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the mum's picture

Warning Signs for a Teen with Anger Problems

Many parents recognize that their teen has a problem with anger management. They feel their teen needs to develop anger management skills, or needs to find some kind of anger management counseling that will help them get along better in life -- in school, at work, with a parent, with siblings, and others. In some cases, professionals may have diagnosed a teenager with a “conduct disorder”, or “oppositional defiant disorder” beginning in adolescence. This site is to help parents be aware of specific warning signs that may indicate if a teenager has an anger management problem more significant than what is to normally be expected.

Types of Anger

The natural response to fear is to fight it or avoid it. When confronted with fear, animals and humans both go into “fight or flight”, “violence or silence”, or “gun or run”. They engage in the conflict, or they withdraw. Though many parents may equate “adolescent anger management” with the “fight-violence-gun,” uncontrollable rage, parents must also recognize that anger may be “turned inwards” in the “flight-silence-run” mode, which can often times be as dangerous, if not more so, than expressed anger.

The author of this information is a therapist at a program for struggling teens. As a therapist working at a youth program, he has learned, observed and verified the following trends. Generally, anger falls into three main categories: 1) Fight, 2) Flight, or 3) Pretend to be “Flighting”, while finding indirect ways to Fight. Most teens with anger management problems will go to either extreme of fight or flight. They tend to become aggressive, mean, and hostile, or they withdraw into themselves and become extremely silent, silently stubborn, and depressed.

“The Fighters”: Teen Anger Turned to Aggression

“The fighters” are pretty simple to recognize. They are aggressive. Many times, the characteristics of teens with anger management problems are included in the professional diagnosis for “Conduct Disorder” or an “Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)”. Some of the warning signs in the following list are taken from the criteria for professional diagnosis (click here for more information). Others are additional common signs of anger management problems for teens that are “fighters”.

Openly and often defiant of requests

Often demeans or swears directly to parent or others in authority positions

Has left holes in walls and doors from violent outbursts

Loud and yelling

Frequently vocalizes anger

Makes threats

Seems to have “emotional diarrhea”, and “lets it all out, all the time”
Furious temper.

Uncontrollable fits of rage (usually these “teenage temper tantrums” are used as threats to get their way)
Difficulty accepting a “No” answer

Does not follow rules

Often feels rules are “stupid”, or don’t apply

Destroys property

Physically cruel to animals

Physically cruel to people

Initiates fights with others

Seriously violates rules (at home, in school, or society in general)

This list does not list every possible warning sign for the “fighters”. The teen “Fighters” have anger management problems when the problems are creating an unsafe situation for themselves, for others, or for property around them. If animals and/or people are the focus of the anger and aggression, the problem is extremely critical to address. Teens who have abused animals or people as children, or as teens, are at a higher risk of becoming a threat to society than those who have not. Where these warning signs seem to be a part of daily life, intervention is strongly suggested. Intervention can be through anger management counseling, an anger management program, or a program dedicated and experienced in working with teenagers with anger management problems.

“The ‘Flighters’”: Teen Anger Turned to Passive Responses

The “Flighters” can also be fairly simple to recognize. They are passive. They do not fight back when confronted. Many of their characteristics may coincide with the diagnosis of depression. Some of these warning signs are taken from the professional diagnosis for depression, and others are taken from learning, observations and experience.

Tends to spend a lot of time alone

Seems to hold anger in

Seems depressed

Has difficulty expressing emotions

Seems to have very little emotion

Seems withdrawn

Extremely passive, to the point of getting “walked over” by others

May simply “go along” with whatever, even when it is a poor decision

Does not engage in much conversation

May blame self unnecessarily

Deals with difficult emotions by “cutting” the emotions off

Holds anger in, then “blows up” suddenly and violently

May punch holes in walls or kick doors, when “the last straw drops”
May be seen as a “loner”

May have few friends

Seems “emotionally constipated”

Physical problems may include upset stomach, muscle aches, backaches, frequent headaches, or other physical symptoms from “holding it in”.

The “flighters” are in danger of destroying themselves emotionally from within. The “flighters” are like a balloon being constantly blown into, with no release valve. When they explode, their anger may be violent, and may lead to harming themselves, harming others, or destroying property. Internalized anger is potentially as destructive to a teenager as aggressive anger.

“The Pretenders”: Teen Anger Silently Planning Revenge

Perhaps the most difficult to detect, the “Pretenders” follow an anger style that seems to be calm on the surface, but is raging, scheming, and planning underneath. They are passive-aggressive. In its mild form, this is the upset waiter who goes in the back room and spits in the demanding client’s soup. In its extreme form, these are the teen gunmen of Columbine and other school shootings. These teens do not directly confront the anger as a “Fighter” would do. They will be passive and appear to accept what is said, and then will disregard what is said to do their own thing. They are sneaky. Often, they may be unnoticed. While they are giving a person a hug, they are also stabbing them in the back. They lack the courage to be direct, and perfect the skills to be deceitful. They know where the “back door” to revenge is, and will use it often.

They will give the appearance of a “Flighter”. The list of “flighter” characteristics also applies to them. Additional items to look for with “Pretenders” are on the following list.

Sneaky behaviors

Tends to sabotage

Often gets caught in lies

Inconsistency between what is said and what is done

May be very good at blaming others

May not admit mistakes

Tends to avoid direct conflict, while creating problems in other areas

These warning signs are a few to look for the “Pretenders”. Teens who try to manage their anger through the “Pretender” style are as potentially dangerous to others and themselves as the other style. Parents cannot underestimate the “Pretender” style because the danger does not seem to be that of the aggressive “Fighter”.


Many parents recognize that their teen has a problem with anger management. They know their teen needs to develop anger management skills, or needs to find some kind of anger management counseling that will help them get along better in life -- in school, at work, with a parent, with siblings, and other. As has been shown, anger comes in three main styles -- Fighter, Flighter, and Pretender -- and each style has the potential to create big problems for the teen, families, and society in general. This site has offered specific warning signs that may indicate if a teenager has an anger management problem more significant than what is to normally be expected. When necessary, professional and competent intervention is recommended.


007Lostit's picture SS(20) is a fighter, always has been since the day I met him when he was 5 years old.
My SD(17) is a pretender, and always has been.

If you can afford to send them away for therapy then more power to you...otherwise you are just stuck with them like we were/are...we even had a specialized therapist working with them...and it did nothing. Some kids do not want to let go of their anger, or can't because it is deeply seeded in their psyche and has a lot to do with lack of nurturing when they were babies and youngsters. Damage that it extremely hard to undo.

Last-Wife's picture

CRAP. Three skids. One of each of these... Fortunately, our "fighter" seems to be outgrowing that phase as he's getting older. Being involved in sports seems to be helping...

the mum's picture

My pretender is a sneaky one-

Listens at doors to conversations

Washes shoes with mud and outdoor stuff by baby sterlisers and bottles

Sings songs word for word about being the best. Will never be replaced

Plays parents off against each other

Pretends to like dh and my baby

Threatens baby indirectly then plays the I love the baby with dh

Talks about her mother hoping I will get involved, then lies and says I was talking about bm

Snears at me when no one can see but us

Creates stories

Talks to dh constantly about our money and how much we spend on baby

Obsessed over boys but plays virginal

Acts up in school

Is jealous


Diverts attention from siblings with either bad or attention seeking behaviour