Adolescents express feelings of anger in many different ways.
This includes defiant behavior and resentment, social withdrawal, physical aggression, and destruction of property. Anger is a normal, human feeling; however, it may indicate an underlying problem such as depression, anxiety, social difficulties, substance abuse, trauma, or grief. Developmentally, teens are experiencing a great deal of emotion related to identity development, independence and separation from parents, and interpersonal relationships. Oftentimes, anger is the demonstration of a teen’s frustration, fears, or general struggle with these typical developmental issues. It is not uncommon for teens to feel as though they are on an emotional roller coaster while coping with the transition into adulthood. Frequent moodiness, impulsivity, poor decision-making, defiance, withdrawal, and selfish acts can leave parents and caregivers also feeling as though they are on the same emotional roller coaster ride.
There is some explanation for adolescent emotional reactivity. The adolescent brain does not fully develop until the mid-20’s. The prefrontal cortex is the last to mature and it is the center of emotion regulation, decision-making, reasoning, inhibition, and problem-solving. The synapses in a teen’s brain are constantly taking in new information and rewiring at a rapid pace. In addition, teens rely on their amygdala, an area of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses. This means that adolescents are typically more sensitive to “gut” reactions. Whereas adults, on the other hand, rely on the fully developed prefrontal cortex to handle stressful situations with reasoning and logic. Since parents and teens differ in their perceptions, interpretations, and emotional regulation, parents may unintentionally add to the struggle by reacting strongly in response to their teen’s anger or attempts to gain independence.
With a supportive therapist, teens will learn more helpful ways to manage anger, solve problems, and decrease stress. Therapists can educate teens on the body’s fight-or-flight response and the physical experience of anger in the body, identifying triggers, and implementing relaxation training and conflict resolution strategies to help combat feelings of anger. Therapists help parents enhance their active listening, empathy building, and solution-focused problem solving skills with their teen.