Anger Management Tips for Teens

Everyone gets angry and anger can be a healthy emotion when it is handled appropriately.  Unfortunately, as the parent of any teenager can attest to, teenagers do not come equipped to expertly manage their anger.  They need help learning what is appropriate and what is not and guidance on how to express this emotion in a healthy constructive way.  This is where parents come in and where many of us fall down.  It is very challenging to help your child develop healthy anger management skills if you don’t have those skills yourself.  It is even harder to show teenagers why learning to master and manage their anger is important if we, as the parents, are unable to model that behavior ourselves.

For some parents, this means the first step to helping their teenager learn to manage angry emotions is to learn how to manage their own.  The good news is that anger management is a skill that can be learned at any age.  It may be more difficult for us parents to master immediately because we will be challenging past behavior patterns.  However, unless we are willing to let go of unhealthy habits and learn to effectively manage our angry emotions, how can we expect our teens to do the same.

Here are our top tips for helping teenagers (and their parents) get a handle on how to manage their anger.

1.     Anger is Neither Good Nor Bad

In many people’s minds, anger is a negative emotion and something we should suppress.  The truth is, however, that anger is simply an emotional response.  It is neither good nor bad in its own right.  What makes anger negative is how we respond to it.  It is our reaction, our behavior that is negative, not the emotion itself.  Understanding this can help everyone see that it is ok to be angry and expressing your anger is actually very health as long as it is a healthy reaction or expression.

2.     Know Your Triggers

Not everyone gets angry about the same things and one of the most important things you need in order to manage your anger effectively is to know what makes you angry.  Being able to identify a trigger as it happens makes it possible to manage your reaction before the emotion takes control and sweeps you away.

3.     Take a Lesson from Toddlers

Time outs are a great anger management technique, no matter what age you are.  The key to managing angry emotions is being able to think before we react.  Timeout makes space for us to think by removing us from the situation or person that is provoking the emotion.

4.     Try Looking In from the Outside

There are a lot of legitimate things that make us angry.  But most of us also experience angry emotions when they are not warranted.  This happens when something that isn’t real, like how we perceive something or someone, triggers our anger.  Before reacting, take a minute to try and analyze what is happening.  Ask yourself if you are angry about something that is actually happening or if you are reacting to an incorrect perception.  Taking this pause to think through the situation not only helps avoid acting on bad information, but it also gives us the time and space to choose how we want to respond rather than just reacting.

If you believe your adolescent’s anger is extreme or it’s causing a lot of difficulty with family, school, or peer relationships, please have a counselor or other mental health provider

assess them. Extreme anger could be a sign of Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or other mental health issues that can be treated.

How to Tell if Your Teenager is Depressed

The teenage years can be tumultuous for every family which is one of the reasons so many parents struggle with understanding when their teenager’s behavior is normal and when it points to a problem.  This is especially true when the problem is clinical depression.  Teenagers are moody.  To parents, it can seem like they are angry at everything.  Small slights like fighting with a friend can seem to block out even the best news or happiest times.  Parents who are looking to help but don’t want to do more harm than good may feel like they are floundering and wondering how to tell if their teenager is depressed.

A Matter of Degrees

Part of the problem comes from our common use of the terms depressed, depressing, and depression.  Your teen may announce that she is depressed because everyone else is going to the dance this weekend and she has to work.  But that doesn’t really mean she is suffering from clinical depression.  The difference is a matter of degree – depressing is today, depressed is this month.  It may seem like a fine line but there are some key things that parents can look for to determine the difference between a bad day and a big deal.

Changes, Big and Small

There are some specific signs that parents can watch out for if they are worried about their child’s mental health.  These changes generally manifest in two areas, emotionally and physically.   Some teenagers will have many symptoms, others won’t.  The important thing is to know the signs so that you know when it is time to take action and when it is time to take a step back.

