Anger and adolescents

Anger and adolescents
Highlights

Anger and adolescents. A parent asked me about his son, who was about to turn 20. As a teenager, the boy had a quick temper. His dad assumed that his short temper was related to that awkward stage of life.

In families with adolescents and young adults, anger is a frequently occurring issue, not just for the young person, but for parents as well. How can this issue be handled?

A parent asked me about his son, who was about to turn 20. As a teenager, the boy had a quick temper. His dad assumed that his short temper was related to that awkward stage of life. But now, on the brink of adulthood, the young man seemed to be getting worse. He’d been less able to deal with criticism, minor upsets, jokes, or comments contrary to his point of view.

The young man’s father didn’t know if his son’s behaviour was normal, or if it was a sign of depression or other problem. He also wanted to know how to talk with his son about his anger.

To understand this situation, it helps to put oneself in a 19-year-old’s shoes. Still inexperienced, there are big challenges ahead: transition stage, entering the work force or starting college, living away from home for the first time. These are stressful transitions for anyone.

But when a teen gets angrier as time goes by and acts more rigid and defensive — it is a cause for concern. This is not a very adaptive response to life’s challenges and it can make every day tougher and hence needs to be addressed properly. Whether it is depression or just anger is probably less important than the fact that the teen is suffering. Not only teens, even young adults also get angry all the time.

A 19-year-old is no longer a child, but neither is he or she a fully-fledged adult. This in-between state, in theory, it is a time of life when a person takes life’s possibilities more seriously. Emerging adults know that responsible choices matter. But they are still young enough that they aren’t ready to make lasting commitments.

No matter what we call this stage, it presents a tricky time for parents and their children. Emerging adults must decide how much help they want or are willing to accept from their parents or anyone else. At the same time, parents must decide how much help is reasonable to give. What type of feelings they have and how anger functions.

What is the function of anger? Anger is a feeling and like all emotions helps us reman self aware about what is going on within us, and around us .

Usually it arises in response to some perceived violation of one’s well being by oneself (I messed up), by others (I was mistreated), or by the world (circumstances are against me)

Common statements of violation I hear in counselling include: “That was wrong!” “That shouldn’t have happened!” “I didn’t deserve this!” "That was unfair!” “That's not right!” “I'm not going to take it!” “I'm never going to forget this!” “I’m going to get them back!”

At this stage, everyone should be aware of the mind set of others, mainly parents. Taking a step back does not mean abandoning your child. By the time a child hits young adulthood, the goal is to replace direct help with encouragement about (and belief in) your child’s ability to manage these responsibilities on his own. This is the beginning of the process of maturing.

Accept the Fact

So the first thing for parents to keep in mind is that intermittent anger between them and their adolescent son or daughter is not a problem to eliminate. It is a reality to accept.

The issue for parents is to understand the nature of anger, what tends to bring it on, and choices for managing it constructively.

Understanding anger

The first and foremost action is to understand their anger. It could be a manifestation of anxiety about “making it” in the grown-up world. It could signal some crisis, like trouble in a relationship.

It’s also possible that it’s just you. It is very common for children of any age, but especially teenagers, to be intolerant of parents’ input, whether it is constructive criticism, helpful advice, or being playful.

Make time to talk

I advice people who come for counselling, that they should be calm when dealing with anger-related issues. I suggest that they remind their children in a loving way that they are becoming responsible for their own life. Parents need to tell their children that they are respected and that they trust in their ability to manage their problems. Most parents have a doubt on how to approach their children. The two main guiding principles are — be assertive, be a good listener.

Sometimes, your child may respond with anger even when you’re working hard to be helpful. When you’re met with hostility, it’s tempting to strike back. Resist that impulse as your child may take your impulsive words to heart. Instead give your child the advice that you need to give calmly. If not right away, after some years he/she will remember whatever you said to them and realise the importance. So, have patience and wait for the result. As elders if we don’t have patience, how can you expect your children to have patience?

Understand that perception mediates emotion. It is not the event or person which gives emotional experience. It is the event and interpretation of self that leads to emotional experience. “It’s not the event, it’s the response to the event that matters.” No one can make you angry without the permission given by your interpretation about what happened. Change how you think and you can change how you feel. "When I chose to believe you did this deliberately, I was really hurt and angry. But when I chose to understand that you did it unintentionally, at least the anger part went away."

So, keep a track of your events and don’t interpret everything in a negative manner. Try to understand the others point of view.

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