It starts around 9 or 10 years old. It’s like one day you wake up and can truly see for the first time all that you don’t like about your family, your changing body and your life for that matter. Not knowing how to process any of these feelings you just become over-emotional. Boys become angry and don’t know why. Girls become back-biting. It is an age of self-focus and preservation.
For me, it all started in 6th grade. My best friend wanted me to hold off on having my birthday party until she could be there. For some reason, I said no. I don’t know why. I was 12. I wanted my party on my birthday, and that was more important than whether or not my friend was there.
This broke our friendship in half. It’s painful enough to lose your best friend. But in her anger, she also decided to start a movement that would cause my entire 6th grade class to laugh at me, constantly. She would organize others to sit around glaring at me in Science class. She would get groups of girls to point and whisper my name even when they weren’t talking about me.
A TIME Magazine article about angry youth says, “The teenager is trying to grasp the responsibilities and freedoms that come with entering the second epoch of life — that between childhood and adulthood. His identity is fragile, and it can be inevitable that anger comes with that.”
The problem however is that very few 10 to 17-year-olds are mature enough to be able to talk about their feelings. They just feel them. I would equate it to that panic you get when you have a bad dream you think is real. Your heart thumps. You wake up in a cold sweat- disoriented and confused.
Even if we know the “source” of the anger, those of us in youth ministry need help knowing how to navigate it with our students. For these “fits” often rear their ugly head in our own programming.
How Can We Help?
1. Teach Communication Skills
I wish my friend had told me I hurt her. There is a good chance she didn’t know exactly why. In our small groups and one on one times we need to teach youth how to listen. Ask pointed questions to help draw out their feelings. Teach them how to say things like, “When you say that it makes me feel…”
2. Think the “Golden Rule.”
Treating others how you want to be treated is just another way of saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Help youth think about what other people are feeling (or could feel) if they follow through on “acting out,” in their anger. However, youth are not known for thinking through to consequences. Instead, they think about the thrill of “success” (in this case sweet revenge.) We need to be proactive in talking students through potential scenarios they might encounter, so they are ready with a proper response.
3. Train about Anger
The emotion is not a bad thing. We all know that Jesus got angry. It is how we respond that matters. Bottling it up or throwing chairs are both improper responses. The way we react to our anger is what sets us apart. While exploding or back biting might feel good in the moment it actually might get you a reputation that brings you farther down the “popularity” ladder. Self-control after all is part of the fruit of the spirit.
4. Don’t Ignore It
There may be moments when these cases of “drama” arise in your own youth ministry. The “easiest” way to approach it is in a reactionary fashion. However, take the time to pull all parties involved aside, and talk through what is really going on. As a friend of mine often says, “What is the heart condition beyond the conversation?” This may need to take place at a separate time, after programming, or as another team member takes over your current responsibilities. Take the time to deal with it head on, make eye contact, and coach on why it happened, and what can change. Stay away from the “blame game.” Fights are rarely one sided.
I wish someone had taken the time to help me know how to handle others’ anger, and my own. I never knew how to deal with my emotions through those years. If we start teaching students now, an entire generation will be able to lead- even in the midst of the adolescent struggle.
How are you approaching the angry among your group?