Are My Teenager's Rapid Mood Swings Normal?

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It’s not unusual for a teen to be laughing one minute and rolling their eyes the next. Most of the time, those rapid and intense mood shifts are a normal part of adolescence. But sometimes, teenage mood swings can signal a more serious problem. Here's what all parents of teens should know about teenage mood swings.

Causes of Teenage Mood Swings

There could be a number of things fueling your teen's emotional roller coaster. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes of a mood swing could help you and your child better manage them.

Hormonal Changes

Mood swings during adolescence can partially be blamed on biology. Significant hormonal shifts that occur during puberty can affect mood. As teens mature, they commonly experience increased irritability, intense sadness, and frequent frustration from these chemical changes.

Identity

A teen's quest to establish their own identity may also play a role in their moods. It’s healthy for teens to seek independence and establish their own beliefs, goals, and guidelines separate from their parents. As they establish that independence, they’re likely to experience some inner turmoil that can manifest as volatile behavior.

As they establish their identity, some adolescents may also begin to question their gender identity or sexuality. This process can be confusing or even frustrating for teens and that experience may affect their moods. Be an ally by learning relevant terms.

Self-Expression

Healthy adolescent development leads teens to ask themselves, “Who am I?” This evolving question may be behind the phases of self-expression some teens go through during adolescence and, in turn, their changing moods. For example, a teen may dress in black clothing for six months only to then seek out the brightest outfits they can find.

Independence

Establishing independence causes teens to experience a variety of emotions. They may feel sad, scared, or lonely while simultaneously feeling excited about their budding freedom. These intense emotions can lead to a variety of mood swings.

Stress

Do your teen's mood swings affect multiple areas of their daily school, home, or social life? They could stem from stress.

School stressors may include difficulty in keeping up with academic challenges, anxiety about college preparation, or being involved in too many activities. Maybe it's time to bring in a tutor or cut down on time spent in extracurriculars.

At home, review your teen's responsibilities. Are too many chores taking away valuable time needed for school and social interaction?

Social Life

Does your teen have a robust social life? A teen will often feel the need to fit in with friends and be socially accepted. Without this type of support, mood swings can prevail. The lack of healthy social support, changes in friendships, and even bullying (both as perpetrator and recipient) can affect a teen's mood.

Social media also takes center stage in a teen's social life and can affect whether they have a healthy self-image. Trying to keep up appearances, partake in the latest trend, and look a certain way could all lead to social stress and more intense mood swings.

Neurodiversity

Teenagers on the autism spectrum may experience even more frequent or more severe mood swings than their neurotypical counterparts as they navigate adolescence and their unique experience with autism.

Tips for Parents of Moody Teens

Be proactive when it comes to mood swings. Try changing certain habits and track any differences these efforts make.

  • Keep your cool. Raising your voice or using sarcasm in response to your teen's attitude or behavior is counterproductive and likely to escalate issues. Approach your teen in a calm, but firm manner—especially when holding your teen accountable for disrespectful backtalk or problematic behavior.
  • Encourage healthy sleep habits. An overtired or sleep-deprived teen is likely to experience increased difficulty regulating their emotions. One of the biggest reasons teens have trouble sleeping is because they’re using electronic devices near and even after bedtime. Establish a rule that says no electronics within an hour of bedtime, and don’t allow your teen to sleep with a smartphone, tablet, or computer in their room.
  • Establish an exercise routine. Exercise is a natural mood booster and 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 also it will release endorphins, which are chemicals known to help improve mood.
  • Support a healthy diet. Eating breakfast, reducing caffeine, and decreasing sugar are just a few of the things that can help teens feel their best. Talk to your teen about the importance of a balanced diet and provide healthy snacks and meals.
  • Cultivate creativity. Encourage your teen to express themselves through creative activities they enjoy like art, writing, music, theater, or dance as a positive outlet for frustrating moods. If you can, provide them with dedicated time and space for these activities.
  • Talk to your teen. Try to stay connected to your teen, even when their behavior is difficult to manage. Be persistent in checking in and asking how they feel, particularly if you think they are dealing with more than the normal ups and downs of adolescence. Validate your child's feelings and share your concerns to show your support.

What to Look For

Most of the time, changing moods are a perfectly healthy part of a teenager's development, but sometimes, mood swings can be a sign your teen needs extra support. If your teen can’t keep friends because their mood swings are so severe, or they can’t get through the school day without yelling at people, your teen may have underlying mental health issues. Be on the lookout for signs that may indicate you should seek professional help and support.

Duration

Obtain help from a doctor or mental health professional if concerning behaviors last for weeks or months, or if your teen has noticeable periods of elevated and/or low energy. Additionally, there could be a problem if your child takes a great deal of alone time or avoids social situations, including those with family.

Severity and Other Signs

Look out for mood swings that are intense. Pay attention to expressions of hopelessness, apathy in things that were once enjoyable, loneliness, insecurity, or worthlessness. Track changes in behavior that involve sleeping and eating (doing it more or less).

Other signs of distress may include drug or alcohol use, self-harm, and engaging in risky behavior. It could be a sign of mental illness if your teen says someone is trying to control their mind or hearing things. Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously.

Domains

Are your teens mood swings affecting multiple areas of their life, such as home, school, and social? It could be time for additional support.

When to Seek Professional Help

Depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders are just a few of the mental health issues that commonly emerge during adolescence. Mental health issues are treatable, so it’s important to seek professional help if you think your teen is experiencing a deeper issue than mood swings. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or a trained counselor about any concerns you may have.

Your child may find therapy and counseling beneficial even if they don't have a clinical diagnosis. Therapists aim to provide a safe space in which to process feelings and develop self-awareness and healthy coping mechanisms.

A Word From Verywell

Mood swings and teenagehood go hand in hand. You may become stressed by them, but remember, they are a normal part of the maturation process. As your child becomes an older teenager, emotional fluctuations tend to become less intense. But if mood swings start to feel more intense and you or your teen needs support, don't hesitate to seek help.

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