Why is my teenager so moody all the time?

Emotional twists and turns, raised voices and household items dramatically hurled through the air from one end of the lounge room to the other – sound familiar? No, it’s not an episode of your favourite soap opera, it’s the reality many parents are currently facing in homes across Australia.

Teenage tempers and attitude problems are typically part of the adolescent experience, but when your teen is experiencing every emotion under the sun in the matter of an hour, it can be pretty overwhelming. Why is this age particularly rife with drama? And what can parents do to mitigate the intensity of these emotional traps?

Brisbane-based psychologist Amy Kate from The Mindful Collective - which inspires mindful and compassionate change in young women - breaks down the science behind your teenager’s wayward emotions, the need for parental self-care, and the many ways your family can work together to bring the pressure down.

Teens can experience a number of mood swings in an hour let alone in a day – why is that, and what should parents expect when their young adults suddenly have a blow-up?  

“Adolescence can be such a tumultuous time. Teens are experiencing so many things, from significant hormone fluctuations to identity formation issues, ongoing physical development, relationship changes, employment and study progress, and family adjustment – just to name a few!"

"For the most part, mood swings can be a product of all of these changes. Frequent mood swings can induce quick changes and extreme emotions (from anger to elation, sadness, satisfaction etc.), but the specific experiences of mood swings vary between individuals."

Are these emotional moments caused by chemistry and hormones?

“It’s safe to say biochemistry is a significant factor in mood swings during adolescence!”

How long do these mood swings typically last for?

“Mood swings can feel like an emotional rollercoaster that we never chose to get on. For the most part, this riotous ride can last for a few minutes and sometimes for a number of hours.”

How can parents deal with these moments so they don’t go crazy or have a situation where the entire family is affected by everything going on? 

“There are a few important reminders parents should keep in their back pocket. Try to keep in mind that your teen may feel very out-of-control and vulnerable. What’s more, they’re most likely not doing any of this to intentionally hurt you."

"It’s best to simply stay calm in order to help them become calm again. Given that mood swings vary between individuals and families, it’s important to involve health professionals if the mood swings are causing significant disruptions to your teen's life and the family environment at home.”

How should parents attempt to deal with common scenarios and emotions like anger, temper tantrums, extreme lows, and euphoric highs?

“It can be helpful to develop a plan with your teen for those moments when they’re showing signs of a mood swing. This might even involve sending them a particular emoji to light-heartedly indicate that you’ve noticed some changes in their mood."

"They may also be aware of ways you can assist them during their mood swings, so keep yourself as calm as possible. Sometimes it’s a good idea to even separate yourself from your teen in order to calm down if the situation calls for it and it’s safe to do so. Once you’re feeling back to normal, that’s when you check back in with them.” 

How about specific ways to bring the pressure down in these situations?

“It’s important to pick your battles. If someone is truly feeling overwhelmed and out-of-control, it’s not a learning opportunity for you or them. The learning part of our brain is not activated during heightened emotions, so save the learning until later when your teen has regulated themselves again.”

It's traumatic for parents when their child is yelling they hate them or threatening self-harm. What can parents do to look after themselves and focus on their own sanity? 

“Self-care is incredibly important for everyone, particularly parents during adolescence as they’re also going through a transition time. Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and long walks on the beach (although it can be). Self-care can involve everything from reflection to chatting with other parents, forward planning, self-compassion, spending time on your own interests, problem-solving and even movement – it’s not just kids who need to get out and get active.”

What are some of the activities or conversation starters parents can engage in with their teens during these intense scenarios? 

“It can be helpful to be open with your teen about how you’re helping yourself cope with their mood swings. Modelling perspective-taking and your own emotional reflection, problem-solving and regulation can assist them in learning the skills to cope as well.”

Finally, what all parents are dying to know – does it ever get better?

“Mood swings usually settle into adulthood, but it’s important to speak with your family GP if you have growing concerns. Mood swings can also occur with depression, anxiety, attention difficulties, behavioural issues, learning difficulties and other mental health disorders. It may be important to involve a psychologist (such as a specifically trained Developmental Psychologist) to boost your teen's coping skills and work with your family during this time.”

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