Recently I have hearing often about how adolescents are behaving as “just a phase”. Usually the context is negative.
What will follow next just may be qualified as a rant and yet I choose to go forward with it.
Let me make it perfectly clear that there certainly are phases or stages that children go through.
Below you will find a widely accepted chart of psychological stages through out the life span.
If you give this a read you will clearly see that anger is not a phase. Certainly the adolescent years can be difficult, tumultuous even. The adolescent years are years filled with confusion, and uncertainty, searching for identity.
These facts can lead adolescents to experience a wide range of emotions in very short periods of time for little to no reason at all! (humor intended)
Of course all adolescents will experience and display anger at times; it’s perfectly normal! But. What about the consistently or persistently angry teenager?
Typically when children and adolescents are angry it is because they are responding to something else. Inevitably there is an inflammatory factor in one of the systems that the child is a part of.
One of the most delicate systems is the family system. Often times the most angry teenagers I work with are responding to an unhealthy family system where they don’t feel heard, valued, or emotionally safe to be themselves. This often happens in more authoritarian systems where one or both parent’s yell often and disciplines is more harsh or unreasonable.
The next system that plays an important role is the adolescents peer/school system. When children are bullied, manipulated, teased or made fun of they usually display significant anger. Once again this can be brought back to the general sense of danger.
In both cases these adolescents will be more anxious, emotionally distant unless they are provoked; and often times will experiment with more extreme behavior in order to cope, or find identity or meaning.
In any case angry kids don’t have to be angry kids! Unfortunately when many adults encounter angry kids they meet force with force and that only makes the situation worse.
Parents, teachers, coaches, and other youth workers should be willing to sit down and listen to what the child is saying. Try to discover how they are feeling unsafe. What is the child afraid of? What is hurting them so badly to cause this type of behavior?
When adults attempt to build bridges to children in their care both the adult and the child changes for the better and they system can be restored to health.