Are My Teen's Mood Swings Normal?

The teenage years are often marked by mood swings.
Johannes Kroemer / Digital Vision / Getty Images

It’s not unusual for a teen to be laughing one minute and rolling her eyes the next. Most of the time, those rapid and intense mood shifts are a normal part of adolescence. But sometimes, mood swings can signal a more serious problem.

Why Teens Experience Mood Swings

Mood swings during adolescence are partially due to biology. Hormonal shifts that occur during puberty play a major role in the way teens think and feel.

As teens mature, they commonly experience increased irritability, intense sadness, and frequent frustration due to the chemical changes occurring inside their brains.

Teens' quests to establish their own identities also plays a role in their moods. It’s healthy for teens to gain independence and to establish their own beliefs, goals, and guidelines, which are separate from their parents. As they establish that independence, they’re likely to experience some inner turmoil that manifests as dramatic behavior.

Healthy adolescent development leads teens to ask themselves, “Who am I?” This is why teens sometimes go through a variety of interesting phases during adolescence. A teen may dress in black clothing for six months only to then seek out the brightest most mismatched outfits she can find.

Establishing independence causes teens to experience a variety of emotions. They may feel sad, scared, and lonely about the futures while simultaneously feeling excited about their budding freedom.

These intense emotions can lead to a variety of mood swings.

How Parents Can Help

It’s important to keep your cool when you’re dealing with a cranky or moody teen. Raising your voice or using sarcasm will only make the situation worse. Reply in a calm, but firm manner and hold your teen accountable for disrespectful behavior.

Encouraging healthy sleep habits is one of the best ways to address a teen's mood. An overtired or sleep-deprived teen is likely to experience increased difficulty regulating emotions.

One of the biggest reasons teens have trouble sleeping is because they’re using electronic devices near bedtime. Establish a rule that says no electronics within an hour of bedtime and don’t allow your teen to sleep with a smartphone in the room.

Exercise is a natural mood booster and it can go a long way to easing mood swings. Encourage your teen to get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day. Not only will exercise reduce stress, but it will also release endorphins, which are chemicals known to help improve mood.

A healthy diet is another way teens can naturally combat mood swings. Eating breakfast, reducing caffeine, and decreasing sugar are just a few of the things that can help teens feel at their best.  Talk to your teen about the importance of a balanced diet and provide healthy snacks and meals.

When to Seek Professional Help

Mood swings can be a sign of a bigger problem for teens at times.

If your teen can’t keep friends because her mood swings are so severe, or she can’t get through the school day without yelling at people, she may have underlying mental health issues.

Depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders are just a few of the mental health issues that commonly emerge during adolescence. Mental health issues are very treatable, so it’s important to seek professional help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, or speak to a trained counselor about any concerns you may have.

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