Friday, 21 September 2007

The Young and Angry

Teenage hostility is upsetting, and dealing with angry teens is the most difficult part of a parent’s job. The aggression can be nerve-wracking, and parents, and even teachers, can get exhausted trying to cope with adolescent anger.
Angry teens defy rules and argue back. The effects of teen anger may be seen in failing grades, involvement with the wrong crowd, or adopting dressing styles and hairstyles that infuriate parents and educators.
The more severe problems associated with anger include alcohol and drug abuse, and criminal behaviour. Teenage depression is another consequence and can lead to suicide. Unfortunately, problems such as these have increased over the last 25 years.
Marked changes in mood or behaviour should be taken as possible signs of a more significant underlying problem. So, how can you know if your teen needs help?
Sometimes, there is a grey area between normal and abnormal behaviour in t he case of adolescents. But the following five steps can be used to denote unhealthy anger:
A frequent loss of temper at the slightest provocation
Brooding, isolation from family and friends
Damage to one’s body or property
A need to exact revenge on others;
Decreased involvement in social activity
Children direct their anger either outwardly or inwardly. The “acting out” child often exhibits problems that raise the concerns of others outside of the family. If professionals from your child’s school express concerns, this is certainly a red flag. Behaviour to watch out for at home include violent behaviour towards self or others and destruction of property.
The “acting in” children tend to direct their anger inwardly by withdrawing, by being quietly moody and sullen, or by oversleeping. Depression may be also a way of internalizing the angry feelings rather than dealing with them directly. The teen who stays in bed all weekend may look very different from the kid who’s screaming and shrieking in the family room, but both of them may actually be struggling with feelings of anger and frustration.
Dr.Henry A Paul , author of When Kids are Mad, not Bad says that kids whose anger is continually mishandled may receive the message that anger is an unacceptable feeling, rather than a normal and natural emotion. This sets in motion a complex psychological process he calls the “anger metamorphosis”.
Initially, the teen verbalizes anger in a desperate attempt to express feelings of frustration. When this is not successful, the anger compounds, and eventually
the child begins acting out in negative ways. There may be behavioural manifestation such as skipping school or experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and signs of psychological disturbance such as extreme moodiness, anxiety, or changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Eventually, because they have learned that their anger is not acceptable, the anger becomes buried until the teen doesn’t sense his/her own anger but sees everyone else as being angry, with the world feeling like a dangerous and out-control place.
In the final stage of this cycle, the repressed anger surfaces again, manifested as direct hostility and rage, which can ultimately lead to chronic feelings of anger, depression and even suicide, as well as tendencies toward aggressive behaviour / violence.
It is also important to realize that not all adolescent anger is fueled by internal conflicts.
Parents even the most well-meaning ones, actually do many things that make kids angry. These include creating no-win situations, breaking problems, making disparaging comments and comparisons, negative feelings, humiliating one’s child in front of peers, and arbitrarily exercising one’s power.
To prevent things from getting to this point, experts suggest that you listen carefully to your child’s complaints and support healthy and respectful verbalizations of anger.
Parents should examine the ways in which they express their own anger, and begin to model appropriate ways of conflict resolution.
The most significant way children learn is to model after the most important adults in their lives – their parents. Children learn primarily by what they see you do, not so much by what you tell them to do.Parents who yell or get physical when they are angry are likely to have children who do the same. Conversely, parents who model healthy anger management techniques are likely to have children with fewer anger management problems.
If you are unsure whether your child’s anger is being expressed appropriately and within normal limits, seek outside help. Talk to other parents who have a child the same age and compare notes.
Discuss your child’s situation with the school counselors or professionals. If the feedback you get confirms your concerns, seek professional help.

As a reminder, this column is being written to draw attention to the issues concerning parenting and should not be relied upon as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

The Next Step, New Straits Times
Your Education Guide
Wednesday February 27

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