The frustration behaviour of adolescents in child welfare institutions may involve less serious negative behaviour, such as outbursts of anger, or more serious forms, such as violence towards adults. Introverted behaviour, such as substance abuse, may also occur. Frustration behaviour often provokes adults to react. Frustration behaviour in adolescents often tends to worsen, despite their being in professional care. In this study we wanted to investigate how the frustration behaviour of adolescents can be understood within the framework of coordinated management of meaning (CMM). We interviewed four youths living in an institutional setting. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, we identified two findings: (1) the experience of being defined negatively, and (2) frustration behaviour indicates that the youths wish to continue communicating with adults. Vulnerable adolescents are not conversant with the communication patterns often used by adult professional staff. Instead, they use patterns of communication acquired in various dysfunctional contexts. Therefore, professional staff working with vulnerable adolescents need to see destructive behaviour as an invitation to investigate the interpretation of reality that lies behind it. Vulnerable adolescents carry their previous experiences of communication forward into any future communication. CMM offers us a very tangible way of understanding communication; an understanding that can help us to become more aware of the contextual forces at work in the vulnerable adolescents we are working with.