Teens and Mood Swings

Adolescent’s moods swings are not only confusing to parents, but they are also draining. It is not fun to walk around as if on eggshells in fear a 16 year old might erupt or become weepy. It is also not a good idea to try to punish the bad mood out of the youngster.

Researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through adolescence much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of six, it has historically been believed that it had also reached almost full development. Now it is believed that the brain changes much more during the teenage years than previously believed. The grey matter on the outer part of the brain thickens over time with this process peaking at age 11 in females and age 12 in males.

After this process is over, the brain begins to trim away excess grey matter that is not used, leaving only the information that the brain needs and making the brain more efficient. One of the last areas to go through this trimming process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, self-control, and planning. This means that while adolescents have very strong emotions and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these emotions. This is one reason behind teenage mood swings.

Another biological factor is that this is when the body starts producing sex hormones as well as going through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that adolescents experience cause them to feel strange and perhaps confused or uncomfortable, and this erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.

Adolescents have not yet developed the ability to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and anxieties of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping mechanisms that grown-ups have developed to help them deal, so they are prone to react very emotionally to situations. Also, adolescents are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming entities with lives separate from those of their moms and dads. This, again, can cause confusion or frustration. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t keep up or handle the pressure, and this will inevitably lead to a slightly off-kilter emotional state.

What Parents Can Do—

Here are a few tips you can use to help your teenager learn to control or deal with his/her mood swings:

1. Allow your adolescents to wait out the mood. If they need a good cry or to just pace around their room, give them their privacy to do it. Offer comfort and let your adolescents know you are there if they need to talk.

2. Always take the upper road as the mother or father.

3. Don't take their mood swings personally. Don't let their moods alienate you from them. As moms and dads we tend to get our feelings hurt when our kids don't respond to us positively. It is important to remember that the mother/father must react in the more mature manner and always forgive the kids and keep your heart open to them.

4. Encourage your adolescents to identify what is happening. Help them recognize the signs of their bad moods, so they know what is happening. Let them know that they are not alone, this happens to most people.

5. Encourage your adolescent to take preventative steps though creativity and being involved. Being involved in a hobby will help your adolescent’s moods stay on an even keel. It will teaching him/her more coping skills and resilience.

6. Give them room and allow them to be miserable or sad for a period. Of course you will need to watch them to be sure they don't get depressed, but don't deny them the right to be sad or to need time alone.

7. Look for moments when they may be willing to talk. Just like they have times when they are in bad moods, they will also have good moments. Take advantage of these times to relate to them what you went through at the same age so they will know they are not alone.

8. Never let your youngster's bad mood cause you to react in anger.

9. Recognize what is happening. Do not be too busy that you aren’t looking at the situation correctly and go directly into 'discipline mode'. Know that it isn’t just your child, this is normal for adolescents. It isn’t easy to deal with bad or sad feelings when you can’t figure out what is wrong.

10. Stay firm where behavior is concerned. While you cannot dictate how they feel, you can dictate how they react. Don't allow a bad mood to mean disrespect of you, other elders. Also, don't allow them to be hurtful to siblings. If this happens, you must demand that they apologize.

11. Support a healthy lifestyle in your home. Getting enough rest and eating right goes a long way for anyone’s mood. This is also an opportunity for parent’s to model the appropriate behavior.

12. Teach your adolescent coping skills. When he/she is calm, use role play and show them how to count back from 10, go for a walk or listen to music. Modeling these appropriate behaviors when you are in a bad mood will help your adolescent be better prepared.

Mood swings can leave an adolescent feel like they’re out of control, which is a very uncomfortable state for anyone to be in. Of course, if the mood swings are severely abnormal or prolonged the adolescent should see a professional about other possible issues. Normal teen mood swings can make an adolescent feel unbalanced, though, and are not to be taken lightly.

