“I hate you!”
Just about every parent of a teenager has heard those dreaded words come from the mouth of their child. For some parents hearing those words can send them into utter turmoil, causing a battle within their souls that could undo even the strongest of warriors. None of us want our children to hate us.
The teenage years can be wrought with anger, emotional, hurtful outbursts, and difficult times for teens and parents alike. In these times of strife with your child, it is very easy to become discouraged and lose your patience and waver in your faith. However, by better understanding how the teenage brain grows and changes and where the “hate” or anger truly stems from, you can better understand your teen and the role you play as a parent and spiritual role model in their lives.
Physiological Reasons for Anger in Teenagers
In the teenage period between childhood and adulthood, there is a lot happening inside the bodies of teens. They have changing hormones, and emerging independence driving many changes in how they perceive the world around them as they grow and change.
Additionally, research published by PBS Frontline demonstrated that the teenage brain is physically unique from that of an adult, and functions much differently. In this study at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, researchers used a functional MRI (fMRI) to compare the brains of 18 teens ranging in age from 10-18 with images from the brains of 16 adults. During the experiment, both groups were shown pictures of human faces and asked to identify what emotion the face portrayed. The adults were able to correctly identify the emotion of fear, whereas the teenagers recognized the same emotion as “shocked, surprised, or angry.”
By examining the MRI images captured while being shown the photos, it was revealed that teens process emotion in the amygdala of their brain, while adults used the reasoning and governing frontal cortex. These results showed that teens process emotions and feelings with the more impulsive region of their brain, making them physiologically prone to misunderstanding of emotions and more intense, anger based reactions.
In the book The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults authors Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt wrote about a study on teenage brain activity conducted by the National Institutes of Health. In this study, researchers used the fMRI to examine the connectivity of brain regions. They found that connectivity within the brain moves from back to frontal lobes, where reasoning takes place. The brains of young adults are only 80 percent developed, so researchers concluded this gap in development was a very likely cause for the irrational and erratic mood swings and emotions expressed by teenagers.
Parental Modeling: The Impact of Your Behavior
In helping your teenager and your family cope with teenage anger, Focus on the Family recommends that you look into yourself and your soul, and search for ways to improve or change your own behavior as a spiritual role model and parent in the following ways:
Ask yourself what behaviors you’ve been modeling for your child, and take a personal inventory
While the teenage brain may process emotions differently than the adult brain, behaviors can also stem from what they are observing and witnessing from their parents communication methods and patterns. If heated argument or anger has been part of how you work through issues with your teen, then taking a calmer, collaborative approach may help you get through to your child more effectively. Have patience if this is a behavioral change for you, because it is a change for your teen also and it may take them a while to adjust and mirror you.
Show tough love if necessary
If leading by example with kindness and patience does not begin to change your teen’s behavior, then you may need to implement stronger measures of change through tough love. By firmly showing your teen that anger, emotional outbursts, rage, or cruelty are unacceptable in your family you can establish rules and boundaries they understand will be enforced if broken.
Root Causes of Anger
Anger, at any age, is often a mistaken as an emotion when truly it is a reaction caused by trying to process and deal with another strong emotion.
Anger has its roots in more complex emotions lingering from pains experienced in the past, such as:
• Reaction to unchangeable life circumstances
• Grief caused by favoritism
• Unresolved feelings about false accusations
Anger can also be present when there are attitudes left unexplored or resolved including:
• Pride and selfishness
• Taking offense
• Mismanaged expectations
By understanding what is at the root of your teen’s anger or resentment, you can help them achieve peace and harmony through identifying what is driving their behavior, and helping them deal with it from the root up.
Could Your Teen be Depressed or have a Mood Disorder?
If your teen exhibits angry behavior for a sustained and lengthy period of time despite your efforts to help them, coupled with changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or moods, it is a possibility they could be suffering from depression or other mood disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2013 over two million teens aged 12-17 experienced at least one major episode of depression during the year, which was over 10 percent of the overall population in that age range at the time. If you feel your teen might be suffering from a mental or mood disorder contributing to their angry behavior, then you should consult a therapist specializing in adolescents.
How Should You Act in the Face of Your Teen’s Anger?
Understanding that your teen’s brain functions differently, and that there may be a root issue instigating their anger can certainly help you get through to them more effectively. However, with the level of emotions involved, it’s likely overwhelming knowing where to begin, and just how to act when your teen has an inappropriate outburst.
We advise avoiding doing these things when faced with a difficult and angry teenager:
1. Resist the urge to say hurtful things in return
2. Do not yell or raise your voice
3. Do not issue punishment or make big decisions
4. Do no use the words “You can’t, you should or I told you.”
Instead use these tactics to keep control of the situation:
1. Remain collected and calm
2. Listen to what your teenager has to say, and acknowledge hearing them
3. Pay special attention to your nonverbal communication
4. If you are having a hard time staying calm, simply say that you need to take a “time out” and walk away
If your teen is struggling with anger issues, it does not mean that they hate you. They might be having trouble reasoning emotions, or could be dealing with underlying, unresolved issues or depression. Your love, guidance, patience and time will help show your teenager they are safe and loved, and help them get through the hard time they’re experiencing.