Mood swings: They’re common among teenagers, but what can you do if your teen’s moodiness is getting to be too much? Today’s adolescents have a lot on their plates. They have increased responsibilities on top of hormonal changes that can affect emotions. Some moodiness is normal and common in adolescence, but sometimes it can be an indication that something is wrong. Check out these steps to take if your teen is moody, and if they don’t help or if your teen is experiencing mental health red flags, it’s time to seek professional assistance.
Find Out How Much Sleep Your Teen Is Getting
As a general rule, most teenagers need about nine hours of sleep. The majority of teens, however, are not getting anywhere near that amount.
Here are two reasons why many teens stay up late:
- Their circadian rhythms support a later bedtime
- They tend to spend time talking, texting, and otherwise interacting with friends on smartphones and computers. These devices emit a blue light that can interfere with natural melatonin production (melatonin is a hormone that helps people feel sleepy when it’s dark outside).
Sleep deprivation can lead to moodiness, so it’s worth looking into how much sleep your teen is getting. Talk to them about ways to improve their sleep patterns. If necessary, remove devices from their bedrooms to enforce a more healthy bedtime.
Encourage Them to Eat a Healthy Diet
Teens are notorious for noshing on chips, cookies, and other not-good-for-you foods. If your teen is filling up on junky food, it’s likely that his or her nutrition is a bit out of whack. Good nutrition can stabilize blood sugar levels and keep emotions on an even keel. Find out what your teen is eating when you’re not with him or her.
Here are a few steps you can take to help your teen develop a healthy diet:
- Provide healthy foods for breakfast, preferably ones that can simply be grabbed as your teen heads out the door.
- Encourage your teen to pack a lunch rather than relying on what is probably carb- and fat-filled fare served at school.
- Make the time to sit down together to eat a healthy dinner.
These steps can help improve mood swings in addition to boosting your teen’s general nutrition level.
Encourage Your Teen to Exercise Regularly
Exercise is another activity that is good not only for physical health but mental health and emotions as well. If your teen isn’t involved in an extracurricular sport or in a daily physical education class, think of ways that you can build exercise into his or her day. Maybe the two of you can join a gym together, walk the dog after dinner, or otherwise get in a workout regularly. Find out what activities your teen is interested in and encourage him or her to get at least 30 minutes, and preferably an hour, of physical activity each day.
Coach Your Teen on Appropriate Responses
One reason that some teens seem very moody is that they don’t know how to handle strong emotions or they overreact to not-so-strong emotions. Coach your teen on how he or she can respond to irritations and annoyances appropriately. Flying off the handle is not an acceptable option.
Just as you did when your teen was a toddler, you might need to encourage him or her to “use your words.” Obviously, you will want to do this in an age-appropriate manner. Have a heart-to-heart talk about ways your teen can better vocalize his or her needs without resorting to yelling or getting angry.
Look for Other Adults Who Might Be Supportive
It’s important to try to have a good rapport and open conversation with your teen. It’s also important to realize that your teen’s job at this age is to push boundaries and stretch out the ties to you, his or her parent. Encourage your adolescent to rely on other adults in the community who can be supportive. While it might sting on your end, it’s often helpful for teens to talk out their feelings with an adult other than a parent. Coaches, teachers, youth group leaders, and family friends might be good options.
Watch for Symptoms of Mental Health Issues
Sometimes, mood swings and anger can be a symptom of a larger problem, such as anxiety or depression. If your teen’s moodiness is severe or seems to have come on strongly and suddenly, it’s important to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.
Some of the mental health red flags you should be aware of include:
- Sleep disruptions. These include excessive sleepiness and insomnia (or sometimes both) that persist after sleep hygiene and bedtime routine issues are addressed.
- Appetite changes. While teens do go through periods of having large appetites, excessive overeating or undereating to the point that there is unhealthy weight gain or weight loss should be addressed.
- Losing interest in activities once enjoyed. A teen who is abandoning friends, sports, extracurricular activities, romantic interests, and other people and activities that they once enjoyed should be evaluated for mental health issues.
- Aggressiveness or excessive anger. Mood swings and some overreaction can be normal during the teen years, but physical aggressiveness or pronounced levels of anger should be investigated.
- Overwhelming sadness or hopelessness. This is a symptom of depression, particularly if it lasts two weeks or if it interferes with normal everyday activities.
- Signs of drug use. If your teen is exhibiting signs of drug use or abuse, it could be the cause of his or her moodiness. Drug use is also common in teens who are suffering from mental health issues because they use it as a form of self-medication.
If your teen is severely or persistently moody, seek the care of an experienced professional. Check first with your family doctor, who can check for physical reasons that your teen might be having mood swings. A consultation with a psychologist or counselor can also help your teen get the mental health care he or she needs. The teen years can be tumultuous, but neither you nor your child should have to deal with excessive mood swings. Don’t hesitate to seek the appropriate care to help your teen learn to deal with his or her emotions more appropriately.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.