Why teenagers have bottled up anger – and how it is dealt with best
By Dr Mary Casey
Teenage years are an important transitional phase from childhood to adulthood. A lot of changes occur during this time, both on a physical and emotional level.
Hormones, in larger quantities than ever before or after, are helping not only to build an adult’s body, but also a fully functional adult brain. This in itself creates great pressure on the teenager’s mind. Add into the mix the other pressures such as the availability of drugs and alcohol, sexuality, a pronounced taste for discovery, unrealistic standards, peer pressure, search for identity, and parents’ inability or unavailability to provide structure and guidance, and teenagers feel overwhelmed and frustrated. These feelings invariably turn into anger – which is usually more pronounced in boys due to usually high levels of testosterones.
Anger, with lack of skills or lack of a good role model, turns into aggressiveness and even violence. Most of the time, if anger is not channeled or expressed in a positive way, it turns inward and begins manifesting itself in self-destructive behaviours or depression. These habits can become established and last a lifetime.
Let’s put ourselves in a typical teenager’s shoes for a moment to better understand how teenagers can lose focus and become angry. Imagine a 15-year-old female who is good-looking, but has a tendency to indulge in sweets. Her parents are not very wealthy; only her mum works because her father suffered injury in a car accident, limiting his ability to work. He has a tendency to drink to ‘forget’ about reality. Here are a few abstracts of the teenager’s likely self-talk:
“I wish I looked like this girl on TV; she’s so slim and athletic. I need to start running like my friend Jodie does regularly.”
“I hate that mum and dad can’t buy me a (such-and-such) phone. I would be so much cooler in my friends’ eyes if I had one.”
“Why does mum always tell me what to do or who to see? I want to wear makeup like my friends.”
“Why can’t I stop eating all that crap? I am such a weak girl… I hate myself.”
“I am curious about vodka. That’s what dad drinks all the time. He says it helps him feel better. I’ll try next time I have an opportunity, just to see …”
“Why can’t my parents go along well? It must have something to do with me… Like maybe that I am not as smart as they’d like…”
Understanding a teenager’s mindset makes it easier to see where anger issues stem from.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?
Parents establishing boundaries are the key to the problem. From a young age, children need to be given a structure and boundaries that are as similar as possible to what they will encounter later in life – children with the right upbringing learn from a very early age what ‘no’ means and they know their boundaries.
A perfect example of this is when a child wants something and throws a noisy tantrum, resulting in the parent giving in to the child’s demand. This is irresponsible of the parent because it teaches the wrong rules to the child. Later in life, a student who throws a tantrum in class because they want to play and not complete their school work will be disciplined. An adult employee, who throws a tantrum to get a pay rise, will only end up in trouble and eventually be fired. Children need a clear structure. Not having that structure from parents creates anxious children who become anxious adults.
The second important mistake some parents make is to continue treating their teenager as a child. Teenagers need to be treated like adults in the way they are spoken to, so that their compliance is negotiated rather than demanded. Covertly or not, teenagers will invariably reject being treated like children. If it happens too often, they will reject their parents as incompetent, which will leave the door open to their making very bad, immature decisions.
Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives from birth to the moment they leave home to start their own family. But this doesn’t mean being forceful or putting down the child when they don’t do the right thing. Respect, guidance and boundaries taught in a loving, supportive manner are essential to help a teenager through those difficult years of transition. Ultimately, producing a happy, confident adult starts the day they are born. This is the greatest responsibility parents have.
ABOUT MARY CASEY
Dr Mary Casey has a Doctorate of Psychology and qualifications in counselling and conflict resolution. She is founder and CEO of the Casey Centre, a leading integrated health and educational service employing 200-plus health specialists across NSW. She has a speciality in constructing personal development and communication programs and products.
She is also author of an informative DVD entitled, ‘How to Deal with Master Manipulators’.