Navigating Moody Moments with Science

Picture this: Your teen walks through the door from school, you throw the classic after-school question their way “How was your day?”, and what do you get? The one-word responses, the blank stares, and the grand finale – the door slam. Ah, parenting teens – a real life roller-coaster ride that you hoped you would enjoy more.

But here you are, not sure if you can take another twist or turn.

No matter how pure your intentions or strong your relationship, having a teenager in your home brings a maze of emotions, mood swings, and the occasional eye roll. But once you understand the science behind the moody behavior, that roller coaster becomes less of a scare and more of a thrill.

Moody teen discussion with mom at the kitchen table

Why the Heck Are They So Moody?

A good mood can become a bad mood in a matter of seconds. That’s because there are physical, cognitive, and emotional changes happening all at once that rival a sci-fi plot.

The rising levels of hormones in teenagers contribute to strong emotions and changes in mood. Add poor impulse control  and many teens may express an emotion before being able to think about it or deal with it.

One day, concrete thinking; the next, broad thinking – welcome to the teenage brain.

How Much Moodiness Is Normal?

Many parents feel their teen is off the moodiness chart. While personality and external factors play a role in emotional regulation skills, it really comes down to brain development. As your teen grows in this area, they will find more methods to cope with their strong emotions and improve their mood—like journaling, listening to music, exercising, joining a club or sport at school, or talking with a counselor.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight, and growth is gradual. 

From arguing about the color of the sky to thinking the world revolves around them, teens bring a slew of challenges to the parenting table.  So, what’s normal, and how can you respond in the best way possible?

  • They argue about everything. Teens argue about everything, and it’s a compliment to you! Those new reasoning skills are like a superpower they’re eager to flaunt. It might drive you nuts, but it’s developmentally sound for your teen to question the status quo. Your open-mindedness is the key – listen and resist the urge to add fuel to the fire. Be the calm in the storm, take a deep breath, or gracefully exit the battlefield. Return for the conversation when the tensions have settled.

    Here’s an example of a common curfew scenario: 

    Teen: I don’t get why I have to be home by 10 pm. It’s so unfair. Everyone else is staying out later.

    Parent: I know it’s frustrating when your friends can stay out later than you and 10 pm is what I feel comfortable with right now.

    Teen: You’re not taking me seriously at all!

    Parent: Right now, it’s late, and it might not be the best time for us to have this conversation. How about we both take a breather, and we can talk more about this tomorrow?

    Teen: (Rolls eyes) Fine, whatever.

    Parent: I’m committed to talking more about it with you. What works better, in the morning or around lunch time?
  • Teens jump to conclusions. Teens have a knack for making unwarranted assumptions based on limited info. Sound familiar? Adults do it too! When impulsivity takes the reins, hit the pause button for your teen. Ask questions, unravel the tangled threads, and help them find the rational path amidst the chaos. Your role as the voice of reason can ease conflicts and quell the anxiety that often accompanies hasty conclusions.

    Here’s an example of a common teen jumping to conclusions scenario:

    Teen: Jenny looked at me weird today, I’m sure she hates me.

    Parent: What happened to cause her to be mad at you? Maybe there’s just a misunderstanding.

    Teen: I don’t know!

    Parent: It feels bad when you think a friend is mad at you. What do you think about asking her if everything’s okay?

    Teen: Maybe

    Parent: What other ideas do you have?
  • Teens are self-centered. A part of normal teen development is the sense that the world revolves around them. It’s so common that there’s even a term for it—adolescent egocentrism. This self-centeredness stems from brain development causing teens to think more deeply about their identity—how they feel about themselves, and how others view them. They can be very self-absorbed during the process. Remember, it doesn’t last forever. Continue to share different perspectives and ideas, opening their mind to other viewpoints. 

    Does this conversation sound familiar?

    Teen: I don’t understand why you won’t buy me these shoes.

    Parent: I know you really want them and right now we have to stick to our budget this month.

    Teen: It’s not fair! I need them to play basketball!

    Parent: I want to find a solution that works for both of us. Let’s talk about how we could share the cost.

Moodiness comes with the teen territory, and it often comes in the form of arguing, jumping to conclusions and self-centered thinking. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and remember, this shall pass. Your role? Navigate it with patience, understanding and a healthy dose of humor!

Need more support to create effortless conversations with your teen? This guide is packed with additional strategies for navigating your teenager’s moody moments. Access it here!

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