Your Angry Teenager

Every child shows anger and defiance from time to time. And he should! If he doesn't, there's something wrong. It's just part of the normal process of getting through adolescence, on the way to adulthood.

It's a matter of degree. If you have a consistently angry teenager, one who has become withdrawn and sarcastic, who thinks you don't know anything, who won't follow the rules and is just generally difficult and defiant-that's more than just a phase. Now you have a real issue that needs to be dealt with. If you can't get it fixed, you risk ending up with a troubled, angry, adult who can't maintain relationships, stay married, or even handle financial matters well. This is according to a recent study that tracked angry, defiant kids for 40 years, to see what happened to them.

In the meantime, you're still responsible for him, and he's in your home, making your life a living hell-and of course he's in great pain, too. You want to help him (or her), but you don't seem to know how. Every attempt you make to relate, or just to spend time, or find out what's going on, what's wrong, why he's angry-- is rebuffed, or ends up in another fight.

When the level of anger and defiance and rule-breaking becomes extreme, and lasts for more than six months, your child may have "Oppositional Defiant Disorder", or "ODD".


1. Repeated temper tantrums

2. Constant arguing with adults

3. Refusal to comply with rules and requests

4. Deliberately annoying others

5. Easily annoyed by others

6. Blaming others for his or her mistakes

7. Frequent outbursts of resentment and anger

8. Spiteful and revenge-seeking behavior

9. Saying mean or hateful things

If not dealt with, ODD can escalate into aggressive behavior towards others or toward animals, such as fighting, bullying and cruelty. It can also lead to destructive behavior such as arson or vandalism. At this level, you're dealing with a more difficult problem, called "Conduct Disorder" (CD). These children usually have little or no remorse and feel no guilt about hurting others. This, of course, is a serious emotional and behavioral disorder which demands early and effective treatment. Drug abuse, violent and criminal behavior, and suicide are often preceded by unresolved Conduct Disorder.


The precise cause of ODD and CD isn't known, but it's probably a combination of genetic, biological, social and environmental factors.

1 Genetic: Many youngsters with ODD and CD have family members who have mental illnesses, which suggests that the disorders can be inherited.

2 Biological: It's believed that defects or injuries to the brain, or brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) being out of balance can lead to ODD and CD. Also, many children and adolescents with these defiant disorders also have ADHD, learning disorders, or depression.

3 Social: Low socio-economic status and poor peer relationships seem to be associated with ODD and CD, especially Conduct Disorder.

4 Environmental: Dysfunctional family life; inconsistent and overly-punitive, or even cruel parental discipline; mental illness in a parent; or substance abuse in the family may contribute to ODD/CD.

If your teen, or even pre-teen, is evidencing symptoms of ODD, it's most important to seek care immediately. ODD is bad enough. You certainly don't want to see an escalation into Conduct Disorder.

If you haven't already gotten one, an evaluation by a child psychologist is indicated. You need to find out, as best you can, what is underlying the defiance and anger of your angry teenager. Is there ADHD, or depression, or a frustrating or self-confidence-crushing situation with peers or at school that he or she doesn't know how to deal with? Do you yourself have an anger problem? An angry, out-of-control parent is terribly upsetting and frightening to a child, and can contribute to his fear and lack of self-esteem, which gets expressed as anger.

There are several different types of therapy and counseling, not to mention dozens of books, and CDs and DVDs which can offer guidance. There are also a number of programs available through colleges, hospitals, and online.

Bob Harvey enjoys writing on health and family issues, and also enjoys uncovering existing resources and helping give them wider distribution. For more on "Angry Teens", visit Teens Trouble

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