Here are some tips for what your adolescent can do when dealing with a mood swing:
  • Exercise - exercise releases endorphin into the blood stream, and these chemicals can help to regulate mood and ease frustration
  • Get creative – painting, drawing, writing, or building something can help an adolescent to express their emotions in a healthy way
  • Get plenty of rest – regular sleep helps keep the mind in tip-top shape
  • Realize that they’re not alone – talking to a friend or peer who is dealing with the same issues will make them feel less abnormal and help them realize that they are not crazy
  • Take a breather – stepping back and trying to look at the situation from another angle, counting to ten, or just sitting with the uncomfortable feelings for a moment will help the adolescent to realize that it’s not as bad as it seems
  • Wait – the mood may pass as quickly as it struck; wait before acting out on extreme emotions

There are a variety of treatment options available to cope with mood swings. Examine the following list and decide which treatment works best for you and your youngster:

1. Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral therapy helps to weaken the connections between troublesome situations and habitual reactions to them. Reactions common to mood swings such as fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and self-damaging behavior can be controlled. Behavioral therapy teaches your adolescent how to calm the mind and body, so they can feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.

2. Cognitive Therapy: Cognitive therapy teaches your adolescent how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms — by giving a distorted picture of what's going on in their life, and making them feel anxious, depressed or angry for no apparent reason, or provoking them into negative actions. Resolving the cognitive aspect of mood swings can mean improved social interaction, more confidence, and a more positive outlook on life.

3. Literary Therapy: Literary therapy incorporates books, articles, and other research materials into the process of healing. By gathering information about mood swings, one can acquire in-depth knowledge about his or her problems. This knowledge provides the essential tools for controlling and resolving ones issues. There is an extensive amount of information available from a wide range of perspectives. Many books can be checked out from a local library, and most internet information is presented free of charge.

4. Supplements: There are many non-prescription alternatives on the market today. Some of these alternatives contain supplemental vitamins and minerals, while others contain herbal alternatives that have been used to naturally medicate mood swings. Clinical evidence for Valerian, Kava Kava and St. Johns Wort suggests that these herbal constituents can provide significant benefit in helping to relieve negative mood and other symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

5. Talk Therapy: Talk therapy involves the idea of healing through communication. Talking to friends, family members, or a therapist can help your adolescent to find support for those dealing with mood swings. Communication comes naturally to humans, and the simple act of discussing one’s problems can be extremely helpful in the healing process.

6. Talk to Your Doctor: Communicating with your doctor is an important part in the diagnosis and treatment of mood swings. By talking to your doctor openly, you allow him or her to provide your youngster with the best mood swings treatment program possible.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Is your teenager getting mouthy?

Back-talk is triggered by your youngster’s emotions, primarily frustration, anger, and a need to get revenge when he/she thinks something is unfair. On the far end of the continuum is verbal abuse, which is meant to inflict emotional pain on the parent. Verbal abuse often includes foul language and disturbing threats of violence designed to intimidate the parent into “giving in” and letting the teen have his/her way. Children who use verbal abuse want to attack you so that they can control you. They don't care about consequences; they're not intimidated by them. Thus, verbal abuse has to be handled in a very special way.

Why do children talk to parents in disrespectful ways? Because they don't know how to express emotions appropriately. They learn a lot from watching other children and people around them. If your son is frustrated and doesn't know how to show it, and he sees somebody else roll their eyes and make a face, he’ll absorb that lesson without even thinking about it. Then the next time he’s frustrated at home, he’ll roll his eyes and make a face at you. If he gets a reaction out of you, the behavior gets reinforced because he knows he’s succeeded in pushing your buttons.

It's not easy to ignore mildly disrespectful behavior, but don’t kid yourself. If you threaten your youngster by saying, “Don't roll your eyes at me, young man, or you'll be grounded,” that will only make him do it more. If you respond to annoying behavior in a strong way repeatedly, you give it power and strength. Conversely, the less you challenge it, the less you give it power – and the less power you give it – the more it's going to die a natural death.

