During the 20 years I have worked as a social work practitioner, I have noticed an alarming rise in the prevalence of anger – in adults, yes, but most strikingly among children and young people. Of course, anger is one of our most basic human emotions, and something we all experience at times. But left unchecked, or allowed to spiral out of control, anger – and the behaviours that go with it, like hostile thoughts or physical and verbal aggression – can have a negative impact on relationships, personal wellbeing, academic attainment and ultimately, future life chances.
So what’s behind this alarming rise in anger?
I know there’s no one single explanation, but from my own experience and observations I believe that new technology has a huge part to play. The pace of life is getting faster all the time. We live in a world of instant gratification, where the things we want are just a click and an express delivery away. That raises expectations, encourages us to measure our happiness in terms of material possessions – and chips away at our patience.
Social media is all pervasive, and adds to the pressure: to have certain things, to measure up physically, to behave in a certain way. A lot has been written about the effect of sexualised imagery online and I see it in my own work, every day: the six-year-old who thinks she needs to shave her legs, or the eight-year-old who’s already “sexting”. The message is, this is the norm, and if you don’t conform, you’ll be rejected. It’s not surprising that that pressure gets internalised – and comes bursting out in an uncontrolled way.
Brave the Rage’s 5 Steps to Calm
Pause Turn off your mobile phone and computer, and go somewhere quiet
Comfort Sit down in a favourite chair, or find yourself a cushion
Focus Observe the in and out flow of your breath. Breathe deeply
Clear Don’t let your mind wander. Put any thoughts to one side to later
Practice Do this every day, even when you’re not feeling stressed
Reading the signs
Unchecked and unmanaged, anger creates a vicious cycle. The child that acts out in class runs the risk of punishment and then exclusion, reinforcing their sense of alienation. Aggressive behaviour in the form of bullying – whether in the real or the online world – can lead to more bullying too, as the victim turns to bullying themselves, in an attempt to regain some power and control or simply to mask the pain and anxiety they feel.
As adults, it’s vitally important that we recognise the signs, and react in an appropriate way. It’s the difference between feeding into that vicious cycle and seizing the opportunity to teach a child skills – like negotiation, or understanding the difference between assertive and aggressive behaviour – that will stand them in good stead in many situations, and help them to start valuing themselves again.
Negative to positive
In my work with Brave the Rage, I teach a wide range of techniques both directly to children and to parents, teachers and other adults who want to learn constructive ways of dealing with anger, and to turn a negative into a positive. Our 5 Step approach includes relaxation, mindfulness and breathing techniques – things we can all benefit from. It’s about personal management, and helping children to develop the self awareness to be able to step back and say “I know this is going to be a tricky situation, but I know how to handle it”. It’s not easy – we’re called Brave the Rage, because it takes courage to face your anger and deal with it – but it’s so, so worthwhile.