When Boys’ Anxiety Comes Out as Anger

Photo from AnxiousToddlers.com.

The sullen teenage boy is everywhere, so common it’s almost a cultural cliché. But what if it’s actually anxiety?

This article from the Deseret News presents another side to the story, where several young men share their stories of grappling with feelings of anxiety, then helplessness, then anger.

“There is a difference, culturally, for a boy,” said Mary Alvord, a psychiatrist and author of “Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens.’ “Especially a high school boy who’s trying to be macho. For him to say, ‘Yeah, I’m afraid of being home by myself,’ or ‘I worry all the time about getting things perfect,’ it’s just not cool.”

The Child Mind Institute, a New York-based nonprofit, says anxiety in boys can look like angry, disruptive behavior, ADHD or even a learning disorder.

While there can be a cultural expectation for girls to share their feelings and seek help, the opposite sometimes holds true for boys. Boys are taught by father figures or peers to be tough and not ask for help. This in turn can make them more likely to just give up, withdraw and avoid situations that may make them uncomfortable (such as school or social situations).

And when these teen boys act out at home, the article reads, they are “projecting their distress….[which] confuses parents, who may see their son not as anxious, but belligerent, uncooperative or angry — and may punish him for bad behavior.”

So what’s a parent of a teenage boy to do?

  1. Help him understand he’s not alone. There are more and more men in the public eye who are coming forward to share their stories: Dwayne Johnson and his depression, Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love who had a panic attack in the middle of an NBA game, even Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps.
  2. Be willing to talk through things with your kids. Help them understand you’re willing to listen when they’re ready to talk.
  3. Help them tackle their fears. If they are scared of speaking in public, find an opportunity for them to speak to a small audience. If they are scared of heights, take them rock-climbing in a gym with an instructor.
  4. Remind them that it’s a process. When they conquer small fears, they can find the courage to tackle a bigger fear. Even if the outcome is bad, the anxiety will slowly begin to lose its grip when they see they can still survive the worst.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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