Originally created 05/26/98

Reining in rage



Sheila Moore's buddy was driving Sheila's 1987 Buick Riviera when they hit something in the road and smoke started coming out of the engine.

"He junked my car," says the 18-year-old Evans senior. "It died. No more. I didn't yell at him, I just stood there. In my head I wanted to grab him and strangle him and stab him over and over."

But the next day he said he was sorry, and she said it was OK.

Teens don't always control anger so well. There have been guns and knives in school, teen shootings and stabbings all over the news. On Thursday, a high school student in Oregon, who had been expelled the day before, opened fire in the school's cafeteria, killing one student, critically injuring at least seven and wounding at least 17 others.

There seem to be more headlines involving teen violence, but teen rage is nothing new.

"Teen anger is ubiquitous and it's ongoing and it has always been there and probably will always be there," says Rosemary Selby, a clinical psychologist in Augusta.

The problem is that teens are seeking to establish their independence but have little control or power over their environment, she said.

Anger is a normal emotion, says Susan K. Robertson, a marriage and family therapist in Augusta. You get angry when you're frustrated or someone invades your turf or things just don't work out the way you wanted them to.

When you're feeling mad, you shouldn't go out and beat up the person you're mad at. Dr. Selby says the first thing you need to do is calm down and think about why you're angry.

When Sara Lagree gets mad, she goes for a walk. "I think about what led up to the problem, and I think about how I could have prevented it, and about the outcome and what I can do for the future," the 18-year-old Evans High School senior said.

If you're too mad to sit still and think calmly, go running or smash a tennis ball a few hundred times, to let out the energy behind your anger, Ms. Robertson says. Sit in your car and scream, pound your pillow or throw your stuffed animals against the wall.

When you calm down, try to find somebody to talk to. "Try to understand it," says Franklin Truan, an Augusta psychologist. "Try to understand your emotions and see if there's something deeper going on or if it's just a bad day. We all have bad days."

If you're not feeling well, or you have cramps that day, you might be more irritable than normal, Ms. Robertson says.

"Hormones exacerbate all (teen-age) emotions, whether they're positive or negative," Dr. Selby says. "They make you love more, hate more, feel angrier or happier. Those hormones are very potent."

But don't use your hormones as an excuse to be mean, says Warren W. Burnham, an Augusta psychotherapist. You're still in control of yourself and responsible for your actions.

Ms. Robertson recommends that before you confront someone you're mad at you write the person a letter, but don't mail it. It's a good idea not to send this first draft because it may be meaner than you want it to be, and you may calm down by the time the letter arrives.

Writing a letter helps you rehearse and outline what you want to say when you confront the person you're upset with, Ms. Robertson says.

When you do confront the person, act calm and listen to his side of the story. Don't yell, talk."Don't approach them in a belligerent, accusatory, threatening manner," Dr. Selby says, "because when someone is being attacked they're going to be defensive."Tucking all your anger inside makes it just another source of stress that can lead to health problems like high blood pressure. Studies suggest that death rates from all causes are three times higher among those classed as having "long-term suppressed anger," according to the cyberlink teen line.

"When teens hold stuff in they're more likely to explode," Ms. Robertson says. "I compare holding in anger to putting all the stoppers on a teapot -- eventually it has to blow."

The fact that you got angry means there's a problem you need to fix. Being extremely miffed can make you realize what you need to change and spur you on to putting yourself into a better situation.

"There's constructive anger and destructive anger," Ms. Robertson says. "If somebody does something that we consider very, very, wrong or dangerous, we need to have the energy to react."

SIGNS OF ANGER PROBLEM:

  • Constantly irritated
  • Won't talk to family members
  • Locks himself in his room
  • Hangs out with "bad friends"
  • Grades plummet
  • Signs of drug use evident
  • "Those are all cues for parents to say, 'Something's not going right here,' " says Dr. Franklin Truan, an Augusta psychologist.

    STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH ANGER:

    Relax Being angry bumps up your heart rate, makes you sweat, tenses your muscles and makes your face red. Try taking deep breaths and tensing and relaxing your muscles.

    Communicate It's important to be able to calmly and clearly express what you're feeling and listen and understand how the other person is feeling.

    Understand Define the problem. What exactly is bothering you? Then make a list of ways you could solve the problem -- write them down and rate them one to 10 according to whether you think they'll actually work and if you'll actually do them.

    Plan Ahead If you know you're going to be in a situation that may anger you (for instance you always get mad at Thanksgiving dinner) think ahead and play out possible scenarios, imagining what others would say and what you should say instead of just blurting out mean things that come to mind.