Common emotional changes that can signify depression include:

  • An overwhelming sense of sadness
  • Bursting into tears or experiencing crying spells that have no obvious cause
  • Easily irritable
  • Quick to anger, especially over little things
  • Losing interest in friends or favorite activities
  • Inability to find pleasure in doing things that were previously pleasurable
  • Fighting with or distancing oneself from friends and family members
  • Losing interest in friendships and spending time with friends
  • Feeling worthless
  • Focusing on negative events or failures
  • Blaming oneself for everything that is not right in their lives
  • Being highly self-critical
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Overly sensitive to criticism
  • Feelings that their future is limited and bleak
  • Suicidal thoughts

Common physical changes that can signify depression include:

  • Excessive and unexplained tiredness or fatigue
  • Lack of or loss of energy
  • Not sleeping enough
  • Sleeping all the time
  • Not eating
  • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Overeating
  • Substance abuse
  • Acting agitated
  • Slowed response times
  • Physical discomfort from aches, pains, and headaches that have no medical basis
  • Rapid decrease in school performance
  • Stops taking care of their physical appearance
  • High risk behavior
  • Self-harm, like cutting

If you suspect your teen may be having more than just a bad day, make an appointment with a mental health practitioner to have them evaluated.  Since depression doesn’t normally get better without assistance, getting help as early as possible is the best course of action you can take.

What Your Teen isn’t Telling You about Bullying

English: this is my own version of what bullyi...

Teenagers are often bullied in silence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bullying happens everyday. But, what many parents don’t realize is that most of it is never reported to an adult.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, only one third of bullying incidents are reported to adults.  This often means that parents are unaware of the torment, humiliation, and abuse their children are suffering at the hands of their peers.  It also means that the parents of the bullies are also unaware of their child’s behavior and therefore unable to intervene.

One of the questions we get asked a lot is why kids who are being bullied don’t ask for help.  While there are many different reasons a specific teen would choose not to report an incident of bullying, there are several common reasons we have seen in our clients.  Bullying can make teens feel powerless which includes feeling powerless to stop the abuse.  Sometimes, they don’t report it simply because they don’t believe it will make a difference.  Teens may also choose not to report bullying because they feel like handling it on their own gives them back a little of the power and control they feel they have lost.  Others may be afraid of retribution or of being bullied more for being a snitch.

Another reason teens don’t report bullying behavior is because it would expose something they don’t want to share with their parents.  Humiliation and nasty gossip are often a part of bullying and may be an exaggeration or an exposure of something that is true but secret – like experiencing some sexual confusion.  The teenager may feel that in order to report the bullying, they would have to divulge and discuss their secret which they are not ready to do.

These are just some of the reasons that teenagers who are being bullied suffer in silence.  The problem for parents is that being bullied and being a bully, and even being a witness to bullying behavior can have real, long-lasting repercussions.

Teens who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, suffer from anxiety disorders, feel sad and alone, lose interest in hobbies, sports, and interests, and struggle with sleep or food.  Being a victim of bullying can also impact school performance and school attendance and may decrease the likelihood of graduating from high school which compromises their future opportunities. These problems can last well into adulthood impacting every aspect of their adult life.

Teens who bully others are more likely to struggle with substance abuse problems both as teens and as adults.   They are also more likely to get in frequent fights, participate in violent behavior, be violent towards others including partners, spouses, and children, be convicted of crimes, and be sexually active at an early age.  These problems, which can also last into adulthood, can have very serious life-long ramifications even if they do not persist past the teen years.

Teens who are neither bullied themselves nor bullying others but who witness bullying behavior can also be impacted.  These teens are more likely to drink, smoke, or try drugs and to skip school.  Witnessing acts of bullying can also increase the likelihood of suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.

The bottom line for parents is that when it comes to bullying, no one gets off without damage and those scars can last a lifetime.  Talk to your child about bullying, encourage them to be open about their experiences with it, and if you suspect they are being impacted by bullying, get them help.

