As parents we understand our children have a complex range of emotions during their adolescent years. But sometimes it is easy to lose track of why they have emotional outbursts in seemingly benign situations. Here are a few things you should know about difficult emotional situations with your teen.

Teen Development = Big Changes

It is important to start with some basic assumptions when navigating the emotional minefield that is your teenager. As we mentioned last month, they are growing rapidly and their brains are still undergoing some pretty big changes. The decision-making portion of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—is still developing, making teens more emotional and impulsive.

Secondly, teens struggle fiercely to claim their independence, all the while trying to figure out what it is they really want. That can lead to frustration. Manifestations of that frustration can come out as emotional blow-ups that may not make sense to you.

What Your Teen is Feeling

Ok, we know it’s impossible to divine what your teen is feeling, but there are several likely factors to consider when your teen has an emotional outburst, according to Psychology Today.

  1. Self-consciousness – during puberty a lot of adolescents are undergoing hormonal and body changes that can make them feel inadequate, vulnerable, embarrassed and moody. This self-consciousness can be even worse if your teen is teased.
  2. Frustration – Urgency, impatience and a need for instant gratification come from a desire for independence, but also from a lack of impulse control—think back to that under-developed prefrontal cortex.
  3. Anger – Frustration can often turn to anger, especially when your family household rules conflict with your teens desire for independence.
  4. Loneliness – While teens push to be more independent it can be difficult for them to find a circle of friends who are reliable and trustworthy. Friendships at this age are often conditional and that can be hard on lots of kids.
  5. Failure – Teens grow up surrounded by expectations from parents, teachers, coaches and more. They have their own expectations of themselves, too. Failing to meet those expectations often lead to feelings of failure.
  6. Anxiety – Growing up can be scary. Social pressures, parental pressures, school pressures, even imagined pressures, can all add up to anxiety.

Tips to Manage Teen Outbursts

You’re reading about how to manage your teen’s outbursts, so it’s safe to say you care. But parents don’t have all the answers. Below we list some tips to help manage outbursts, but it’s just a start:

You can’t control your child’s emotions

Emotions are not the same as behavior, notes People feel what they feel, regardless of age, but it is how they behave that is most important. Ask how to get your teen to behave appropriately rather than how you can keep your child from getting angry.

You can control your emotions

It is really easy to get frustrated or angry when your teen has an outburst. But responding to anger with anger is probably just going to make the situation worse. Take a deep breath, listen and acknowledge, and model healthy behavior. It isn’t easy, but it can go a long way to helping your teen.

Try not to escalate

You might think you need to respond to an outburst with your own swift response. But you can let a lot go in that moment and not be a push-over. It doesn’t mean you are giving in. It is perfectly reasonable to hold your child accountable when the situation has cooled.


It is important to talk, calmly, with your teen when they have an outburst. Many kids have remorse after an incident. Positives can come from that negative emotion by talking about why the incident occured and coming up with strategies to manage anger and frustration moving forward. It can take a little while to understand what underlying issue led to that anger.

Give them a fighting chance

Actor Jim Carrey has a great saying, “…if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep…then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.” Exercise, proper nutrition and enough sleep might do a world of good for your teen.

Shepherd’s Hill can help

Shepherd’s Hill Academy is a residential therapeutic boarding school that is trained to deal with a variety of teenage issues, including emotional outburst. Individual attention, mentoring and goal setting can help get your teen back on track. Through our nature-based therapeutic component, teens are removed from their comfort zone, as well as peer pressure and technology. If you are wondering if Shepherd’s Hill Academy can help your family, take our quiz and learn more about the programs we offer.