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Take Time: Teenage anger and how to manage it

Adolescents are growing and changing and the hormones that drive puberty can have a big impact on mood. When children seem like they’re overreacting, it’s important to remember that they are less able to manage big feelings, like anger than adults are. The stereotype of the eye-rolling, door slamming rebellious adolescent is often played for laughs, but for parents dealing with the real thing, it’s anything but funny. Bitter outbursts, unpredictable mood swings and frequent battles about everything from school to friends to clothes to who’s going to set the table can leave parents feeling like they’re walking on eggshells. The pandemic has caused two years of frustration and disruption. No school, no hangouts and no parties, endless time spent on screens and cooped up with family, stress about getting into college, add to that the greater issues adolescents are facing: The ongoing fight and uncertainty about what the future holds can add to this raging anger.It’s okay to be angry

Parents should strive to see teenage anger not as something to be dispelled or overcome but as a normal part of being a person. Being angry doesn’t mean that there is something wrong, it just means that you have to find ways to deal with the feelings better. The goal shouldn’t be to stop teens from feeling anger, but to help them find safer, less harmful, and even productive ways of expressing it.

Finding healthy ways to process anger can be a challenge even for the most mature of adults, but for teenagers, biology creates an extra layer of difficulty. Though on the outside, teens may basically seem like grownups, their brains and bodies are still growing.Decoding anger

Helping kids learn to talk about what’s causing their anger can be hugely important.  Irritability, mood swings, or outbursts may be symptoms of disorders like anxiety and depression. Reactions to trauma or negative experiences with which kids feel unable to cope can also surface as bursts of temper. Even less significant struggles, like trouble at school or college, or problems with friends or relationships can masquerade as anger, especially if kids lack the tools to investigate and articulate their feelings. So what should parents do?

Reach out

If you notice your teenager has been angrier or more irritable than usual, don’t skirt the issue. Instead, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong and invite them to talk when they’re ready. “I can tell you’re feeling upset. I’d really like to help. Can we make time to talk?” If your child seems resistant, take a step back and wait it out for a couple of days. Saying this will keep the door open for future communication.

Validate and show respect

When your child is ready to talk, let them know you take their feelings seriously. When your child expresses anger about something, be careful not to minimise or dismiss it. Instead, acknowledge how they’re feeling and do your best to ask questions and listen without passing judgment or trying to “solve” the problem.It can also be hard not to feel frustrated when your teenager is angry, as it may often be, and that anger is directed at you. But even when kids are being incredibly difficult, they are still relying on you to be the calmer influence and to let them know that how they are feeling matters to you. Taking a moment to really acknowledge their emotional experience can also help defuse the situation.

Check in with yourself

It is hard to be your best self under pressure. Nobody likes being yelled at or having a door slammed in their face. Parents are only human, and teenagers can be infuriating. It’s normal to feel frustrated, confused or furious. But kids (yes, even teenagers) look to parents for cues on how to behave. And, as with so much of parenting, helping children learn the skills they need to cope with anger, is more about showing, not telling. Checking in with yourself is key to responding effectively, especially when you’re already feeling frustrated.Be conscious of your body language and tone. How you say things can matter just as much as what you’re saying. For example, “I’m sorry you’re feeling so frustrated” sounds good on paper, but if you’re saying it through gritted teeth, you’re unlikely to get a good response. Practise mindfulness skills, like deep breathing, counting to ten, or taking a walk to clear your head and let your teenager see you doing it.

Take a break

It can be tempting to charge headlong into an argument, but realistically, no one is at their best when they are angry. If you or your teen are struggling to keep your temper during an exchange, don’t press it. Instead, model healthy coping skills by choosing to take a break until you’ve cooled off. Be open and clear about your reason for pausing the conversation. Come back to the conversation when you’re both feeling less upset. You’ll not only be giving yourself, and your teenager, a better chance at saying what you really mean, you’ll also be demonstrating the value of learning how to de-escalate.

When to seek help

Anger, frustration, irritation, even rage are all a normal part of being a person. Teenagers are prone to intense feelings, but if your teen’s anger is having an outsized, negative impact on their life, it may be time to seek some help.

Anytime that there’s consistent violence or consistent aggression that just can’t be stifled or doesn’t really necessarily correlate with the stimulus — for example, if the explosions are really out of proportion for what’s going on, those are red flags.

Everyone’s threshold is going to be different, but if a child’s anger is impacting their ability to function, or having a serious impact on the family at large, or there’s concern about physical harm, like getting into fights or hurting themselves or others, that’s when it’s time to seek outside help.

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Finding ways to give a little space and a little grace, and being intentional about acknowledging and enjoying good moments with your teenager will help you both feel more connected and give you both something to come back to when blow-ups inevitably do happen.

ALSO READ | Parenthesis: Start early with anger management for your child

(Alisha Lalljee is a psychologist, special educator and psychotherapist practising in Bandra, Mumbai)

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