If you’re a parent who notices signs of anger issues in a teenager, it’s important to help them cope before their anger leads to serious consequences. But before we get into that, understand that anger is a normal emotion that we all experience. According to the American Psychological Association, anger provides a way for us to express our negative feelings. It can sometimes motivate us to find solutions to our problems or alert others to listen to us[*][*].
In contrast, anger issues are when anger is out of control. This article will explain the underlying factors and signs of anger issues in teenagers and how to help them work through their anger.
Is Anger in Teens Normal?
While most people regard anger as a psychological problem, the reality is that anger is normal. Anger in teens happens as a result of an external event — for example, watching a movie that involves bullying, which causes a teen to feel angry at the bully. Anger may also be triggered by an internal event, such as remembering a time when a friend was being unfair to them.
Adults and teens alike face problems, but teens in particular, can be more susceptible since their brains are still developing. On top of these brain changes, teens face different social situations that make them vulnerable to mental health problems[*].
Here’s the good news: Parents and caregivers of teenagers play a huge role in helping them mature and respond better to their environment.
What Causes Anger Issues in Teenagers?
Anger that’s uncontrolled turns to anger issues. There are a lot of things that contribute to anger issues in teens, including:
- Multiple stressors combined: For example, COVID-19, mass shootings, and family conflict.
- Substance abuse: Substances that are likely to be abused by teens include alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and prescription drugs[*].
- Traumatic experience: Losing a loved one, parents divorcing, sexual assault, and an accident.
- Underlying mental disorder: Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD).
At what age do teenagers have anger issues? They can develop during adolescent years, from ages 12-18.
When Should I Worry About My Teenager’s Anger?
You have a good reason to feel concerned if a teen expresses anger differently. For example, instead of talking to you about their problem or practicing relaxation strategies, they get into fights, harbor violent thoughts, and become easily irritated by small things.
Signs of Anger Issues in a Teenager
Note sure if your teen is dealing with anger issues? We have a handout that lists warning signs of anger that fall under four categories — physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental. Below, you’ll also find more signs along with helpful anger management tips.
1. Using swear words
The use of swear words or profane language comes off as being disrespectful. The key is to help your teenager calm down. You can help reduce the intensity of their anger by avoiding rude responses and suggesting that your teen takes a break.
Getting bullied may lead to anger issues. On the other hand, bullying can also mean that your teen has difficulty controlling their impulses. If your teen is a bully, discuss the consequences of their behavior and let them know that they can express their anger in helpful ways.
3. Violent behavior
This includes the use of weapons (firearms in one’s home) and attempts to hurt other people. Violent behavior requires an immediate intervention from a mental health professional so your teen will receive proper counseling and prevent the situation from becoming worse.
4. Substance abuse
A teenager with anger issues may turn to alcohol or drug use to reduce their anxious thoughts and other negative emotions. Studies suggest that adolescents with alcohol and drug problems are likely to have multiple co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses[*]. Substance abuse requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Self-harm, such as hitting, cutting, or pulling one’s own hair, can be done in an attempt to interrupt painful emotions. It’s a sign that a teenager is in deep sorrow. If you discover that your teen is self-harming, provide first aid. Avoid judging and talking to them in a threatening manner. Consider professional counseling to help your teen identify self-harming triggers and how to stop their behavior.
6. Cruelty to animals
Mistreating pets and other animals can predict violence towards humans. It’s possible for a teenager to have experienced multiple traumas in their lives, which caused them to engage in cruelty[*]. Animal cruelty is a serious issue and should be handled with a professional.
7. Emotional outbursts
Bursting into tears or yelling may indicate that your teen has been stuffing their anger for a long time. One thing parents can do is to identify situations that push their teen’s buttons. Aside from exploring the reasons for their outbursts with them, teach them grounding techniques.
8. Destroying property
Breaking and throwing things at home and vandalism may happen in teens with low frustration tolerance. They’re also a form of intimidation, so that others give in to what the teen wants. When your teen calms down, sit down and discuss things they can do to release their energy healthily. Your teen can also use this preparing for anger worksheet that will allow them to figure out how to prepare for and handle their anger in the future.
9. Passive-aggressive behavior
A passive-aggressive teenager procrastinates, fails to follow through, blames, and often makes excuses. While these do not demonstrate violence, it’s important for parents to try to discuss the struggles they may be facing. As a parent, stay calm and keep on modeling good behaviors. A therapist can help your teen figure out why they’re behaving this way.
10. Shutting down
Shutting down emotionally happens when teens don’t know how to display their anger. You may sense that your teen isn’t telling you something. Perhaps you’re getting one-word answers when you strike a conversation. Hold off on giving advice. Let them know how their silence affects you as a parent or caregiver. More importantly, remind them that you’re available to listen whenever they’re ready to discuss what’s bothering them.
When to Seek Professional Help for Teen Anger Issues
Responding calmly, taking a non-judgmental approach, and offering positive advice are all beneficial — but sometimes, they’re not enough to address a teen’s anger issues. Professional help is a must when they engage in harmful or violent acts, especially if these things happen more frequently.
With the right diagnosis from an experienced therapist, your teen will be able to explore their anger issues and learn the skills necessary to manage overwhelming feelings in a structured way.
The Bottom Line
No matter what causes a teen to feel angry, it’s how they respond to anger that matters. Swearing, self-harm, shutting down, and other behaviors listed above are unhealthy coping mechanisms that require support from a loving parent.
If you feel that the strategies you’re using aren’t enough to help them manage their anger, reach out for professional advice. Anger is usually temporary, but in some cases, it reveals a deeper problem that needs expert help.
- American Psychological Association. Anger
- American Psychological Association. How to recognize and deal with anger. 2012
- National Institute of Mental Health. The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know
- Gray K, Squeglia L. Research Review: What Have We Learned About Adolescent Substance Use? 2017 July 17
- Richert T, Anderberg M, Dahlberg M. Mental health problems among young people in substance abuse treatment in Sweden. 2020 June 24
- Johnson S. Animal cruelty, pet abuse & violence: the missed dangerous connection. 2018 November 20