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Dealing with Uncontrollable Anger in Your Teenager

Anger in teens takes many forms. It may be expressed as indignation and resentment, or rage and fury. It is the expression of anger (i.e., the behavior) that parents see. Some adolescents may repress their anger and withdraw, while others may be more defiant and destroy property.

Anger is an emotion – not a behavior, and it is usually caused by something going on in the adolescent's life. Treating uncontrollable anger in teens generally involves several types of psychotherapy and training for your teen – as well as for you. Treatment often lasts several months or longer. If your son or daughter has co-existing conditions (e.g., ADHD), medications may help significantly improve symptoms. However, medications alone generally aren't used for anger-related issues unless another disorder co-exists.

Here are 17 crucial tips for dealing with uncontrollable anger in your teenager:

1. At first, your teen probably won't be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to his or her behavior. Expect that you'll have setbacks and relapses, and be prepared with a plan to manage those times. In fact, behavior can temporarily worsen when new limits and expectations are set. However, with perseverance and consistency, the initial hard work often pays off with improved behavior and relationships.

2. Be forgiving. Let go of things that you or your teen did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate.

3. Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and your teen spending time together.

4. Assign your teen a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless the teen does it. Initially, it's important to set your teen up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve and gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations. Give clear, easy-to-follow instructions.

5. Consider individual and family therapy. Individual counseling for your teen may help him or her learn to manage anger and express his or her feelings more healthfully. Family counseling may help improve your communication and relationships, and help members of your family learn how to work together.

6. Employ social skills training. Your teen might benefit from therapy that will help him or her learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.

7. Learn ways to calm yourself. Keeping your own cool models the behavior you want from your teen.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

8. Model the behavior you want your teen to have.

9. Pick your battles. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.

10. Recognize and praise your teen's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible, such as, "I really liked the way you helped wash dishes."

11. Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your teen. Asking your teen to help develop that routine may be beneficial.

12. Set limits and enforce consistent reasonable consequences.

13. Research parent-teen interaction therapy (PCIT). During PCIT, therapists coach moms and dads while they interact with their teenagers. In one approach, the therapist sits behind a one-way mirror and, using an "ear bug" audio device, guides moms and dads through strategies that reinforce their teenager's positive behavior. As a result, parents learn more-effective parenting techniques, the quality of the parent-teen relationship improves, and problem behaviors decrease.

14. Take time for yourself. Develop outside interests, get some exercise and spend some time away from your teen to restore your energy.

15. Try cognitive problem-solving training. This type of therapy is aimed at helping your teen identify and change through patterns that are leading to behavior problems. Collaborative problem-solving — in which you and your teen work together to come up with solutions that work for both of you — can help improve anger-related problems.

16. Work with your spouse or others in your household to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.

17. Get involved in parent training. A mental health provider with experience treating uncontrollable anger in teens may help you develop skills that will allow you to parent in a way that's more positive and less frustrating for you and your teen. In some cases, your teen may participate in this type of training with you, so that everyone in your family develops shared goals for how to handle problems. As part of parent training, you may learn how to: 
  • avoid power struggles;
  • establish a schedule for the family that includes specific meals that will be eaten at home together, and specific activities that mom and/or dad will do with the teen;
  • give effective timeouts;
  • limit consequences to those that can be consistently reinforced and if possible, last for a limited amount of time;
  • offer acceptable choices to your teen, giving him or her a certain amount of control;
  • recognize and praise your teen's good behaviors and positive characteristics; 
  • remain calm and unemotional in the face of opposition, or take your own timeout, if necessary.

Moms and dads must be aware of signs to look for in an angry and aggressive adolescent. It's common for adolescents to fight with their moms and dads, peers and siblings, but certain signs and symptoms are indicative of a bigger problem. When an adolescent appears isolated, spends a lot of time in his or her room, or does not want to participate in typical activities, you may have a reason for concern.

A drop in grades, lack of appetite, sleeplessness or too much sleep is also a sign that an adolescent is troubled. Crying often or constantly finding a reason to argue is also a common trait in an angry adolescent. When an adolescent feels very angry or out of control, aggression can take over. Physical contact, such as pushing or smacking a parent, sibling or peer, is a clear indication that the adolescent needs help.

Although some parent management techniques may seem like common sense, learning to use them in the face of opposition isn't easy, especially if there are other stressors at home. Learning these skills will require consistent practice and patience. Most important in treatment is for you to show consistent, unconditional love and acceptance of your teen — even during difficult and disruptive situations. Don't be too hard on yourself. This process can be tough for even the most patient mother or father.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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