Help, I Have a Defiant Teenager: When Emotional Outbursts, Defiance, and Anger Issues in Teens Are a Cry for Help

Wilderness TherapyThe teenage years can be rough: growing up, changing hormones, grappling for more independence with parents, new privileges, and taking on new responsibilities. This can be overwhelming for teens. It is completely normal for teens to be moody, and even angry during these years. While it is normal for teens to experience anger, lashing out (making verbal threats, becoming destructive, or physical violence) is often a cry for help. There are some situations where emotional outbursts and other anger issues in teens go beyond the scope of “growing pains” and typical teen angst.

Some teens are better equipped emotionally to deal with anger in a healthy way and some need a little more help. Oftentimes, anger issues in teens are due to an unresolved mental health issue, frustration/anxiety from an uncontrollable life experience, or from crumbling under the added pressure that comes along with growing up. There are a number of issues that can trigger extreme emotional outbursts, defiance, and anger issues in teens:

Low Self Esteem

When teens are down on themselves, feelings of hurt and anger can build up inside them. This can lead to emotional outbursts and acts of defiance.

Bullying from Peers

Teens who experience bullying can often experience feelings of social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, and fear. This can be a traumatic experience during the formative years of one’s life. Since many teens do not have the coping skills to deal with these feelings, some lash out with anger and emotional outbursts.

An Unresolved Family Conflict

Some teens are not emotionally equipped to deal with a major family conflict or trauma. Even adults have trouble dealing with these issues. Since teens do not know how to cope with the negative feelings associated with these situations, some will experience angry outbursts and will commit acts of defiance as (unhealthy) ways to cope with things that are out of their control. While these teens can be written off as being a “defiant teenager,” many of these teens are struggling with issues such as:

  • Divorce
  • Abuse
  • Adoption issues


Because anger is one of the stages of grief, it is only natural for a teen who has lost a friend or family member to feel some anger. Some teens, however, experience difficulties moving past this stage, especially when it is a traumatic loss of someone very close to him or her.

Developmental and/or Neurological Issue

(i.e. ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder.) Teens who have neuro-developmental issues such as these can have problems with a lack of self-awareness/self-control, impulse control, social skill deficits, and difficulties managing/handling emotions, especially anger. In addition, these teens can be more sensitive to sensory information from the outside world, causing them to become easily overwhelmed or overstimulated.

Substance abuse

Irritability, outbursts, and anger issues in teens can be the result of using/abusing drugs and alcohol.


Teens and adults display signs and symptoms of depression very differently. Although an adult who is depressed will likely appear sad, many teens with an undiagnosed form of depression is much more prone to emotional outbursts, frustration, and hostility.


Sometimes a “defiant teenager” who is experiencing emotional outbursts is actually struggling with anxiety. Since depression and anxiety are often associated as “adult” problems, these can go undiagnosed in children and teens. This is a misconception, as anxiety and depression can appear during adolescence.

The Pressure/Stress of Teenage Life

When children transition into their teenage years, there is an increased pressure to perform well in school, get into college, play well in sports, do well on tests, etc.


While anger is a normal emotional response to outside stressors, teens need to learn healthy coping mechanisms now, before they reach adulthood. Teens need to know that it is not wrong or bad to feel angry, but that they cannot let the anger consume them or control their actions. This is vital to ensuring that your defiant teenager’s anger remains a valid emotional reaction rather than escalating into violence, defiant behavior, or rage. If you are concerned that your teen’s defiance, emotional outbursts, and/or anger issues are a cry for help, speak with his or her physician, mental healthcare provider, or educational consultant. A professional will be able to assess whether any counseling or treatment is needed to help your child with his or her anger.

Download our free white paper, Anger Management: Emotional Outbursts and Teenage Defiance to learn about the signs of problematic anger issues and ways to help your defiant teenager.


More Posts

Or fill out the form below and we’ll contact you shortly.

COVID-19 Update

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is continuing to support families through this unprecedented time. We are closely monitoring information related to COVID-19, adhering to recommendations set forth by CDC, and have implemented additional safety precautions to mitigate risks. To learn more, contact us at 800-817-1899.