8 Hidden Causes of Aggression in Teens and Kids (and How to Fix It)

Causes of Aggression

Is your child or teen displaying physical aggression—fighting at school, pushing and shoving their siblings, hitting the dog, or biting you? It can be distressing and may leave you feeling scared of your own child. Many parents with aggressive, volatile, or hostile kids are at a loss to correct the behavior. You may have tried disciplining them using recommended parenting strategies but without success. When nothing seems to work in terms of overcoming physical aggression, it’s time to look for hidden causes.

Here are 8 underlying factors that can trigger aggression in children and teens.

1. ADD/ADHD

In kids and teens with ADD/ADHD, impulsiveness is a core characteristic that can lead to aggressive behavior. These youngsters act on impulse without thinking about the consequences of their behavior and are more likely to get into fights or altercations. Brain SPECT imaging studies at Amen Clinics, which has the world’s largest database of functional brain scans related to behavior, show that ADD/ADHD is associated with low blood flow in the prefrontal cortex. This brain region is involved with impulse control, and low activity here is linked to impulsivity.

Fix it: Children and teens with ADD/ADHD can benefit from increased blood flow to the brain with intense exercise, a higher-protein and lower-carbohydrate diet, and supplements that boost dopamine (such as green tea and rhodiola). In addition, it’s critical to know your child’s ADD/ADHD type. The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has helped identify 7 types of ADD.

2. Mood disorders

Young people with bipolar disorder frequently exhibit aggression when they are in the manic phase. Similarly, high levels of aggressive behavior have been noted in adolescents with depression, according to research in the Journal of the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry.

Fix it: Seeking treatment for major depressive disorder and other mood disorders is essential, but be aware that there are multiple types of depression. Knowing your child’s type can help you get the right treatment plan.

3. Conduct disorders

This is a serious emotional and behavioral problem that is characterized by aggression, violence, and hostility. These kids may bite, hit, push, or bully others. They may also set fires, exhibit cruelty to animals, or vandalize property.

Fix it: Conduct disorder can be manageable with the right treatment plan and family support.

4. Learning disorders and communication problems

Adolescents with learning disabilities or communication issues, such autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s syndrome (now referred to as high-functioning autism), can become anxious or frustrated when they can’t express their feelings. This can lead them to lash out.

Fix it: Address learning issues and seek treatment for ASD. Diet can be very important for children with autism, so be sure you know the 5 foods that make autism worse.

5. Head injuries

Children and teens who have experienced a concussion or repetitive blows to the head (such as from tackle football or heading soccer balls) may have underlying damage to the brain. From 2010 to 2015, concussion diagnoses in kids ages 10-19 jumped by 71%, according to a 2016 study by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Areas commonly damaged include the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in impulse control, empathy, and judgment, as well as the temporal lobes, which are involved in mood stability and temper control. Damage to these areas is associated with impulsivity and temper problems.

Fix it: Getting a functional brain SPECT imaging scan can help identify areas of damage that can be optimized. Healing the brain after a concussion is possible with a variety of therapies, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), neurofeedback, nutritional supplements, and more.

6. Being the victim of physical or sexual abuse

A 2016 study in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma found that 72% of childhood abuse victims engaged in physical aggression.

Fix it: Talk to your children and let them know it’s okay to open up to you about any abuse they may be experiencing. If you suspect an issue but can’t get them to share what’s going on, have them talk to a mental health professional.

7. Drug or alcohol use

Consuming alcohol or doing drugs negatively impacts brain function and can interfere with healthy brain development. This can contribute to poor decision-making, impulsivity, and lack of empathy, which can combine to create aggression.

Fix it: If your child has a problem with addiction, get them into a brain-centered addiction treatment plan.

8. Food allergies

In some children and teens, food sensitivities can lead to a wide range of issues, including aggressive behavior, irritability, hyperactivity, anxiety, low moods, fatigue, and more. Some of the most common food allergens include gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, and soy, as well as artificial dyes (such as red dye 40), sweeteners, and preservatives.

Fix it: Put your child on an elimination diet by removing these potential allergens for one month. Then re-introduce them one at a time to see if any of them cause a reaction.

Aggression and the underlying mental health factors that contribute to it can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

7 Comments

  1. My granddaughter
    Is having this problem.

    Comment by Arlene Thompson — May 10, 2021 @ 7:04 AM

  2. Good overview for a starting point for families. THANK YOU

    Comment by Dr. Sally A Shinn — May 10, 2021 @ 8:11 AM

  3. Well Said 👍🏼

    Comment by Ahmed — May 10, 2021 @ 9:41 AM

  4. My 13 d is a vegetarian who eats very little protein and gets very little exercise, despite being offered and guided to have both. I believe she is also ADD, but will not get treated with therapy or 😬🙌🏼 medicine, I’m out of ideas

    Comment by Nicole — May 10, 2021 @ 7:33 PM

  5. My grandson is having this problem. He lost his Dad, my son, 6 years ago and his other grandparents have adopted him.

    Comment by Patty — May 11, 2021 @ 4:20 AM

  6. Breathing obstruction/sleep apnea. Children with chronic allergies and swollen adenoids are sleep deprived and oxygen deprived. This can lead to significant behavioral dysregulation. Surgical treatment can help.

    Comment by AVA ROWLE — May 11, 2021 @ 6:58 AM

  7. Another great article. Thanks for the post.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — May 11, 2021 @ 11:30 AM

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