Feature Story

Parent Trap: Get Angrier in 2019

My suggestion for your primary New Year’s  resolution is to get angry, really angry. Your feelings are there for protection and direction. I’ll explain how to use them to affect needed change.

Let me suggest a few areas in our country that need some change. Up to 75 percent of children and teens are exposed to at least one adverse experience growing up. About 40 percent of kids experience a divorce, 25 percent live with an alcoholic and at least one-third of children are bullied, primarily at school but also at home by siblings. More than 15 percent experience domestic violence, and one out of nine kids lose a parent to death by age 20. Between 15 to 25 percent experience verbal or physical abuse, with 85 percent of child abuse cases unreported. By age 18, 25 percent of girls will experience some form of sexual abuse, and 3 million children have an incarcerated parent. Two-thirds of suicide attempts are a result of these childhood adversities. We’ve got our work cut out for us. These statistics are from Meg Jay’s excellent book, Supernormal.

This is where anger can come into play. It signals something has gone wrong. These feelings arise in our amygdala, but brain activity shifts to our left prefrontal cortex (PFC) to help us act firmly. The left PFC is the area of the brain that allows us to solve problems, plan for and pursue what we want, and make us feel assertive and self-directed. Using our words to describe what’s making us mad or anxious helps with this shift so that reason can supersede  motion. This switch also helps us not feel powerless.

I’m not a proponent of expressing anger at people, but I teach girls to change their belief that anger is a bad feeling. I encourage them to channel it to inspire action, resist oppression, and gain the courage to right a wrong or set firm boundaries. Girls can use anger to shift out of a victim mentality to a ‘what am I going to do about this’ attitude. William Arthur Ward says it well: “It is wise to direct your anger towards problems, not people; to focus your energies on answers, not excuses.”

A study of 2,000 adults by psychologist Mark Seery, Ph.D., found that those who had experienced at least some adversity growing up were both more successful and more satisfied with their lives compared to those who had experienced extreme hardship or low levels of adversity. That’s the good news. What we should focus on, though, is prevention, especially when it comes to challenges like divorce, abuse in all forms, bullying, domestic violence, parental addictions and sexual abuse. These are all preventable problems, but only if we make the issues important. That’s why we need more anger this year. It will inspire more courage, focus and action.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who specializes in counseling girls ages 6 through college. He recently launched an online video parenting course, Taking Flight: Everyday Parenting Wisdom to Help Girls Soar. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.