Angry Adolescents Who Worry about Becoming Violent

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In the present study, 31 of 89 adolescents responded affirmatively to the following statement: "Sometimes I get so angry that I worry I will become violent." These adolescents (the anger group) were compared with the nonanger group, and several differences were found. The anger group (1) reported less intimacy with parents, received less support from them, and was less close to siblings; (2) had more opposite-sex friends, dated more frequently, and more frequently had a boyfriend or girlfriend; (3) had a lower grade point average; (4) were more depressed; and (5) used marijuana more frequently. Results of a regression analysis revealed that depression and dating were the only significant predictors of anger, explaining 17% of the variance.

Adolescent violence is a serious problem in the United States (DuRant, Getts, Cadenhead, & Woods, 1995; Valois & McKewon, 1998). Our understanding of the characteristics of adolescents at risk for violence, including their peer and parent relations, depressive tendencies, and suicidal thoughts, is incomplete (Anderman & Kimweli, 1997; Flannery, Singer, Williams, & Castro, 1998). Further research is therefore needed, although a knowledge base is beginning to accumulate.

Depression and suicidal thoughts have been noted among aggressive adolescents (Adams, Overholser, & Lehnert, 1994; Hurd, Wooding, & Noller, 1999; Kaslow, Deering, & Racusin, 1994; Shiner & Marmorstein, 1998). Anger is another critical factor (Lehnert, Overholser, & Spirito, 1994). Anger, whether internalized or externalized, has been found to be related to reduced impulse control and increased suicidal tendencies (Lehnert et al., 1994). Both depression and internalized anger, in turn, have been found to be predictive of a self-reported wish to die (Boergers, Spirito, & Donaldson, 1998; Gjerde & Westenberg, 1998; Grosz, Lipschitz, Eldar, & Finkelstein, 1994).

According to Grosz et al. (1994), violent adolescents are impulsive, attempt suicide more often than do nonviolent adolescents, and are at greater risk for committing suicide. As would be expected, adolescents who attempt or succeed at suicide are usually severely depressed. Anger and depression are thought to be sufficiently associated with suicidal and violent behavior that they can serve as warning signs (Boergers et al., 1998; Gjerde & Westenberg, 1998; Hurd et al., 1999).

Poor communication between adolescents and their parents is associated with self-harming behavior and depression (Hurd et al., 1999; Tulloch, Blizzard, & Pinkus, 1997). Further, adolescent aggressive behavior is associated with family and peer relationships (Rowe, Almeida, & Jacobson, 1999). Although adolescent-peer relations and antisocial behavior are strongly linked (Kazdin, 1993), this connection often depends on the nature of the relationship with parents (Gold & Yanof, 1985; Romig & Bakken, 1992). Relationships that are less than ideal set the stage for adolescents to choose peers who are prone to disruptive behavior. This choice often results in lower academic achievement and school failure (Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989).

The present study investigated adolescents who thought their anger could lead to violence. It was thought that adolescents who were worried about their anger turning into violence would have less optimal relations with their parents and more depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

METHOD

Participants

Eighty-nine seniors (37 males and 52 females) were recruited from a suburban Florida high school. Their ethnic distribution was as follows: 76% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 5% Asian, 3% African-American, and 5% other. The participants were, on average, of middle to upper middle socioeconomic status (mean = 3.9 on the Hollingshead Two-Factor Index).

Measures

Participants completed a 181-item Likert-type questionnaire that gathered information on multiple behavioral and psychological aspects of adolescent life. …