The worst thing parents can do is to challenge back-talk ‘inconsistently’ (i.e., sometimes you let it slide, sometimes you confront it). With inconsistent confrontation, back-talk tends to become more entrenched.

The Use of Sarcasm—

Teens generally use sarcasm in two ways: (1) they make sarcastic comments when they’re feeling like they’re under pressure, or (2) they use chronic sarcasm as a way to manage their anger safely (it’s safer to show their anger through sarcasm than it is through other means they’ve learned).

Usually sarcasm is learned and modeled by grown-ups, and so part of the response to sarcasm in children is for the adults to avoid lowering themselves to the child’s level. Often when parents are mad about their kid’s performance, they make sarcastic comments. These comments are hurtful, and teens develop a defense to that by becoming sarcastic themselves. Sometimes you’ll see children who are really sarcastic and use verbal abuse in most areas of their life. The function of chronic sarcasm is to help teens deflect any blame while throwing anger onto the target parent.

When you witness sarcasm in your teen, ask yourself, “Why is my youngster responding this way?” It’s usually not hard to discover what your youngster is threatened by that leads to sarcasm. Sometimes it’s a secret, sometimes it’s a task she hasn’t completed, and sometimes it’s a power struggle. Whatever it is, once you’ve identified it, it becomes much easier to resolve. For example, if your teen becomes sarcastic whenever you bring up the topic of homework, a good question to ask is, “How come you get sarcastic whenever we talk about your homework?” This question is effective because it both identifies the issue and puts your youngster on the spot.

A very powerful way to respond to sarcasm is to simply say, “I don’t appreciate that comment” – then turn around and walk away. In this way, you’re taking all the power out of the room with you. If you argue or try to make a point, you’re giving your youngster more power.

It’s normal to become annoyed when your teenager says sarcastically, for example, “Great job, Mom …duh!” This is where you have to draw the line between what kind of disrespect requires your attention and what doesn't. A comment that is not a personal attack and not meant to demean you can be handled by simply ignore it. This is “intentional ignoring,” which is used when you decide consciously to ignore attention-seeking behaviors as long as they’re not overtly hurtful or abusive.

When your youngster says, for example, “You’re an idiot,” make no mistake – he means you're an idiot. This comment does NOT go into the “intentional ignoring” category. You can say very clearly, “There's no name calling in this house, and there is a consequence for name calling.” Set limits on it very clearly and hold your youngster accountable. Every time he says “you’re an idiot,” he goes to bed 15 minutes earlier or has 15 minutes less TV time. He should be held accountable from the beginning.

Lastly, don't give your youngster a second chance when he’s being verbally abusive to you. Second chances create bad habits in children. As soon as you start giving your child a second chance, he will think to himself, “Hmmm, the first one is free, so I won’t get into trouble if I call dad an idiot.”

=> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents Who Are At Their Wits-End

Making Summer Vacation a Positive Experience

For teenagers, summer is the highlight of the year – no responsibilities, sleeping in until noon, a kitchen full of food, and the sweet smell of independence. Many moms and dads work full-time throughout the summer; some go on vacation and leave adolescents with an easygoing relative or friend; and some older adolescents are even left alone when moms and dads are away. All of the structure and scheduling that occurs during the school year turns into unadulterated freedom in the summer.

For moms and dads, the start of summer means the countdown to September is on. As yet another school year comes to a close, mothers/fathers are making last-minute plans to keep their adolescents occupied for three long months. Sure, a few weeks may be spent on a family vacation, some adolescents may attend summer school, and others may take up a new hobby. But that still leaves hours each day and days each week when adolescents are home with nothing to do. How many days can you invent amusing activities and outings that will keep your adolescent out of trouble?

