Why Your Teenager Is Moody or Grumpy

Teenage boy lying on couch with cushions over his face

Per Swantesson / Stocksy United

Is your teen moody? If you laughed, you are truly a parent of a teen! Many parents complain about the rapid mood swings that their children have when they hit puberty. There are legitimate reasons that you have a moody teen—and it's not just hormones.

Rapidly Changing Teen Brains

Before the routine use of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), it was difficult to see what was going on inside a teen's brain. Most of what researchers had to work with were the brains of children and adolescents who had passed away prematurely.

Now we can see how the brain's structure is developing with the help of MRI scans. They show that the teen brain changes rapidly once puberty hits.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where more complicated behaviors are regulated—more complex decision making, expressing one's personality, guiding one's social interactions. This area of the brain has a bit of a renaissance during adolescence. Connections between these brain cells occur at high rates again after being relatively stable throughout childhood.

Teen brains also grow more white matter in certain areas of the brain during this time, in the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe. These areas of the brain deal with many different processes, including reasoning, judgment, and impulse control.

If you have ever had a run-in with a boss and swallowed your emotions, you can probably control your emotional impulses. A teen's brain might not let them do the same thing.

Some teen moodiness can probably be linked to all of the brain growth and change your teen is experiencing. Because they have poor impulse control due to their brain changes, teens may express an emotion before being able to think about it or deal with it.

The Role of Hormones

Hormones have a role to play in mood. It is thought that the sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), do affect a teen's brain, possibly leading to problems with moodiness. Any woman who has had a significant premenstrual syndrome (PMS) knows that hormones affect mood. Surprisingly, it isn't just these hormones that are linked to a teen's moodiness.

A hormone that typically calms adults down actually makes teens feel anxious. During moments of stress, THP (or allopregnanolone) is released in our bodies For adults, this hormone has a calming effect. In teens, THP has the opposite effect.

Anyone who has been around an anxious teen (or even an anxious adult) can tell you that anxiety can increase moodiness. If your teen seems a little stressed, she might be more likely to be cranky or irritable than the average adult.

This reaction to the hormone THP tends to go away as teens approach adulthood, possibly contributing to fewer episodes of moodiness during stressful times.

Moodiness vs. Depression

Parents often have questions about what is normal moody teen behavior and what is something that is more of a concern. If the moodiness doesn't last long, it's probably normal. So if your teen has a bad night and is irritable but is good most of the week, it might be just temporary moodiness.

Additionally, depression and other psychiatric disturbances have other signs other than just crankiness or moodiness. For example, teen depression may be accompanied by weight loss or weight gain, sleep disturbances, withdrawal from friends and family, or talk of suicide.

If you are concerned about your teen's behavior, it is always worth a call to your pediatrician or family physician. A medical professional can help you to sort out what is normal and what is a problem, and then help you find a solution to the problem.

A Word From Verywell

If your teen is moody, don't worry—it isn't permanent. As your teen's brain matures, the moodiness will fade. Hang in there!

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Barbara Poncelet
 Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health.