Thursday, July 5, 2012

Teen Anger Attacks an Epidemic?

            As you know, I taught middle school for years and raised two sons. I have a pretty good idea of what those middle school years are like for both children and parents. Middle schoolers are impulsive, hormonal, social, and have attention spans that are, well, limited. Adolescents test their parents and their teachers, trying to determine where that final line in the sand is really drawn. They pull away from their families and cling to their friends, taking the first step in becoming independent human beings.

            Needless to say, this situation can be explosive. A son or daughter who has suddenly morphed from a happy, loving child to an angry, hormonal adolescent can make life nearly intolerable for parents. I have offered my box of tissue to many parents who burst into tears at conferences, trying to understand why their children are suddenly failing school after 5 years of straight A’s. They are afraid their children are falling in with the wrong crowd of friends, and many do just that. They worry when their teens refuse to follow the house rules. Sometimes, parents are even afraid of their children.

            Harvard University Professor Ronald Kessler recently conducted a study concerning Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) in adolescents. Nearly two-thirds of the teens studied had “a history of anger attacks that involved real or threatened violence.” Adolescents who are diagnosed with IED “have had at least three episodes of ‘grossly out of proportion’ impulsive aggressiveness.” It’s no wonder their parents fear them.

            IED can be treated with medication and with anger management classes. However, I have to wonder what it is about our society that makes our adolescents prone to violent anger attacks. Is it the violent movies and TV programs they watch? Is there something in the food that they eat? Is there an inherent fatalism about the future of the US economy that makes our teens feel hopeless and frustrated? Or have adolescent anger attacks always been there and we are just now labeling them as a disorder?

            I suspect that it is a combination of all of these, and probably a dozen more issues, that are bringing adolescent anger attacks to society’s notice now. It has never been easy to be an adolescent, and it doesn’t appear to be getting any easier. Perhaps learning to control anger is an important rite of passage that can’t be avoided. There is hope, though; the majority of our teens do grow up to be decent human beings.