Teens Dealing With Their Angst

Category: Weekly Columns

Teen energy, angst and anger manifests itself in many ways. Every day it seems that we read about some teen that has done something unusually self-destructive, and occasionally destructive to others. Columbine was an extreme example of this.  Many so-called “normal” teens tend to use or abuse the ol’ standbys of drinking, drugs, and sex to handle these emotions and changes.  For my own 16-year-old, his reaction has been mostly anger.  The irony is that I’ve found this to be both good and bad.

How hormones affect the average teen have been studied and documented, but no one really knows definitively their effect since each teen reacts in different ways.  The same is true for most women’s experience with menopause, as my wife has suffered horribly while for her mother it was a blip on the screen of her mid-life. Will has done a little of the aforementioned “standbys” stated above, to some degree. But he’s done nothing extraordinary, over-the-top, or that different from all teens with the possible exception of his recent angry moods.

When I say moods, I mean moods.  Let’s try a few descriptive words: sullen, quiet, loud, belligerent, intransigent, stubborn, willful, explosive.  His impulsive behavior got him in a mess of trouble when he posted a mean-spirited comment on Facebook.  The backlash, as it instantaneously circulated among all his friends and peers, was stunning.  It nearly de-railed Will’s wonderful eight-month relationship with his girlfriend, as all her friends got involved, taking sides, and giving his minor comment a true life of its own.

At first, Will just got angrier and angrier before we really talked it out and I got him to post an apology.  Sadly, the others that were now involved wouldn’t let it go, but this isn’t the point of this column.  The point is how do teen boys channel their energy, their out-of-control hormones, and anger?  For many, sports are the outlet.  Banging each other on the football field till exhaustion probably can moderate any teen’s angry mood.

Will never cared for sports, but he did like and then love rock ‘n’ roll. It began with his getting an inexpensive electric guitar as a graduation present from Elementary School. He evolved into an accomplished musician, as he now plays guitar, bass, and drums, and he sings.  Along the way, I supported him by taking him to concerts by legendary performers like Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton as well as some of his contemporary bands such as Green Day, Incubus, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name just a few.

Joining a local School-of-Rock type of school where kids get put into bands and perform at local venues, gave him his first taste of performing.   In his tween years, at which time he just played guitar, he developed a charismatic presence on stage.  Or, as I tend to believe, it just came natural to him.

But, with the onset of puberty and all its attendant hormonal changes, this outlet proved even more vital and cathartic for him.  Less than a year ago, he took up the drums.  We jokingly say that the video game “Rock Band” taught him the basics, as he almost instantly was a pro.  This proved to be the ultimate release for his pent-up anger and emotion, as he’d go and bang on the drums until there was a puddle of sweat accumulated on the garage floor.

His first performance on the drums coincided with his 15th birthday.  He had been playing for maybe four months.  Now, the inherent charisma he’d shown playing guitar, turned into something deeper and more intoxicating.  At this show, the energy and magnetism he displayed clearly took the center of attention completely away from the singer, in this case a teen girl.

Undeterred, she responded with amazing calm and, cool as can be, integrated Will’s energy into her performance.  Rather than fight what he was bringing, she interacted with him in an unrehearsed manner as she’d jump on the drums platform and sing to him.  Yes, they had rehearsed, but Will doesn’t come out and show his stuff until he’s on stage, so she had no idea of what was to come.

That show was terrific and an eye-opener. He’s now grown into a wildly exciting drummer, guitarist, and more recently a singer.  Suffering from a cold and recovering from a broken arm, he did vocals in a Rage Against The Machine tribute concert.  In his 10-minute exhibition, he left the audience and himself exhausted from the power of his vocals and showmanship.  In fact, halfway through it, during an instrumental interlude, he sat on his haunches and just tried to recover his breath.

This story is really not about my son, but rather about the need for our teen boys, and maybe our girls too, to have that outlet–that passion that will keep their wild puberty in check.  Our job as parents is to help our children find their passion and nurture it as best as we can.  In my case, I just need earplugs.

Postscript: My son, through his own initiative, made his rock ‘n’ roll dream come true when he got to jam, on stage, with Chris Cornell at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood May 3, 2010 (to read about it and see the YouTube video, go here).