It might be easy for parents and caregivers to believe that teens are just “going through a phase” when their teen expresses anger. Yet, depending upon the intensity of the anger, degree of control a teen has over the anger, and how a teen is expressing their anger, mental health treatment might be necessary. How can you tell whether a teen needs professional support for their anger? This article will review some of the basics regarding teen explosive anger and when it’s necessary to get help.
Teen Explosive Anger
When teens experience anger that is frequent, uncontrollable, unpredictable, seems to be exaggerated for the situation at hand, they may be experiencing explosive anger. This is different than anger that seems to be reasonably appropriate for the circumstances and anger that happens occasionally.
For instance, if a teen got angry at a teacher who was didn’t let him answer a question when a teacher picked on him to answer it, a teen’s angry response might be valid. On the other hand, if a teen were to blow up at a teacher for being asked to sit down and it was the start of class (a time when everyone else is finding their seat), then this might be considered explosive anger, especially if this teen frequently gets angry as a result of insignificant triggers.
Furthermore, explosive anger in teens might include verbal or physical aggression to people, things, or even themselves. Explosive anger also tends to be out of alignment with a teen’s developmental age. Typically, when a teen is expressing this level of intense anger, they will often exhibit their angry behavior in more than one setting. For instance, explosive outbursts might happen at school, with friends, and at home.
In summary, explosive anger tends to have the following characteristics:
- inconsistent with a teen’s emotional or developmental age
- happen frequently
- happen in more than one setting (home, school, etc.)
- inconsistent with the circumstances
- can include verbal or physical aggression
- level of anger is intense
- expression of anger may cause harm
- the anger is hard to control
Possible Causes for Explosive Anger
One cause for uncontrollable anger is a past history of trauma. Teens who have experienced trauma (witnessing violence, death of a loved one, separation from a parent, etc.) and the trauma remains unresolved, the effect can be an inability to control their emotions. The emotional resilience in a teen is frequently impaired as a result of trauma. Also, teens may continue to react out of the flight or fight response if trauma has remained unresolved. Research has found that explosions of anger typically have the following traits:
- can last over 5 minutes
- have a quick and short beginning
- intensity of anger declines over the duration of the outburst
- maintains a steady but lower level of stress throughout the explosive outburst
Research also shows that once a teen has an outburst, there is little to nothing parents can do. Like a bomb going off, it is best to wait until everything settles. However, parents and even teens can learn to identify the triggers that set off the explosive anger in the first place. This may take time, but it can help prevent intense expressions of anger from happening. To help with this process and with treating the underlying issues of explosive anger, it’s important to seek mental health support.
Explosive Anger May Require Professional Support
Whether a teen’s explosive anger is a result of trauma or not, intense anger is often linked to mental illness. In fact, angry outbursts in teens are commonly the cause for caregivers to seek psychiatric treatment. Also, it’s important to point out that teens who experience explosive anger are not just angry, but that they are experiencing a great deal of psychological stress.
Seeing a mental health provider can help parents with two things:
- uncovering the source of that psychological stress
- learning tools and techniques for managing the explosive anger
For instance, along with trauma, another source of a teen’s psychological stress might simply be not having the right coping tools for managing their anger. A teen may not have the skills for identifying their feelings and appropriately expressing their anger. A mental health provider can support parents in helping their teen identify and communicate their anger in a healthy way. For instance, one suggestion for parents is this:
Build a point system and reward teens when they identify their feelings. Parents can give “points” when their teen was also able to communicate their anger in a healthy way. A teen might get extra points if they were able to prevent an angry outburst.
This suggestion helps teens and parents work together toward the same goal. It also helps teens get on board with recognizing their anger and slowly learning that they can control their explosive outbursts.
Types of Treatment for Explosive Anger
Depending upon any additional symptoms a teen is experiencing along with explosive anger, a teen might be diagnosed with one or more of the following diagnoses:
- intermittent explosive disorder
- conduct disorder
- attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
- bipolar disorder
To help teens with explosive anger, treatment such as therapy and medication might be useful. For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be quite effective. In fact, one research found that teens with high intensity anger were more likely to see anger in the faces of others. This may mean for some teens that they to see threat and possible aggression coming their way. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help a teen identify an angry or negative thought and help turn that negative thought around, in turn this can help shift a teen’s perception of others as being dangerous.
Other types of treatment for explosive anger might include family therapy, medication, and in more severe cases inpatient treatment. It’s important for parents and caregivers to seek assistance for their teen if their anger is explosive, frequent, uncontrollable, and compulsive. As mentioned above, teens may be experiencing a great deal of stress and the right support can help them manage that stress in healthy ways.