If you’re the parent or caregiver of a teenager (or two), chances are good that you’ve faced the infamous anger of adolescence at some point. Maybe your kid is a bit snarkier than usual, or perhaps they’ve graduated to door slamming and music blasting.
Teenagers going through puberty have naturally heightened emotions, so this behavior doesn’t necessarily relate to anything you did or didn’t do. No matter how good of a parent you are, there will likely still be days when your teen rages at the world.
As a start, it can help to understand where teenage anger comes from and learn to recognize the signs. You’ll find more details below, along with some tips to support your kid through the more challenging parts of puberty.
Anger is a human emotion, one pretty much everyone tends to feel when things don’t go as planned.
Teens can get mad for the same reasons as anyone else:
- unfairness or injustice
But teens often have more buttons to push, as a result of their developmental stage.
A few likely reasons your kid may seem angrier than usual include:
Hormones often play a big part in your teen’s emotions. Surges of testosterone or estrogen can leave your teen feeling more emotional. They can also affect the parts of the brain involved in judgment and restraint, making them more likely to act on their emotions.
This isn’t a fluke of puberty, but a key feature. Part of growing up involves learning to make your own decisions — even the ones that lead to some regrets.
For example, if your teen blows off practicing for their basketball game and their team loses the match, they’re probably going to be upset. Yet any feelings of anger and embarrassment may help cement the memory of the loss in their brain. When they remember the sting of losing, they might feel more motivated to practice for the next match.
If your teen lacks an outlet for their anger, they might turn those emotions inward. Instead of expressing and working through feelings in productive ways, they might:
- fixate on their perceived flaws
- berate themselves for past mistakes
- self-harm or punish themselves in other ways
Research suggests over 3 percent of kids and teens in the United States have a diagnosis of depression. Of course, the actual number of youth living with depression may be much higher, since not everyone with the condition receives a diagnosis.
Supporting a teen in crisis? Our guide can help.
Troubles at home
Any upheaval and conflict in the family, including stress related to divorce or estrangement, can also affect your teen’s mood. Anger can be contagious, in a sense.
If your teen lashes out, they may not be mad at you specifically. Rather, they could be frustrated with a situation but not know how to express their feelings.
It’s also possible they consider you a “safe” person to vent their anger on. To put it another way, they know you won’t hurt them while they’re vulnerable.
While every generation faces its own challenges, there’s no denying that today’s teens have to contend with a uniquely difficult combination of stressors. These include climate change, the threat of school shootings, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, just to name a few.
Most teenagers have the mental capacity to understand these crises, but they still remain dependent on adults for survival. Their sense of injustice and powerlessness can be a powerful formula for fury.
Helping them find a sense of agency — through volunteering or protesting, for instance — can offer a way to temper those feelings.
How do you know when your kid is angry? These signs can suggest that a bad mood might shortly escalate to a meltdown:
- More movement. Your teen pounds up the stairs, then starts gesturing wildly as they tell you what their (ex-)best friend just pulled.
- Less patience. During a debate about what show to watch, your teen keeps interrupting you to repeat their argument (with increasing volume).
- More bad language. Your teen starts peppering their speech with insults and swear words, such as “I can’t believe the stupid bus f-ing left me behind f-ing again.”
- Less manners. Your teen speaks more bluntly, saying “Why can’t you make dinner already?” instead of politely saying, “I’m so hungry. Could we eat soon?”
- More passive aggression. Sarcasm and eye-rolling can suggest anger simmering under the surface.
- Less nuance. You ask your teen to take out the trash, and they accuse you of “always” nagging them and “never” letting them have any free time.
It’s understandable to worry about your teen’s mood. You might wonder how to tell whether their anger is a temporary, typical phase of development — or a sign of a deeper concern.
Anger doesn’t always suggest a mental health condition. That said, professional support may be a good next step if your teen:
- acts physically aggressive by throwing things, shoving people, or getting into fights
- has unexplained bruises and scars
- can’t fall asleep or seems to need very little sleep
- gets stuck on thoughts of people who may have “wronged” them or frequently talks about getting revenge
- cuts off or withdraws from all friends and family members, not just the person they’re fighting with
- seems extremely sensitive to rejection or interprets neutral remarks as insults or criticism
- never appears to feel happy or excited, even when good things happen
If you notice one or more of these signs, it may be time to step in by helping your teen connect with a mental health professional.
You can take a few different steps to help support your teen through bouts of anger:
Validate their feelings
Say your kid comes home furious about a friend “stealing” their crush. You may be tempted to downplay the situation and urge them to calm down. But if you ignore your teen’s (valid) emotions, they might end up getting mad at you for not taking their side.
This incident may not seem like a big deal to you, but it might represent your teen’s first experience with heartbreak. You can validate their feelings simply by listening and acknowledging them. “You sound very hurt,” or “I’m sorry that happened to you” can go a long way to helping them feel heard. When you help them carry their pain, their anger might feel more manageable.
Plus, when you validate their feelings, they might be more receptive to guidance on controlling their anger in more effective ways.
Help them find an outlet
One helpful way to get rid of anger involves channeling it somewhere else.
Research suggests that physical activity offers one way to blow off steam, for people able to exercise. While your teen may still feel upset about the situation making them angry, getting some exercise could help their anger feel less overwhelming.
Music can also help teens manage anger. Whether your kid is fighting with siblings or reeling from a breakup, there’s almost certainly a song that matches their mood.
Get professional help
Sometimes anger happens as a symptom of a mental health condition that requires professional support. A therapist or psychiatrist can help treat your child’s symptoms.
Your teen may resist the idea of going to therapy at first. Maybe they feel defensive or believe therapy won’t help.
To encourage them, try these tips:
- Address their priorities. If your kid is angry, they might want something about their life to change. Therapy can likely support those goals.
- Offer options. Present your kid with two or three potential therapists. Making the choice about who to work with can help your teen feel more in control of the situation.
- Join a session. Family conflict is rarely caused by one person. If the whole family participates in counseling, therapy can feel like a team effort instead of punishment.
- Respect their privacy. If your teen needs one-on-one therapy sessions, explain what confidentiality means for counseling. They may feel more willing to talk if they know their conversation will stay private.
Enduring a teen’s anger can test even the most resilient parent.
You can support yourself by:
- Keeping perspective. Adolescent angst isn’t forever. While early puberty may be stormy, kids tend to mellow out as they get older.
- Drawing boundaries. Just because your teen is angry at you doesn’t mean they get to resort to personal attacks. You have feelings too.
- Schedule some personal time. Take an hour to enjoy a book or take a well-deserved nap. Self-care can recharge your batteries and help you keep your cool.
- Reaching out. Even when everything goes right, parenting can feel overwhelming at times. Consider joining a support group or talking to your parent friends.
When parenting a teen, you’ll likely encounter your fair share of bad moods. Irritability and testiness are a normal part of growing up, so usually, they’re nothing to lose sleep over.
If you find yourself in the trajectory of your teen’s anger, take a deep breath and remember: While puberty is temporary, family is forever.
Keep in mind, too, that you can’t always protect your kid from anger — and you may not always want to. Again, anger is natural, and sometimes it’s the most appropriate response to whatever’s happening in your teen’s life. The key is helping them learn to manage it effectively.
Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.