Lonely or Alone? Teens and Solitary Time – Part 2

Nick gets his window seat

Do you know how to tell if your teen is lonely or depressed? (Photo credit: Qfamily)

In our previous Lonely or Alone? post, we introduced the idea that when our teens seek solitude and spend time alone, it is not always something parents should be concerned about.  There are both healthy and unhealthy reasons that teens separate themselves from their family.  It is common for teens that are shy or introverted to seek more alone time then their more outgoing and extroverted peers and siblings.  Teens also need time on their own just like adults do.  Spending time with other people takes energy and everyone needs downtime to process their own thoughts and let down their emotional guards.

Unfortunately, there are as many unhealthy reasons for teens to separate themselves from others as there are healthy reasons.  For parents, the key is to understand how these are different and when spending time alone can be a warning sign that something else is going on or that their teen is not okay.  To help you understand if your teenager is lonely or just spending time alone, here are the most common unhealthy reasons teens shut other people out.

Outcast and Outsider

Unfortunately, the teen years revolve around social interaction with peers and popularity matters more during these years than at any other time in life.  If your teen is feeling like an outsider, is treated like an outcast, is being bullied, or can’t find a place to fit in, they may be spending so much time alone because of these factors.

These feelings can easily spiral out of control because popularity during the teen years often comes down to who you hang out with.  If you have seen any of those teen movies where the bookish girl becomes popular simply because the popular boy starts paying attention to her, you understand how this works.  The problem is, it also works in the opposite direction.  The more unpopular a teen becomes, the less people will be willing to be seen with them, hang out with them, or be willing to be their friend.

If your teen is lonely because they are a social outcast, you need to help them understand that there is nothing wrong with them and that there are places where they will fit in. You just need to work together to find the people who get them.

Withdrawing From Their Life

Another unhealthy reason teens seek solitary time is when they are extremely unhappy after being betrayed, violated, rejected, or disappointed.  Circumstances may leave your teen feelings anxious, discouraged, guilty, shameful, or like they are a failure.  These extreme feelings can be so overwhelming and intense that the teen withdraws, allowing depression to control their emotional state and seeing their world as a hopeless place.   This creates an environment that has no room for other people and no energy for the kind of social interaction that could combat the negativity.

If your teen is withdrawn and seems to look at life through sad, hopeless glasses, it is time to seek professional help from a mental health professional.  If you have any questions about behavior you see exhibited in your teen, give one of our certified counselors at Doorways a call today. We would love to help!

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Lonely or Alone? Teens and Solitary Time – Part 1

Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norw...

Do you know the warning signs to look for if your teen is lonely or depressed? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parents face many challenges as they guide and usher their teenagers through the final years of adolescence on their way to becoming young adults.  One of the most common is knowing when their teen’s behavior is normal and a sign of healthy adaptation and when it is abnormal and requires attention.  It is normal for teenagers to spend time away from their families, often secluded in their rooms.  For many parents this change in behavior can feel like their child is pulling away, like there is some problem or tension within the family.  This can lead to concern about whether or not this alone time is healthy or if it is a sign that their child needs help.

Like most parenting challenges, there is no easy answer or fail-safe guideline that can be used to know the difference.  In part, it depends on your child.  Some people are more introverted than others, which means that some teens will seek more solitary time than their peers.  Other teens may find the demands of socializing and school draining and seek alone time as a way to re-energize and rejuvenate themselves.  A teenagers desire to spend time alone is not a cause for concern.  In fact, this kind of separation is an important part of their development.  But in order to provide for and protect their children, parents need to be able to tell between solitude that signifies healthy development and solitude that signifies danger ahead.

To help understand if your teenager is lonely or just spending time alone, here are the most common healthy reasons teens seek solitude.


Even teenagers who were outgoing as children can experience periods of shyness as teenagers.  The teen years bring changes to almost every aspect of life and it is perfectly normal for teens to become fearful of things like saying the wrong thing, looking silly or strange, being rejected by others, or not fitting in with their peers.  These types of fears can result in periods of shyness when your teen withdraws and seeks the comfort and safety of solitude.   While feeling and acting shy is not cause for parental concern, parents can help their teen through these phases by offering encouragement and support.

