Does your teen seem to vacillate between pathetic helplessness and outright hostility? Can he change his mood in a second? Are you accused of doing too much for him one minute and not enough the next?
We have discovered that mood swings in teens is an actual biological limitation. Teens are still learning to control emotions at this age. Brain imaging is showing us that a thickening in gray matter on the outer part of the brain is done growing during the early teen years. But during the late teen years, the brain actually trims back excess cells to make itself more efficient. Because their brain is so developed and so newly formed they are capable of intense passion, strong emotions and incredible capacity to feel feelings. But what they are still working on is the ability to control the intensity of these emotions. The connections are not all working. The connections are still new and not stable.
So there is a reason they drive you crazy with the mood swings! It is important to remember that the mood swings are confusing to them too! During those moments when they know everything, when you are the world’s biggest moron, it’s important to remind yourself that they do not have full capacity to deal with emotions. You do! Take a deep breath and model mood control. Speak kindly and do not match their level of frustration or annoyance. Set clear limits on how to talk to each other in your family. Set behavioral expectations. Give consequences for hostile behavior. But know that hostility is not powerful or satisfying to your teen. They feel out of control and do not know how to deal with their feelings, so they lash out in anger. An eye roll or smart comment is not an act of rebellion or hatred but an act of brain connections not fully functioning. They are learning to identify and control the intense emotions of anxious, stressed, sad and exhausted during these situations.
Sometimes the other extreme of inability to control mood looks like a helpless toddler. Remember that your teen may be experiencing crazy intense emotions right now. He has the brain power to feel passionately about things, people, music, politics, school, etc. But he does not have the capacity to control or calm down all of those feelings. Imagine what that would be like to be flooded constantly with intense happy, intense sad, intense mad; without the ability to control those emotions! He needs a break once in a while. He needs down time. He needs a little reassurance that you’ve got this when he can’t.
When you see him struggling with mood control, check the basics. These three life skills can have a powerful impact on mood control;
EAT, SLEEP, EXERCISE.
Tweaking any or all of these will help your teen better manage his mood!
Is he eating breakfast? Is he fueling his body? What can he do better?
Is he getting enough sleep? Is he sleeping 9 hours a night? Get more sleep!
Is he moving his body every day? Is he getting exercise that is fun and that he enjoys?
Your teen may not thank you for nagging him about breakfast, denying him another late night activity this week, or forcing a one on one game of basketball with his dad before he can go out with friends, but it is exactly what he needs!!!