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12 Steps for Angry Teens

By Jeffrey S. Brain, M.A., C.T.S. (Certified Trauma Specialist)

We live in violent times, in a country where an incident of child abuse is reported every ten seconds; where domestic violence claims the lives of three women every single day; and where every year half a million senior citizens are abused - most often by a member of their own family.

Considering that one in nine murders is committed by youth under 18, we can assume that most perpetrators of violent crimes are - or once were - angry teens. According to a recent survey, three out of four teenage boys admitted to hitting someone in the past year because they were angry. Almost half believe it's okay to hit or threaten a person who makes them mad, and have carried a gun, knife or club in the past month. And one third agreed with the statement "When I am really angry, there is no way I can control myself."

Learning to manage one's anger is an essential life skill for anyone, but especially for teenagers who frequently use anger as a response to the frustrations and stresses of growing up. In this respect, anger (as well as other emotions like sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and self-pity), resembles alcohol. They can all be used to "self-medicate" - to compensate for the pressures and strains the teenager hasn't yet learned to deal with.

Often anger itself becomes the coping mechanism, a way of exerting power and control over one's environment. Used habitually in this way, it is a dangerous substitute for healthier, more adaptive coping strategies-strategies that can't be learned until the anger can be managed.

And like those who habitually use drugs, alcohol, eating, gambling or sex as coping mechanisms, those who use anger will find that it inevitably interferes with normal functioning, and can eventually destroy any opportunity for happiness or satisfaction in life.

The good news is that the 12-Step program, which has help millions of alcoholics, drug abusers, compulsive eaters, gamblers and others in the throes of addiction, can also help angry teens.

How the 12 Steps Work for Anger

The core tenets of the 12 Steps, including rigorous honesty, are related to cognitive-behavioral therapy and share some of the same approaches for permanently changing one's behavior. The 12 Steps challenge our thinking about the way we see and interpret experiences, and teach us how to respond to stress not in the heat of the moment, but according to our values and principles. The process involves not trusting our own thinking. This is an important concept in managing anger. The judgments and conclusions we draw when we are responding emotionally to a situation (i.e. the things we think when we are angry) often drive our physical reactions. In the 12-Step model, however, we learn to think beyond the emotion to a healthier, more adaptive response.

Angry people are like the man whose house is set on fire and goes chasing after the arsonist instead of tending to the more important task of putting the fire out. His response is totally self-defeating, yet those who struggle with managing their anger can easily see themselves doing the same thing. Driven by the emotion of perceived wrong, they chase after others (revenge, resentment) rather than dealing with the real problem - the fire. In fact, many of us have lost the ability to put out our own fires. Instead, we automatically shift the responsibility for our anger to others, chasing them down while our life disintegrates around us.

The analogy applies to alcohol and substance abuse as well, and to other addictions that can distract us from the more important work of dealing with the problems at hand.

In many cases, teens turn to alcohol, drugs, food or sex to suppress their anger. While they may find temporary relief, the long term effects can be disastrous. With regular use, these substances and behaviors take on lives of their own. So even if the teen gets help and manages to make his or her problems and frustrations go away, the addiction remains.

How The Family Foundation School Helps Angry Teens

With its integrated program of academics, therapeutic counseling, and 12-Step living, The Family Foundation School helps troubled teens deal with both their emotional difficulties and the addictive behaviors that have helped them avoid facing those difficulties.

The school holds 12-Step meetings on campus throughout the week, including an EA (Emotions Anonymous) group for students who are driven by emotion, whether it's depression, self-pity, fear, anxiety, or anger. Students dealing with specific issues also attend special support groups, which includes a weekly Anger Management group. Developed for students with a history of difficulty managing their anger, the group shares experiences with one another and uses a multi-media curriculum that offers information and strategies to help them regain balance, control and serenity in their lives as they move through the crises of adolescence toward responsible adulthood.

 

 

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