end, is the most important thing.
In-the-Moment Coping Skills
Overcoming anger issues is not always a linear process. There is no magic formula that makes them disappear overnight. Expect setbacks and have a plan for what to do when they happen.
Safety is your number one priority. If your teen becomes violent, you need to protect yourself and any young children in your home. Having a plan helps you stay calm when you need to do this. Other kids should be able to get somewhere where your teen can’t, such as a locked room.
Do not try to fight back. If it’s possible, stay with your teen and tell them you love them and they need to take some deep breaths or go into their room until they’re feeling calm. If this isn’t working, tell them you love them and you will always help them, but you need to protect yourself right now.
You might need to call the police to keep your family, including your teen, safe.
When to Seek Professional Help
Many teens are dealing with mental disorders or other issues that don’t come up until they reach puberty and experience growth spurts and hormonal shifts.
Conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, or bipolar disorder often do not present in the child’s behavior until they are older and dealing with higher behavioral expectations.
If your teen is having angry outbursts frequently or if they seem overly severe, you may need to seek professional help. If the behavior resembles the tantrums that young children have or if your child is engaging in self-harm, getting a referral to a mental health professional is necessary.
If anyone in your family, your teen’s life, or your teen themselves is in danger, it is essential to address any issues immediately to keep everyone safe.
This doesn’t mean that something is wrong with your child or that you failed as a parent. If your child is struggling with mental health issues, getting them the help they need is the best thing you can do as their parent.
If you think your or your teen’s safety might be at risk, reach out to a professional crisis center and seek intervention from a mental health professional or counselor.
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Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families.