Does your teen smile one minute and roll her eyes the next? Is she chatty and cheerful and then you blink or say the wrong thing and she’s done talking and barely utters a word the rest of the night? Do you see her as delightful and energetic and a pretty cool person when she is with friends or in public, but as soon as she is home, she turns into some kind of beast that, quite honestly, you fear just a little bit?
You were promised mood swings when parents of older kids would talk about the teen years, but you never dreamed it could be this bad! Your adoring 8 year old somehow turned into an unpredictable, unstable, moody monster! Should you worry? Should you stop it? Should you seek help? Do you just let the mood swings go? Deal with them directly?
The good news is that mood swings are perfectly normal and to be expected. The bad news is that they are awful for your teen and everyone around them! There is science behind the mood swings.
Here’s a peek into the developing brain of your teenager.
Understanding your teen’s brain development will help you better understand her moods. In teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses is actually heightened. They are able to “feel” passionately; about music, politics, families, school, friends. But keeping this passionate ability to “feel” in check or manageable is process that comes later and it more complex. Because teens feel so passionately but don’t have total brain development to manage those feelings, we see more unpredictable or extreme emotions and which can lead to more moody behaviors. These feelings are so intense, much like when they were two years old and having a temper tantrum because they didn’t have the words or communication skills to tell us what was wrong. They are working on advanced brain development and just don’t have the skills to regulate the extra intense emotions they are feeling. The moods really are a part of a teen’s brain development! The eye rolling, attitudes, snarky comments and general annoyance with you are all a bonus!
Along with all of that, huge hormonal changes take place during adolescence. We can see the impact of these crazy hormones on their pimply face, or their greasy hair, or disgusting smelly bodies, or their development of adult body features. But all of these outward symptoms of crazy hormonal imbalances have an equal or maybe even more powerful presence inwardly. The hormones are causing the brain to make changes in how it perceives and processes emotion differently, more complexly, more passionately. And that is sometimes hard to regulate. So they snap. So they cry. So they yell. So they laugh at inappropriate times. So they get mean.
What can you do about it as a parent? How can you help them navigate this phase? Three simple first steps.
Research has shown time and time again that the best strategy for managing our emotions, during the teenage years and throughout our life time is to find a healthy balance of EAT, SLEEP, EXERCISE. They sound too simplistic, but make some changes and watch the difference happen for your teen!
Tweaking any or all of these will help your teen better manage his mood!
Eat: Teens are eating healthier on whole than we ever did as teens, but take a look at when and how often he is eating. Is he eating breakfast? Is he fueling his body? What can he do better? Eating regular, consistent meals will help fuel his brain to make the emotional connections it is desperately working on. Just like he needs to fuel his body to play football or take a test, he needs fuel to develop his brain. He needs some fruits and veggies. He needs carbs and protein. Learn about what foods help him most. Make sure he is eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sleep: Teens need an average of 9 hours of sleep a night!!! Regular, consistent sleep is the best tool for regulating mood. His brain is working overtime and needs to rest. We all know most teens do not come close to getting 9 hours of sleep a night. Maybe that feels completely unrealistic, but help your teen do better. Talk about sleep and how important it is. Tell them to go to bed at 9! Don’t allow them to have social media in their bedrooms so when they do go to bed they can actually sleep. A good night’s sleep doesn’t mean wing it all week and then sleep all weekend either. It means get more sleep every night! It means no sleepovers when they stay awake all night and take a week to recover. It means no playing video games until 2 am on weekends. It means go to bed at 9! Or even 8! However unmanageable this seems, help your teen get more sleep. You will see a difference in mood. And they will feel more in control of their mood and emotions which allows them to feel confident in growing up.
Exercise: If your kid is like many, they play an intense sport or are involved in physical activity every day. But maybe it’s the off season and they went from pro athlete level training to nothing for the last few weeks? That can have a disastrous impact on mood management. If they are not moving find something they can do. A walk outside for a half an hour can do wonders for helping your teen manage his moods. Make him walk the dog. Or run a can of soup to the neighbor a few streets over. Or challenge him to a game of basketball in the driveway. What kinds of movement can your teen do every day? Help him find a physical activity he really enjoys and you will have instilled a lifelong hobby too!
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!!! And if it helps the mood of your house go from unpredictable and scary to calm and manageable, it’s a win for everyone!
Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own! Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!
Visit her website at : joyhartman.com
Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks