Teen Anger and Teen Trust

April 11, 2011
Michael Blumenfield, MD

An exploration of two important issues with which modern teenagers are struggling.

Potential Problems: Teen Trust and Teen Anger

In this post I would like to approach two important issues with which modern teenagers are struggling and that are of great concern to the parents and teachers who care about them.

These are vast subjects which I will only introduce to you by describing a great movie which I recently saw and by telling you about an excellent book written by a friend of mine.

The first topic is the potential danger to teenagers by the Internet and cell phones which provides them with ready access of meeting strangers who may take advantage of their vulnerability. A new movie produced and directed by David Schwimmer called Trust nailed this subject and may have provided a vehicle for parents and teens to discuss and deal with this subject.

The second topic is the subject of teen anger which takes many forms and has the potential to poison relationships of this crucial period of development. Most teens are not going to enter into an insight oriented therapy to get to the roots of this symptoms but many are going to interact with teachers, counselors, social workers and youth workers who may have an opportunity to help them deal with it. Dave Wolffe an experienced counselor and teacher who put his years of experience in anger management with teens into this book titled Peace- The Other Side of Anger: Helping Teens with Anger Management

But first the movie Trust. The following is a review of this film which appeared in a movie blog which I write with my wife called FilmRap.net.

This is an important movie. It addresses a serious problem that every family with budding teenagers will have to face. We want our children to master the Internet and the unlimited horizons which it offers them in their education and future ability to navigate in this global world. We also don’t have any choice because this wonderful technology provides us instant communication with cell phones and the ability to stay in touch with family and friends. It also gives young people the ability and opportunity to meet and communicate with anyone and everyone. There are teen chats where teenagers can meet other teenagers anyplace in the world or in the next town. Of course teenagers, especially girls tend to develop crushes and infatuations and it is only natural that they might want to meet their computer/phone pal. What if it turns out that he isn’t really a teenager but a little or a lot older but still seems like a nice guy? This is the situation that a 14 year old girl from a very solid home with successful loving parents, a brother going away to college and a younger kid sister, found herself in. Teenage life being what it is, includes pressures in one’s academic and social life ,a natural desire to be accepted, loved and a wish to explore their new sexuality. This very relevant story written by Andy Billin and Robert Festing, produced and directed by David Schwimmer considers the devastating consequences which befall this girl and her parents. Liana Liberato captures the spirit of an enthusiastic teenager who just made the volleyball team but yet has the uncertainty and vulnerability of so many girls who are trying to get hang of the complexities of socializing in their new school environment. Catherine Keener plays her impacted mom and Clive Owen is her dad, originally from Great Britain, a successful advertising executive who is helping to create the tween market which he at one point ironically and sickeningly realizes may be creating sexual interest in youngsters the age of his daughter. He struggles with his own feelings of inadequacies as a father and rage at anyone who might threaten or hurt his daughter. You might expect this subject to best dealt with by a documentary which could provide statistics, interviews with therapists, police and FBI agents as well as some parents or victims. This movie had all of the above in the form of a fast moving drama which conveyed the emotional pain of everyone involved. Schwimmer, who actually is on the board of directors of the Rape Foundation for the Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica, with this film may have ended up protecting untold numbers of young girls from being hurt because of knowledge and awareness gained by viewing this film. In fact this is the ideal movie to be viewed by parents and teenagers together followed by a nice dinner or snack to provide the vehicle for a good discussion.

And now the book titled Peace- The Other Side of Anger: Helping Teens with Anger Management by Dave Wolffe published by Peaceful Minds Press, Rye Brook, New York.

Mr. Wolffe has been an educator and guidance counselor for many years and involved with anger management and dispute resolution particularly for teenagers. In his book he delineates the causes of anger in very down to earth terms. He doesn’t go into the psychodynamic roots of it but rather clarifies the subject so any parent, teacher, or counselor personally involved with teens will understand it. The top ten causes of anger which he lists are worth stating:

1- Being lied to

2- Being Yelled At

3- Being Blamed For Something they Didn’t Do

4- Being Put down for Something

5- Being told to Do Something Over and Over Again

6- Another Person’s Nasty Attitude

7- Being Betrayed by My Boy/Girlfriend or an Adult

8- Having My Private Conversations Repeated

9- Being Ignored

10- Being Made Fun of in Front of My friends

Less common causes of anger but sometimes quite devastating are things like chronic illness, different sources of frustration, difficult home and social environments. Techniques for gathering information and listening to the angry teen are described in useful detail. While it might seem obvious, the book points out how the teen’s frustrations and needs must be understood. These are emotional needs, need for recognition, the need to belong, the need for freedom and the need for safety. The importance of family support or the lack of it is a recurrent issue that comes to us in this discourse about anger. Therapists will appreciate the author’s approach to dealing with the youngster resistances to working with a third party in dealing with their anger. What ultimately makes this book so valuable to those who want to help teens with their anger is the wide range of techniques and detailed suggestions that this book offers. This includes everything from counting to 10, keeping an anger journal, playing a video game, visualizing the outcome of particular behaviors and many more. These ideas are presented in a very sophisticated manner with certain techniques labeled as “anger managers” as well as presenting an outline for an anger management program. Those therapists who do cognitive behavior therapy will be quite familiar with some of these approaches. While parents might find this book useful, it is also directed towards teachers and counselors who want to absorb this information and use it in their professional work with youngsters struggling with anger.

Take Five With the Author

MB: Why did you write this book.?

DW: I believe that adults need a resource to help them deal with angry youth based on knowledge gained from working with adolescents.

MB: How does bullying relate to anger in teens?

DW: Bullies are often people who themselves have been bullied or made to feel very insecure themselves. Their behavior I believe is based on this dynamic and is routed in their feelings of frustration and anger toward those who gave them these feelings. The people who are bullied often feel anger and frustration with themselves for not doing anything about this abuse or toward the bully.

MB: Are boys, girls, minorities, underprivileged or any other group more prone to anger?

DW: I think that much anger is based on the intensity and frequency of different kinds of frustration, hurt and fear that young people experience in their lives rather than on sex or whatever other group they are a part.

MB: Do you feel that teens today are more angry than when you were growing up?

DW: I believe adolescents these days have more pressure, academic, social, etc. to contend with and therefore exhibit or feel more anger than when I was growing up.

MB: Does the social media ie. facebook , tweeter, Internet dating, etc change the way teen anger is manifested?

DW: They add to it by making it easier to reach so many with negative thoughts and situations and intensifying the pain and other feelings experienced by those being ridiculed or increasing the pressure to do things suggested or endorsed by peers on the internet. It is another vehicle to cause or escalate anger in youth.