Spending Time Alone

Sometimes, we all just need to spend some time by ourselves.  Being with other people requires a lot of energy no matter what age you are because you have to consider the other people’s needs, opinions, and feelings while moderating what you say and how you act.  This can be draining even if you aren’t a teenager trying to navigate a constantly shifting and completely unforgiving social network while also building the skills to do so.  Sometimes, your teenager just needs to not have to worry about anyone else for awhile so they can recharge their own batteries.  This is healthy behavior and no cause for concern.

Being an Introvert

As mentioned above, some people, including teenagers, are simply more introverted than others.  Introverted teens thrive when they get to spend enough time on their own.  They benefit from honoring this side of themselves and the best thing parents can do is be understanding and supportive of their need for this solitary space.  However, even introverted teens need social interaction.  Creating relationships, connecting with others, and establishing solid communication skills are as essential for introverts as they are for extroverts and teens that isolate themselves in order to avoid these situations may need encouragement in these areas.

Regardless of what may be leading your teen or adolescent to spend time alone, be aware of any signs of depression that may be causing this behavior. Be on the lookout for any of the following signs of depression. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give one of our counselors at Doorways a call.

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities, socializing, and pastimes
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems with concentration
  • Changes in eating habits that includes craving high sugar foods


Seasonal Affective Disorder in Teens

It isn’t uncommon for people of all ages to get a little down as fall changes to winter, the days get shorter, and the temperatures drop.  In most places around the country, the long, fun, sunny days of summer are gone and the bleak, cold days of winter loom ahead for months.  But for some people, the transition from season to season can cause a type of depression that is much more serious than being bummed out that summer is over.  This condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It is a type of depression and it affects more people, of all ages, than you might think.   Current estimates indicate that about 6% of people, including adults, teens, and children, have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For parents of teenagers, it can be enough of a challenge to figure out what is natural teenage moodiness and what is a mental health concern.   When the source of the moody behavior is Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be even more challenging because the condition is rare in children and teens.  The average age for onset of the illness is 20 and more females than males are affected.

The main thing that differentiates Seasonal Affective Disorder from depression is the seasonal pattern.  A teenager with this condition will only experience symptoms for the same few months every year.  The most common form of the disorder is winter depression which affects people as the seasons shift from fall to winter.  There is also a form of the disorder called summer depression that begins in the late spring and runs through the summer.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The cause of SAD is unclear but lack of access to sunlight is suspected to play a part in the disorder.  When the amount of sunlight decreases or increases, it may affect the way our body and brain produces chemicals.  People with SAD may be more sensitive to these chemical and hormonal shifts.   These theories are supported by research that shows a person inNew Hampshireis seven times more likely to have SAD than a person inFlorida.  Anecdotal evidence that people with SAD who spend the winter months in a place with more access to sunlight do not experience symptoms.

Who is at Risk for Developing SAD?

While anyone can get this disorder, there are some factors that increase the risk of developing it including:

  • Family history – If you have a close relative with SAD you may be more likely to develop it.
  • Gender – More women have been diagnosed with the disorder than men.
  • Location – People who live far from the equator, either north or south, are more likely to have SAD.
  • Mental Health – Those people with depression or bipolar disorder may find that their symptoms are worse depending on the season.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of SAD are the same as those for depression but are only experienced during a specific season.  These symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities, socializing, and pastimes
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems with concentration
  • Changes in eating habits that includes craving high sugar foods

 How is it Treated?

There are several ways to treat SAD in teenagers.  The first type of treatment involves increasing the person’s exposure to full spectrum lights during the months when they experience symptoms.  These types of light bulbs mimic daylight and can relieve symptoms.  If simple exposure to more light isn’t sufficient to alleviate symptoms, light therapy may be used.  This approach uses special lights as well but concentrates the light in a light box or light panel.  The person with SAD sits in front of the lights for a specific amount of time each day until the seasons change again.  Psychotherapy and medication may also be used to treat teens with SAD.