Teen Anger Leads To Heart Disease

A happy child is more likely to grow into a healthy adult, according to a new study. A research team led by Karen A. Matthews, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, looked at children aged 8 to 10 and adolescents aged 15 to 17 and found that young people with the highest levels of anger and hostility were also more likely to become overweight or to develop insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes), high blood pressure, or unhealthy cholesterol profiles in the three years following the study (Health Psychology, 2003, vol. 22, no. 3). These developments are collectively referred to as metabolic syndrome and can lead to adult cardiovascular disease.

Given this evidence, encouraging kids to destress may be as heart healthy as having them eat a plate of green veggies. Karen Thompson, a licensed clinical social worker and a child and adolescent psychotherapist in Indianapolis, Indiana, suggests that curbing teen anger begins in childhood. Parents can help children express emotions in appropriate ways by empathizing with their kids’ negative feelings rather than trying to fix or correct the problem. Thompson says, “If a child gets called a name, saying ‘I understand why that made you mad’ is much more helpful than saying ‘Don’t let it bother you.’” Parents who do this can help their kids express anger and hostility in healthier ways, such as play or language in which young children make their dolls or toys act out angry scenarios. Parents can also teach adolescents the vocabulary to express anger, plus be willing to listen to these negative feelings. In this way, Thompson says young people can learn that “angry feelings are OK, but angry behavior isn’t.” Kids who adopt these types of coping strategies may reap the health benefits well beyond their playground years.

—Corinne McKay