DEAR DOCTOR K: My 19-year-old son is always angry. Is this a normal developmental stage, or should I be concerned?
DEAR READER: The late teenage years are tough. Childhood is over. The protection offered by home and parents will soon end. Teens know that they will have to make it on their own in the world. So it’s not at all uncommon for teens to be moody, and that includes periodic outbursts of anger that they didn’t have when they were younger.
But when a teen gets increasingly angrier as time goes by – or more rigid and defensive – it’s a cause for concern. Angry outbursts are a sign that your son is suffering and could use some help – if he’ll accept it.
Here are some things to consider:
• Irritability aside, is your son showing other symptoms of depression? Is he having trouble enjoying life? Is he sleeping too little or too much? Is he gaining or losing a great deal of weight?
• Is there any sign that your son might be using an illegal substance? Irritability or changes in mood can be the result of substance use.
• Is your son irritable with everyone or just with you? It is common for children of any age to be intolerant of parents’ input.
Is your son going through a crisis, a challenge or a developmental transition? Maybe there is a specific problem at the root of his testy behavior that needs attention – relationship trouble, low self-esteem, concerns about his identity, or not feeling up to the pressures of school or work. Even if he won’t talk to you about this, someone else may be able to get to the bottom of the problem.
Often a parent needs the help of someone else to understand and help reduce a teen’s anger. That other person may be another family member, a teacher or coach, his pediatrician, or a trained therapist.
So if your son’s anger goes beyond teenage moodiness, and you find you’re not able to get through to him, look for help.