Recently, I have started observing more teens with the inability to regulate their emotions, who seem unable to shift gears in response to their parent’s requests or a change in plans, and become quite overwhelmed in situations that simply require flexibility and adaptability. This is much different than adolescents who refuse to comply with their parent’s rules, throwing tantrums and arguing with adults, and generally acting out their anger and resentment.
Upon closer evaluation, an Oppositional Defiant (ODD) teen actually can control their behavior, if properly motivated with parenting techniques designed to help restore healthy boundaries through consistent discipline and parental supervision. Although the ODD adolescent may resist any attempts to control them, they will only persist in their defiant behaviors as long as they can get away with it. One way to determine if your teen is explosive or ODD is to implement a systematic program for the effective parenting of teens. If after a month you observe that your teens’s acting out is occurring more often and/or lasting just as long, then it is more likely that your adolescent’s challenge may be a low frustration tolerance.
An inflexibly explosive teen does not lack motivation to comply with adult requests or rules, but rather has an inability to tolerate frustration, self-soothe, or allow others to help them calm down during a meltdown. They can become irrational in response to frustration much quicker than most other kids, such that they are unable to think of ways of resolving conflicts in mutually satisfying ways. Rewards and punishments do not work in attempting to motivate these teens, as they have great difficulty recalling the consequences from a previous episode in the midst of an explosive moment.
In response to frustration, they can become extremely agitated, and/or verbally and physically aggressive. Their explosive meltdowns seem to occur out of the blue, leaving adults around them often demanding that they explain their actions. Consequently, the inflexible-explosive teen tends to perceive the world as one filled with frustration, and uncomprehending, uncaring adults.
According to Dr. Brian Richardson, predisposing conditions to inflexibly explosiveness may include “genetically-transmitted temperament problems, an inability to sustain a focus of attention, executive function deficits, difficulties processing spoken language, nonverbal learning disabilities, social skills problems, mood swings, social anxiety, or sensory integration problems.” Successful treatment relies on the diagnosis and management of these predisposing condition(s).
In closing, treatment of explosive teenagers varies with the contributing conditions that are present. However, there are common ways of treating the explosive teen. We first need to create a “frustration-friendly” environment through reducing the frustrations that lead to meltdowns. We then need to teach the teen the coping strategies necessary to deal with their frustrations.
Acknowledging Dr. Ross Greene: Changing the lives of behaviorally challenging kids … and their caregivers.