Adolescent Angst and Aggression versus a Deeper Disorder

It’s common for teens to feel anger. Imagine being 17 or 18 again. You’re living at home and you have a set of rules you need to abide by. You can feel your intense desire to want to live, see the world, and do things on your own terms. But because you’re still living under your parents’ roof you’ve got to live by their rules. This is a classic scenario that can trigger some teens in feeling so frustrated that anger gets the best of them – often.


Add to this the changes that teens are going through – the physical, emotional, and psychological transformations can get intense. Their bodies are going through hormonal changes, adding to their fluctuating emotional and psychological states. Furthermore, their social needs are growing more and more intense. And while all this is taking place, teens are feeling a strong need to pull away from their parents in order to experience their independence while at the same time feeling their dependence upon them.


All of this can create a landscape for intense discomfort. Fortunately, teens and parents can talk these uncomfortable situations through. With mature conversation it might be possible to find some middle ground.


At the same time, the angst and aggression that some teens feel are so great that it might be something else. Rather than aggression arising from the discomforts of being a teen, instead excessive aggression might be the result of a psychological disorder. For instance, some teens might be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This disorder is characterized by a pattern of angry or irritable behavior, vindictiveness, and argumentativeness. To be diagnosed, an adolescent must display four symptoms from one of the following categories: angry or irritable mood, argumentative or defiant behavior, and vindictiveness. This disorder is similar to Conduct Disorder only that those with this disorder do not act aggressively towards others, do not destroy property, and do not show a pattern of theft. However, Conduct Disorder is also an illness to consider.


Yet, another diagnosis that parents should consider when a teen exhibits excessive aggression is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Symptoms of ADHD include difficulty with paying attention, difficulty with organization, excessive talking, fidgeting, along with hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms can impair a teen’s functioning in school, as well as interrupt their relationships and functioning at home and among peers. When the symptoms of ADHD are not managed well, it can trigger experiences of anger in teens.


In order to tell the difference between classic teen angst and aggression versus a disorder, you might first explore how your teen is doing in school. Is he or she declining in school grades? Experiencing more and more peer conflicts? Are those peer conflicts becoming violent? Outside of school, has your teen broken the law due to fights or destroying property? Do you find that your teen’s anger is hard to contain? Does your teen have a hard time controlling his or her own anger?


If your answers to some of these questions are yes, you might consider treatment for your teen. This might include medication, individual therapy, or family therapy. At the very least, a mental health provider can help you assess whether your teen is experiencing a disorder or whether he or she is suffering from the woes of adolescence.