In the Mood Now

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Before you start humming the popular Glenn Miller version, I’m talking about those pesky mood swings teenagers are infamous for, not the song our grandparents used to “swing” to. Parents with teenagers know where I’m coming from. One minute she’s in a fabulous mood. The next, she’s Cruella D’Evil with a hangover! Take a deep breath, find your sense of humor and make a beeline to your cabinet for the herbal tea.

Why the drama?

Why the sudden change in mood with teenagers? Better yet, why so often?

Many experts say it’s normal for teens to have mood swings. We’re told we can blame them on those things called “hormones.” Robin F. Goodman, a clinical psychologist who is a consultant to Allegheny General Hospital’s Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents, says, “Hormones do play a part in moodiness.” She adds, “In the teen years there is a perfect storm of physiologic, social, academic, family and developmental challenges. It’s a tough time for navigating the many choices and social pressures out there which can create a great deal of stress.”

In addition, teens are also moving away from family and parents as their main sources of support as they try to solidify their identity. Goodman explains that, along with the social and physical changes teens are coping with, many teens are also dealing with academic expectations and pressures due to the college search process (admissions, standardized testing, etc.). All of this can wreak havoc on your teen’s mood.

Goodman suggests that parents talk “with” not “at” their teens. “Keep in mind that teens want to feel heard and understood — not lectured to — especially if they’re having trouble,” she advises. Parents shouldn’t minimize their teen’s feelings by saying things like, “It will get better,” she says. Goodman reminds parents that limits are good even when your teen resists them. Limits help keep your teen grounded.

Time to worry or walk away?

My daughter is full of extremes. She is either an excited chatterbox or she’s down in the dumps and refuses to tell me about her day. I’ve learned to give her space if she comes home from school in a dumpy mood. I wait a while before trying to speak with her about what’s going on. Often, if I don’t barrage her with questions, she’ll eventually want to discuss what’s bothering her because she won’t be able to hold it in any longer.

“If your teen is really having a hard time opening up, you can also remember to engage in non-talk activities,” Goodman suggests. “Just being together, driving places and doing things, takes the pressure off of talking about what may be going on. Instead, conversation can evolve more naturally.”

There are times, however, when parents should not assume that the latest drama is a typical teen mood swing. Goodman tells parents to rely on their instincts. “Parents have a history with their teens. If they are worried, there is a good chance that there’s something of concern,” she says.

Goodman instructs parents to pay attention to signs of real difficulty. She says that the following behaviors may indicate that your teen is in trouble and might need professional help:

Withdrawal or isolation;

Low energy;

Worrisome changes in eating and sleeping habits;

Acting out physically or sexually;

A sudden drop in grades; or

Signs of suicide such as giving away possessions, extreme euphoria or agitation.

She states that, in general, if a teen’s mood is interfering with functioning at school, with friends, and with family, parents need to get to the bottom of what is going on.

On the other hand, if you sense that your teen is just going through her typical ups and downs, no need to fret. After all, you made it through those “terrible 2” tantrums fairly unscathed. This too shall pass.

Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and children’s development. Her work appears in publications across the United States and Canada. She is the mother of two teenagers.

Categories: Development, Health, Health & Wellness, Health and Development, Tweens and Teens