Why Do Teenagers Get So Angry?

"...Lecturing an upset child or anyone who is upset for that matter is not a 'teachable moment'."

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D


There is probably no greater problem facing parents than dealing with angry adolescents and teenagers. Anger and learning to deal with anger is a necessary and important part of growing up. Rather than rely on techniques to manage your angry child, it seems to help a lot of parents if they understand what makes children act that way.

What Do Teenagers Say?

1. "I get angry when I have a lot of things on my mind that I canít do anything about and then my parents ask me to do something when Iím already tired and over loaded."

2. "I get angry when there are other priorities, no time for me and I feel like I donít matter."

3. "Iím not angry but my voice gets louder when I end up with more things on my mind that make me feel bad."

4. "I get angry when my parents make me feel guilty for something that already happened. I get tired, bored and angry and I forget to do things that make it worse."

5. "When my parents make me feel bad it reminds me of all the other times that people make me feel bad. I already donít like myself and criticism just makes it worse."

6. "Iíd rather be angry at my parents than feel afraid or feel hurt. Iíd probably hurt myself if I wasnít angry at them. Thatís no excuse but thatís how I feel."

7. "I get angry when my parents ask me how my day went. Iím trying to forget it and they make me remember it. I wouldnít care if they didnít make everything worse."

8. "I get angry when my parents are unfair and thereís no point in talking to them."

9. "I get angry because I love my parents and they act like they hate each other. How am I supposed to respect them when they act like that."

10. "I treat my parents the same way they treat me."

12. "My parents are stupid. They donít understand. They just say they do but they donít. I canít stand to be around them."

13Ö"I get angry at my parents because they argue with each other. I donít respect them."

What Can Parents Do?

What children tell you is not necessarily the whole truth but there is always an element of truth. Just listening to your child and understanding what makes them angry can help in most cases. You donít have to agree with your child but it helps to just listen and show your child that you care.

There can be no simple solution when facing an angry child. It is not fair or even effective to expect parents to avoid upsetting their child. Once your child gets angry, you canít always make it better. But unfortunately parents can make it worse and even reinforce angry behavior if they shout, insult or argue back. Sometimes the best we can do is to not make it worse and then deal with a childís anger at a better time in a fair and effective manner. Giving children a consequence later when you are not upset and they are not upset is always best. They may get upset later but at least your punishment was not given out of anger. Children are less likely to "get even" later if you donít punish them when you are angry.

Children typically have a lot of expectations that they have not examined rationally. Changing our expectations is not easy Ė especially when we are used to getting what we want. But in point of fact, the best time to explore your childís expectations are not when they are upset. Lecturing an upset child or anyone who is upset for that matter is not a "teachable moment". Exploring and gently challenging a childís expectations when they are calm is best. The key is to explore your childís expectations before they get upset and then help correct any errors.

Some children are just plain temperamental no matter what you do. Others kids are easily frustrated no matter what happens. But the underlying reason is almost always this. Children become angry when they are frustrated and they assume they are being picked on, treated unfairly or made to feel bad on purpose. They get angry because anger is often the only way they know how to escape or avoid feeling sad, hurt, afraid or out of control. Blaming others and ignoring their own behavior is a clear sign of an insecure child. Insecure children with low self-esteem feel better when they are angry and blaming other people. Any child who is extremely angry at their self can become self-destructive, create failure or think about suicide. It is a sad reality but anger at the world is not nearly as depressing as feeling like a failure with no excuses.

copyright 2003 to 2005, Michael G. Conner