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How to Help Teenagers Who Are Angry & Self Destructive

by Ashley Miller

All teens feel angry from time to time. Anger is a normal human emotion designed to help people respond to threats and danger. But when it gets out of control, it can become destructive. Teens who don't know how to manage their feelings of anger and rage might turn their feelings on themselves and engage in self-destructive habits or situations, such as drug or alcohol abuse, truancy or gang involvement. It can be hard to see your teen going down the wrong path, but you don't have to stand by helplessly and watch your teen suffer and self-destruct.

Determine the reason for your teen's anger. Identifying the cause is the first step toward finding a solution for your teen's self-destructive behaviors. And finding the reason is a parent's main responsibility in such situations, says psychologist and talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw.

Talk to your teen about your concerns. Don't wait until it's too late or until your teen's behavior gets completely out of control. It can be tempting for parents to deny their teen's destructive or acting out behaviors, says parenting expert James Lehman for Empowering Parents. But talking to your teen in an open, honest and direct manner shows him your concern and also lets him know that his behavior is unacceptable.

Lay down rules and consequences and inform your teen of the improvements you expect to see in her behavior. In their book, "Helping Your Troubled Teen: Learn to Recognize, Understand, and Address the Destructive Behavior of Today's Teens and Preteens," mental health experts Cynthia Kaplan, Blaise Aguirre and Michael Rater advise clearly communicating your expectations for behavior and enforcing pre-determined consequences when these expectations are not met.

Examine whether your teen could be modeling your own self-destructive or angry behaviors. In an article for Helpguide.org, authors Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. point out that you can't help your teen if you fly off the handle or explode every time you feel angry. Act as a role model for your teen and react calmly to problem situations.

Provide healthy outlets for your teen's anger. Robinson and Segal suggest activities such as sports, art, writing or even punching a pillow. If your teen has an outlet, he might be less likely to continue to engage in self-destructive behaviors.

Seek professional help. If your efforts don't result in an improvement in your teen's behavior, consult a qualified mental health professional who specializes in working with children and adolescents. Anger management counseling may help your teen learn better coping skills and techniques for effectively managing her anger.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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