Teen Anger: What’s Normal, What’s Not

Anger: We all deal with it, and if you have a teenager, you might feel as though you’re dealing with it more than usual. Teens often get frustrated through the course of the day or week. They’re pushing boundaries, learning to become more independent, and traveling at what seems like breakneck speed toward adulthood. Sometimes, your teen’s outbursts might remind you of what you dealt with when he or she was three years old; in this way, the teen years might rival a second toddlerhood! While teen anger is often normal and just part of growing up, sometimes it can indicate a larger problem which requires professional help. If you have been feeling concerned that your adolescent’s frustration and anger are excessive, read on to find out whether this teen anger is simply growing pains or something more serious.

Normal Teen Anger Behaviors

As teens grow and mature, they naturally want less parental input. Just as your toddler would say, “I do it myself,” your adolescent also wants to figure things out for him- or herself. This means that they are likely to rebuff your advice, sometimes in the form of a verbal outburst or a slammed door. They will often want to take friends’ advice (which, since the friends are also teenagers, is not always beneficial) over yours. While this is frustrating and annoying for you, it’s a vital part of your teen’s process for maturing into an adult. If he or she constantly depended on you the same way that they did during childhood, they wouldn’t be ready for adulthood when the time came.

If your teen seems annoyed at you when you offer advice or prefers to spend more time with peers than with family, this is completely normal and healthy. A teen who argues about politics, morals, privileges, and a host of other topics is often working out who they are and where they stand. You, as a parent, are a safe person to have heated discussions with, and your teen knows this. Arguing is a natural part of the teen years and is usually not a problem if the anger dissipates quickly, if your teen seems otherwise happy, and if there is no verbal or physical abuse involved.

Worrisome Teen Anger Behaviors

Most teenage dramatics and argument-picking is normal, albeit frustrating. Sometimes, however, teen anger becomes worrisome and warrants intervention. If your teen is being verbally abusive or is threatening to physically harm you or anyone else (or, worse, following through), this is a red flag. Getting into a physical fight, particularly if it happens more than once or if bullying others becomes a habit, it’s worth investigating. If you find that you’re walking on eggshells to avoid angering your teen, this might indicate a problem, particularly if you are not extremely sensitive to all conflict with your teen. If your teen is being purposefully oppositional and refusing to comply with rules, boundaries, and consequences, this is a problem — whether he or she likes it or not, you are, as the parent, the one in charge.

Symptoms of a Mental Health Problem

Sometimes, mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can cause higher-than-normal levels of anger. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. If your teen is not eating or sleeping well, is often feeling worthless or guilty, or has dropped out of activities that he or she has previously enjoyed, depression might be contributing to the anger problem. Similarly, if your teen is often nervous or experiences physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, or a rapid heartbeat, he or she might be dealing with anxiety. Of course, there are other mental health conditions that can begin to show symptoms during the teen years, including the following:

  • bipolar disorder
  • schizoaffective disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

If you suspect that there are mental health issues involved and that your teen’s anger is a symptom of or being exacerbated by it, seek professional help.

Substance Abuse and Anger

Anger can also sometimes be a sign of a substance abuse issue. If your teen is hanging out with a new group of friends or if he or she is being secretive or is exhibiting other signs of substance use and abuse, get help promptly. It is common for teens to occasionally experiment with alcohol and marijuana, but if it gets to the point where you are seeing symptoms of abuse, then it’s gone beyond experimentation. Also, if you suspect that your teen is using club drugs or harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, that’s a serious problem that goes beyond normal teenage rebellion and curiosity.

What You Can Do

During a time when your teen is calm, broach the subject of his or her anger. Let your teen know  that you understand that the teenage years are difficult and that it’s normal to feel strong emotions as adulthood looms. Also let your teen know that you still expect to be given basic respect. You can set reasonable boundaries and consequences for your teen. If you think that the anger is abnormal or if your teen has concerns about not being able to control him- or herself when angry, make an appointment with his or her family doctor for an evaluation and a referral to a mental health professional. If you or your teen is in immediate danger, you can head to the nearest emergency room or call 911 for police and paramedic intervention. This is the step you should take if your teen is physically abusing you or if your teen is threatening to commit suicide or harm someone.

Parenting a teen is not easy, and it’s normal to have to deal with teen anger, sometimes on a regular basis. When that anger becomes hard for your teen to control or it goes beyond what other teens in your life are experiencing, it’s important to take action so you can help your teen learn anger management skills that will last a lifetime. It’s good to get this situation under control now, before your adolescent becomes an adult and the consequences of actions taken in anger can become much worse. Talk to your child’s doctor or a mental health professional if you are concerned.

Further Reading