Being a teenager can be an emotional and confusing time. As the parent of a teenager, you know that watching your teen struggle through their emotional ups and downs can be just as emotionally confusing for you to watch. One emotion in particular, anger, can be especially destructive if your teen doesn't learn the skills they need to manage it. 

Studies show that around two-thirds of teens experience an "anger attack"—threatening violence, destroying property, or engaging in violence toward others—during their teen years. Teaching your teen anger management skills can help you and them work through their anger issues constructively and appropriately.

Try implementing these steps when you're teaching your teen anger management skills:

Accept & Verbalize

Anger is your teen's physiological and psychological response to emotional stress. Anger's sheer complexity makes it one of the most difficult emotions for your teen to process. Because anger happens in your teen's amygdala—the part of their brain responsible for flight or fight responses—your teen is reacting, not thinking, when they're angry. Essentially, your teen will be become angry before they will be aware, cognitively, that they are upset. 

Thus, advising your teen to "not be angry" is akin to trying to get toothpaste back into the tube after it has already been squeezed out. Furthermore, if your teen feels like they can't acknowledge or accept their anger, they are likely to experience additional frustration. Simply teaching them to accept and verbalize their anger can help them begin to deal with it constructively. 

You can model acceptance and verbalization by calmly saying the following when you're angry:

  • "I'm angry and that's okay."
  • "I'm really angry right now."
  • "This situation makes me very angry."
  • "I want you to know that I'm angry right now."

Putting their feelings into words can create the mindfulness and self-awareness your teen needs to cope with their anger. Seeing you model the behavior can teach them that it's okay to be angry and that there are constructive ways to handle it. 

Distinguish & Articulate

Once your teen accepts and can calmly verbalize their anger, you can teach them to distinguish and articulate their anger.

Most teens struggle to understand the difference between emotion and behavior. Anger is an emotion, not a behavior. You can show them the difference by having them catalogue the way they feel from the way they act when they're angry. Try creating a T-chart on a piece of paper. Label one side "feelings" and the other side "actions." You can have them fill out the T-chart or have them dictate their response to you. 

After having your teen distinguish their actions from their behavior, you can help them articulate specially what they're so angry about. For instance, they might have a heated argument with a friend, but the source of the anger might be something else entirely. Try using these simple phrase stems to help articulate the root source of their anger:

  • "When ___ happened, it made me angry because ______. This makes me so angry because _________."
  • "I'm angry at ___ because ______."

Again, you should model this behavior for your teen. Seeing you work through your anger can be powerful. Distinguishing and articulating their anger will help your teen address the root source of this powerful emotion, which can help them manage it.

Anger Management Plan

Once your teen feels comfortable with the aforementioned steps, you can help them create an anger management plan. This can be as simple as discussing and completing the following list:

When I'm angry…

  • First, I will accept that I am angry. 
  • Second, I will say…
  • Third, I will distinguish…
  • Forth, I will say…

Helping your teen develop an anger management plan is a lifelong skill they will use. If you find that you need support getting started or working through a particular aspect of the process, you should consider seeing a counselor who specializes in adolescent mental health or anger management