Are Teenage Mood Swings Normal?
Perhaps you’ve heard from 'You don't understand me?' to 'Why can't you just stop going on at me and leave me alone!' all before and are wondering if it’s normal. Well, to reassure you …. it is but your teenager's mood swings can affect the whole family and they can be a source of huge distress, anger and frustration for everyone.
Adolescence is a complex period of transition and change and mood swings are all part of the process of growing up. Your teenager suddenly becomes concerned about their identity, and begins to feel the pressures of school, exams and fitting in with their peers. They begin to worry about their appearance far more, their friendships and how people outside the family perceive them and these are just some of the things that preoccupy your teenager.
Add to this, the ebb and flow of their changing and spinning hormones and you get a very volatile mixture of happy, personable and outgoing one day, morose, depressed and sullen the next but the key thing is for you to stay grounded, centred and calm regardless of your teenagers mood.
Easier said than done some days but essential in the long run!
Remember to not take it personally !If your teen is having a bad day, you and the rest of your family are the safest and the most available target for their frustration and anger.
Try not to take it to heart. Blaming you can be an easy way out for your teen who may be having a tough time. But by showing empathy and tolerance and by being available to just listen to some of their feelings often helps your teenager feel understood.
Be sensitive to when they want to chat things through and be flexible in sitting down and listening even when you’re tired or busy as it will build many wonderful bridges between you.
Always remember to press an imaginary pause button (like on your DVD) and to take a literal step back as this distances you from the heated moment and try not to overreact. Arguing back, shouting or criticising only makes things worse.
You may feel incredibly angry or frustrated but avoid rising to the bait. Imagine yourself as an anchor on the bottom of a deep ocean. Deeply grounded and firm in the sand as your teenager is bobbing about out of emotional control at the top of the water – flaying about.Take some deep slow breaths and imagine a cool breeze blowing over your face calming you down and let the situation blow over the top of your head.
When you feel calm and when your teen has calmed down discuss what happened and how you felt later. Strike while the iron is cold!
A useful strategy to use is:
- When you …..
- I feel
- I would like …….
Is there something bothering your teen?
Sometimes there really is more to it than the just the “moody” moment. So find out whether there is possibly something more behind your teen’s snappiness and short fuse? Could they be worried or pressured about something? Ask if there is something troubling them gently and chose your moment carefully. If they want to talk to you about it, make it clear that you are always willing to listen without judgement, nagging or heavy handed advice.
Remember that teenagers can be very secretive and withdrawn, so don't feel rejected if they don’t want to open up to you. Take time out naturally together to chat, go shopping or take the dog out for a walk and let the conversation flow naturally and easily without pressure.The family is a natural, safe and easy target for letting off steam, as your teenager knows you will still love and accept them even if they lose their temper with you. And it's very likely that outside of the family, your teenager controls their temper and moods and is far more easy-going and pleasant.
But be clear on your own boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable to you at home, as children of all ages need to know their boundaries. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to exert some control over their moods and temper at home and don’t fall into the trap of excusing and accepting everything because you’ve got a hormonal teenager in your house.
Explain the effect that their moods are having on the rest of the family as your maturing teenager may not be fully aware of the impact they are having on everyone. Explain and be clear, that although you understand their situation, they are still part of the family and if they shout, snap or swear, it makes the atmosphere unpleasant for everyone. State what you find acceptable and be unwavering on those values and be clear on your expectations. Say that you expect them to show more control over their emotions now they are maturing and to not lose their temper so easily.
As kids become more assertive, confident and confrontational it’s a natural reaction to match the behaviour and to become more assertive, more confrontational and more controlling but that is where, in my opinion things can go wrong.
It’s about NOT matching that behaviour, it’s about recognising what’s happening and trying the new strategies and techniques of negotiating, discussing, and talking – the time for telling is over.
- What changes can I make this week to stay grounded, centred and in control of myself?
- What will be the benefits to myself, my relationship with my teenager and the rest of the family if I remember to make these small changes?
- What small steps can I take this week to build bridges between myself and my teen?
- What one new strategy could I try this week?
- What can I remember to do if it all goes pear shaped to keep the bigger long term view of our relationship?
- How can we all relax a little more this week – what can we do together to make us all laugh?
What causes mood swings in teens?
G. Stanley Hall referred to adolescence as a period of “storm and stress.” According to him, this period of time would be marked by turmoil, turbulence, and frustrated idealism regardless of environmental factors. On the other hand, social anthropologist Margaret Mead did studies that showed that cultural, spiritual, and familial factors played a role in whether or not a teenager ever experienced mood swings, and that different cultures had different experiences. Most researchers agree that it is a combination of biological and emotional factors that affect a teenagers mood.
Recently researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through adolescence much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of six, it has historically been believed that it had also reached almost full development. Now it is believed that the brain changes much more during the teen years than previously believed. The grey matter on the outer part of the brain thickens over time with this process peaking at age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys. After this process is over, the brain begins to trim away excess grey matter that is not used, leaving only the information that the brain needs and making the brain more efficient. One of the last areas to go through this trimming process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, self-control, and planning. This means that while teenagers have very strong emotions and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these emotions. This is one reason behind teenage mood swings.
Another biological factor is that this is when the body starts producing sex hormones as well as going through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that teens experience cause them to feel strange and perhaps confused or uncomfortable, and this erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.
Teenager have not yet developed the ability to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and anxieties of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping mechanisms that adults have developed to help them deal, so they are prone to react very emotionally to situations. Also, teenagers are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming entities with lives separate from those of their parents. This, again, can cause confusion or frustration. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t keep up or handle the pressure, and this will inevitable lead to a slightly off-kilter emotional state.
How can mood swings affect my teen?
Mood swings can leave a teenager feel like they’re out of control, which is a very uncomfortable state for anyone to be in. Of course, if the mood swings are severely abnormal or prolonged the teen should see a professional about other possible issues. Normal teenage mood swings can make a teenager feel unbalanced, though, and are not to be taken lightly. Here are some tips for what your teen can do when dealing with a mood swing:
- Realize that they’re not alone – talking to a friend or peer who is dealing with the same issues will make them feel less abnormal and help them realize that they are not crazy
- Take a breather – stepping back and trying to look at the situation from another angle, counting to ten, or just sitting with the uncomfortable feelings for a moment will help the teen to realize that it’s not as bad as it seems
- Exercise - exercise releases endorphin into the blood stream, and these chemicals can help to regulate mood and ease frustration
- Get plenty of rest – regular sleep helps keep the mind in tip-top shape
- Get creative – painting, drawing, writing, or building something can help a teen to express their emotions in a healthy way
- Wait – the mood may pass as quickly as it struck; wait before acting out on extreme emotions
What are our options for treating mood swings?
There are a variety of treatment options available to cope with mood swings. Examine the following list and decide which treatment works best for you and your child.
Talking to Your Doctor about Mood Swings
Communicating with your doctor is an important part in the diagnosis and treatment of mood swings. By talking to your doctor openly, you allow him or her to provide your child with the best mood swings treatment program possible.
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