Signs of Hidden Anger in Teens

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Dealing with hidden anger in teens can be frustrating for any parent. When a teen ignores a parent’s comments or reminders about chores, answers with cynical or sarcastic comments or fulfills the request in a sloppy, careless way, they are showing hidden anger, or passive aggressive behavior. [References 1 and 2] There are several things parents can do to help their teen move from passive aggression to dealing with their emotions and accepting responsibility.

Signs of Hidden Anger

  • Though sarcastic and cynical comments are the most obvious forms of hidden anger in a teen, family therapist Kathleen Hofer, LPC has described the emotional and physical signs as including “apathy, fatigue, stomach ulcers, isolation, clenched jaws, grinding teeth, insomnia and emotional eating.” Avoiding responsibilities by being late often or procrastinating are also common. A teen carrying an unhealthy amount of unexpressed anger will need professional counseling. Danger signs include “being overly polite, smiling while hurting, self-harm, loss of sense of humor and depression.” [Reference 3]

Keeping Calm

  • Child and adolescent therapist Signe Whitson, an expert on passive aggressive behavior, advises parents to remain calm and avoid acting out the angry feelings their teen is hiding. Whitson suggests gently but directly naming your child’s anger for him, such as: “I know you could hear me when I was asking you to do your homework. I’m wondering why you chose not to answer me or to do your homework, and if you’re feeling angry about my request.” [Reference 1]

Dealing with Denial

  • An angry teen may not be willing to admit that she is angry. Whitson advises parents to “expect denial” from their teen. The parent can handle this by responding with a simple phrase such as, “It was just a thought I had," rather than arguing with the teen’s denial about being angry. A calm statement by the parent that says “Yes, I understand -- you’re angry” exposes the child’s anger in a calm but direct way. This helps to dissolve both present and future passive aggressive behavior. [Reference 1]

Affirming Your Teen’s Positive Qualities

  • Parents can help build a positive relationship with their teen by noting his strengths and abilities. When a teen refuses to do homework, the parent might say, “I’m really proud of how smart you are, and I don’t want you to feel stressed at the last minute about your work being due. You deserve to feel good about your schoolwork.” This encourages the teen, while letting him know that his passive aggressive behavior—stomping out the room or staying hidden in his room—isn't an option. [Reference 1]

References

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