With less structure and adult supervision, the summer is ripe with opportunities for adolescents to fall into a bad crowd, experiment with drugs or alcohol, or get into other forms of mischief. If your adolescent has been struggling during the school year, more trouble may be awaiting you in summer. Adolescents are looking for adventure, risk, and excitement, especially in the summer. Being bored at home is the exact opposite of what they need. They will find a way to take risks and live adventurously with or without your support and guidance.

Kids and teens that are not supervised are more likely to commit crimes, be victims of crimes, do drugs, or hang out with gang members. Young people start committing crimes around noon during the summer, compared to 3 p.m. during the school year. In addition, adolescents tend to commit drug crimes later in the evening during the summer, most likely because they can stay out later without worrying about getting up early for school. This means adolescents need constructive activities to occupy a broader range of time in summer than during the school year. For working moms and dads, it's difficult to be around from noon until late in the evening every day.

More adolescents try marijuana for the first time in summer than at any other time of year. This translates into 6,300 new users each day, a 40 percent increase in first-time youth marijuana use during June and July as compared to the rest of the year. A hike in new underage drinkers and cigarette smokers also occurs during the summer months.

By taking proper precautions and planning ahead, moms and dads can make summer vacation a positive and memorable growth experience for adolescents. Where should parents begin? Two words: Summer camp. Yes, there is cost involved, but for most struggling adolescents, the benefits are well worth the price.

Most adolescents want nothing more than a summer to hang out with their friends. However, for adolescents that are acting out, falling behind in school, disrespecting authority figures, or getting in trouble with the law, a break from negative peer influences may be exactly what they need. Sometimes the best thing for the whole family is to take a break, with a struggling adolescent attending camp to learn new skills and ways of approaching family conflict, and family members doing their own work at home.

There is no better way to make constructive use of free time than learning something new - a new skill, exploring an unfamiliar place, meeting new people. Therapeutic wilderness programs offer a unique opportunity for troubled adolescents to explore the wilderness on foot, learn primitive life skills, and participate in challenging group activities. When stripped of the comforts of home, like television, computers, and video games, adolescents connect with themselves and others on a deeper level.

Wilderness camps emphasize responsibility, self-awareness, teamwork, and communication, and challenge adolescents to achieve their personal best. Adolescents are introduced to a new group of peers and learn to relate to people of all backgrounds. They live in a structured, highly supervised environment, which helps adolescents gain perspective on life at home and build self-confidence and hope for a brighter future.

If summer camps and wilderness programs aren't right for your adolescent, consider getting him or her involved in volunteer work. Animal shelters, halfway houses, nursing homes, churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other organizations can keep adolescents occupied while developing a sense of purpose, self-confidence, and personal responsibility. In addition to teaching adolescents the joy of giving back, volunteer work looks great on college applications and resumes.

Another activity to keep adolescents busy this summer is a part-time job. Many moms and dads find internships or small tasks for their kids to do at their place of employment, or you can help your adolescent apply to local grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, local car washes, or pet care facilities. Adolescents can also earn extra money babysitting, doing yard work, house-sitting, and other odd jobs. Part-time work helps adolescents budget, make friends, comply with authority, develop a strong work ethic, and learn the value of a dollar.

Keeping your youngster busy for the sake of being busy can be as disastrous as doing nothing. Your adolescent may rebel against the cluttered schedule and seek out more interesting people and places on his own. Your money would be put to better use in a summer camp with a clear, focused goal, such as a wilderness camp or weight-loss camp.

Moms and dads who are seeing early signs of behavioral or emotional problems in their kids have an excellent opportunity to get their children back on track during summer vacation. Waiting to address these issues until the summer has started or problems become serious would do a disservice to your adolescent. Start talking with your adolescent at least a month before the start of summer vacation to make plans, reserve a place at camp, and coordinate schedules.

More Tips for Making Summer Vacation a Positive Experience:

1. A stagnant economy may make the summer job search a bit more difficult than usual. But if your adolescent is serious about looking for summer work, encourage her to find (or create) a job that she can do during the morning (e.g., if she starts a lawn-mowing business, encourage her to schedule her appointments for the morning, before the hottest part of the day).

