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Helping an angry generation

By Nathan Rice

The pictures began like any other social media post from the first generation to be obsessed with selfies.

The group of young teens struck several poses using various camera filters that gave them digital hats, crowns made of flowers, or cat whiskers on their faces. Their pictures soon changed to a darker theme as each of them glared at the camera with their middle fingers extended towards the lens.

We’re all familiar with this gesture, and we know what it means. This hand signal is often given towards someone or something. It’s a favorite signal for some drivers, and we’ve probably all seen it used as a way to end an argument.

The pictures did not stand out to me because of the crude gesture, even if it was being used by middle school-aged kids. What made it stand out was that there was no text in the post. They were not expressing their anger or hatred towards anyone or anything. They were simply flipping off the world.

Teenagers being angry at the establishment, their parents, or their government is nothing new. The generation gap often creates some strife. This generation’s anger, however, seems different than a lot of the generations in the past. Kids in this generation are getting angry earlier in life, and they often do not know exactly why they are angry.

This can be difficult for those who work with kids and teens. Is it possible to help children who are angry at the world, especially if they aren’t sure why they are angry? I believe it is, but there are a few things we must consider before we attempt to help them.

We should begin by trying to understand why they are angry. It might just be the typical teenage rebellion, but there are often other scenarios in their lives that have worked to build their anger. I knew two of the teens in the pictures I was seeing, and I knew a lot of their backstories. I did not like how they were expressing their anger, but I could understand what led to their anger. Life has not been easy for either one of them. They have more sad stories than I can share in today’s column. Too often, we discount their anger instead of trying to understand why they are angry in the first place.

We should also realize that many of the youth who are angry at the world have never been taught how to deal with their anger. Many have not had parents who have trained them how to work through situations that make them upset or how to deal with people who make them angry. A lot of them have grown up watching the adults in their lives handle anger through abusive language, poor behavior, screaming, fighting, or giving the bird to the world. It’s all they know.

Every child’s situation is unique, so there is no template on how to help a teen who is angry at the world, but taking these steps will give us a better idea on how to move forward.

We can give our best effort to help them only once we have done what we can to learn what might have led to their anger and looked to see if they have ever had the opportunity to learn how to deal with that anger.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.