Have you ever been in a discussion with a teenager and all of the sudden they are screaming, crying or yelling at you? Then you think to yourself, “When did they get so angry?” or “How did they get so angry so quickly?” or “What on earth made them so angry?” If this has ever happened to you, don’t worry–you are not alone.
Many parents struggle with their teenagers rage and seemingly sudden anger. There is an interesting study by Deborah Yurgeln-Todd that hints to why teenagers are so quick to show and feel emotion.
In Yurgelm-Todd’s study she showed pictures of fearful faces to adults to see if they could correctly guess the emotion. When the adults looked at the pictures their brains fired in the prefrontal cortex—where humans process emotions. When she showed the same pictures to teenagers, they often mistakenly guessed that the fearful face was actually surprise or anger. Most interestingly, they actually used a different part of their brain to process the face. They used the amygdala which is where humans usually process their anger and fear.
What does this tell us? As adults we use the logical part of our brains in discussions or arguments, but teens use the area of our brain that processes gut reaction and emotions AND they often get the emotions on the other person incorrect! This is exactly why teenagers can be so quick to respond in anger. If you ask them about their report card in a concerned way, they often mistake your fear or concern for anger–and they react that way.
What to Know About Teen’s Anger
A teen’s anger, depression or upset is not a thing, it is a sum of parts. We cannot simply solve a teen’s ‘bad’ feelings we have to view these as a process. Their anger might be a sum of a bad day, a mean coach or tiredness.
If your teenagers seems to have a lot of rage or get angry very quickly talk to them about the study above. Talk to them about how they interpret your face in an argument. What does it look like when you are angry versus sad versus afraid. Have them do the same. If they can process your emotions better this will help not set them off. Second, address the ‘process’ of their emotions. What were all of the different ingredients that led up to their upset? This is a great way to help teens re-examine and take a step back from what is upsetting them. This also teach them the essential life skill of being able to process their negative feelings and those of people around them.