Anger Management for Teenagers: Individual, Family, and Peer Dynamics
By Guest Blogger : Kenneth Burnstein MSW LCSW
Individual beliefs, family stresses and challenges, and peer norms/pressures are the major factors that influence or account for problems with anger management. Thus, therapists working with teens need to taken into account each of these dynamics.
Individual Dynamics: One of the most important treatment dynamics to consider is the degree of personal responsibility and accountability a teenager has with regard to his* behavior. Many times initial attempts to teach anger management skills fail simply because the teen believes that his behavior is justified. Unless the a teenager accepts responsibility for his behavior (regardless of how others acted toward him) it is very unlikely that the teen will be invested in and work at learning how to better control his anger and aggressive behavior. In addition to accepting responsibility for their actions teenagers need to be able separate their feelings from their behavior, understand that while it is okay to feel angry it is not acceptable to hurt others or seek revenge. For many teens this becomes an ongoing theme within the treatment. While treatment may focus on other issues and concerns this concept is a touchstone which often needs to be approached from many angles in order to help teenagers fully integrate this value into their belief system. Finally, engaging teenagers in therapy is critical. In order to engage teenagers the therapist may need to express much empathy for the teen regarding how others (parents/ teachers/ authority figures, peers) are treating the teen. However, even while doing this the therapist needs to continue to work to help the teenager accept accountability for his actions and choices.
Family Dynamics: Understanding how parents interact with the teen is also critical. All too frequently, teenagers with anger problems have parents who have difficulty managing their anger. In some instances, parental anger may be present in many spheres of life, while in others, it primarily surfaces in how parents react to their teenager. Anger management for teenagers with parents with anger management problems is “a family affair.” Helping parents make changes regarding their own anger, particularly in terms of how they react to and interact with their teenager, often brings about rapid positive change. If parents can show more empathy and model more appropriate behavior, this can often be extremely therapeutic for their teenager. Many times parents need to be helped to better understand their teenagers’ angry behavior is a product of immaturity. This understanding often makes it possible for parents to find more effective ways to respond to their child’s problematic behavior. Moreover, reducing stress and conflict within the family also helps to defuse and decrease anger problems, for many teenagers.
Peer Dynamics: There has been much written about the importance of the peer group on the teenagers’ self-concept, values, behaviors, and choices. Understanding the impact and influence of peer relationships is often important because the values of the peer group frequently influence and affect the teen. Specifically, if the teen’s peer group views the expression of anger and aggression positively this needs to be taken into account and addressed in therapy. Often teenagers will assert that they need to be “respected” before they show respect to others. This type of value or belief is clearly important in understanding their angry and aggressive behavior. Moreover, it is important to determine whether a teenager is expressing peer group norms about anger (i.e., is in overt conflict with parents, authority figures, and other peers not directly in their peer/ friend group) or whether a teen has anger problems with members of their peer group (fights with friends, or has no friends). Teenagers who act in angry and aggressive ways with all of those in their lives, may have underlying problems with impulse control (or mood), which will need to be addressed as part of treatment.
*The male pronoun is used a teenage boys typically present with anger problems. However, anger problems can and are a concern for some teenage girls.