2. From volunteer experiences to summer internships to organized sports, summer vacation is an excellent time for adolescents to explore topics that interest them, but that they may not have the opportunity to delve into during the school year. If your adolescent enjoys sports, summer vacation is a great time to participate in a league or take part in a short-term skills camp. For adolescents who are interested in sports but who don't want to play, many youth leagues are always on the lookout for officials, scorekeepers, and coaches. If your family's financial situation is such that paid employment isn't a requirement for your adolescent during summer vacation, think about volunteer work or an unpaid internship. In addition to boosting your adolescent's college resume, these opportunities can also give your adolescent real-world work experience and insights into a career field that she is interested in.

3. Summer camp opportunities today include computer camp, finance camp, theater camp, wilderness camp, space camp, adventure camp, and many more. In addition to topic-centered summer camps, experienced professionals also operate innovative summer camps that are designed to support, motivate, and provide a memorable summer experience for all types of adolescents, including overweight kids and kids with learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and certain types of autism. In addition to providing a nurturing and accepting environment, weight loss summer camps and summer camps for special students can provide long-term educational, emotional, and therapeutic benefits for these kids.

4. If your adolescent has a history of behavior problems, defiance, substance abuse, or related challenges, summer vacation can be a difficult time both for him and for you. In the absence of the structure and support that is provided during the school year, summer vacation can cause significant backsliding in the behaviors of troubled adolescents and at-risk adolescents. To avoid these problems – and to turn summer vacation from a negative experience into a positive educational opportunity – educate yourself about the many therapeutic wilderness programs for troubled adolescents that have been established over the past few decades. In addition to helping your adolescent with issues related to behavior, mental health, and substance abuse, a summer wilderness program for troubled adolescents can also instill leadership values, personal responsibility, and a heightened sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

5. If your adolescent is a swimmer (or wants to learn), sign her up for morning lessons or a community team that practices during the a.m. hours. If your adolescent needs an academic boost, find a morning tutoring program (which serves the dual purpose of getting him out of bed and getting the "painful" part of the day out of the way).

6. If your adolescent wants some freedom during his summer vacation days, trade afternoon hours for morning chores. The benefits: Your adolescent is awake, your household chores are taken care of, and there's no daylong back and forth about what needs to be done. If the chores are done by a pre-determined time, afternoon activities are allowed; if the work isn't done, the afternoon schedule is curtailed or called off.

7. Realistically, handing your adolescent a schedule of morning chores, activities, and work assignments is not going to end your summer vacation stress. But anything you can do to encourage your adolescent to buy into (or take ownership of) the summer plan will make the process go much smoother. Sit down with your adolescent and discuss your hopes and plans for summer vacation. Perhaps you can trade hours (morning chores for afternoon fun), or maybe you can ease some restrictions (for example, an extended curfew) in exchange for desired behaviors (phoning home at predetermined times when out of the house, or completing a certain number of chores). In addition to reducing your adolescent's resistance to the summer vacation schedule, negotiating will make enforcement of punishments a bit more palatable, too, because your adolescent will know the penalty before he violated the rule.

There's a good chance that a significant portion of your adolescent's summer dreams involve, well, dreaming. From post-noon wake-ups to midday naps, extended snooze sessions can be among summer's most enticing opportunities for sleep-deprived, school-stressed adolescents. While there's no reason to insist that your adolescent rise with the sun during summer vacation, there are more than a few justifications for opposing a "wake me for dinner" mentality.

Don't just get by this summer, counting down the days until September. Wasted time is a wasted opportunity. A bold and exciting summer vacation can be a life-changing time of continued learning and personal exploration for adolescents.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

"I have taken the quiz and surprisingly found that I was a severely over indulgent parent. This angers me because I didn't think...