What Causes Teen Mood Swings?

Picture it. It’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and you’re picking up your teenage daughter from school. She gets in the car and seems fine. She tells you about her day. (Ok, you have to pry it out of her, but she eventually answers with more than monosyllabic responses.)  Internally, you let out a sigh of relief because she was in a good mood. As you sit at a stop light, jamming to the tunes she puts on (probably to stop you from asking her any more questions) and waiting for the light to turn green, you glance her way and smile. Uh oh. Rookie mistake. In a blink of an eye, she transforms from a mild-mannered teen to a she-devil who vaguely resembles your offspring and hisses, “What are you smiling at? Stop looking at me!”

And so it goes. Teens are notorious for mood swings that seem to come out of nowhere, which can be exhausting for the parents and siblings around them. But fear not; the team of licensed therapists at Simi Psychological Group is here to help. Mood swings are a normal part of adolescence, and with understanding and support, you can help your teen navigate their moods. To learn more about our therapy services for teens, call our Simi Valley office at (805) 842-1994.

Somewhere between the ages of 10-14 for biologically born females, and 12-16 years for biologically born males, the body goes through puberty. With puberty comes hormones, and with hormones come mood swings.

These hormonal shifts can wreak havoc, affecting their mood, their sleep cycle, their self-esteem, and sometimes their whole identity. Think, internal chaos. They’re experiencing a whole new state of being and just trying to make sense of it all. They feel more irritable, more emotional, and more sensitive to everything.

Physically, the changes taking place with puberty can be overwhelming, leading to an additional source of anxiety and stress. Teens who go through puberty early have the distinction of quite literally being children in an adult body. If they’ve developed earlier than their peers, they’ll stand out, and no adolescent wants to stand out.

For females, especially, early development can lead to an increase in depression, low self-esteem, self-consciousness, and poor body image. All of this is made worse if the yet-to-develop boys around them respond inappropriately.

The reverse can be true for biological males. Late development for boys can be a source of anxiety. Watching their friends shoot up and fill out and find themselves among the shortest in the class can feel discouraging and affect their self-esteem. But, no matter when a teen goes through “the change,” getting used to their developing bodies can be an awkward and uncomfortable experience.

Another common explanation for teen mood swings is the social pressure teens face. Every teen just wants to fit in, yet almost across the board, they’re convinced they don’t. Adolescence is a time of intense self-doubt, identity crises, and confusion. They’re trying to find their way, figure out who they are, where they’ll be accepted, and where they won’t.

Kids they’ve been friends with since kindergarten suddenly don’t want to hang out anymore or become so different that they have little in common. And kids who have to move or change schools are tasked with being “new kids.”  Most teens, no matter how confident they appear on the outside, feel incredibly vulnerable on the inside, and something that might not be a big deal to an adult can be crushing to a teen.

Navigating the social culture as a teen is brutal. A typical teenager can feel like a winner one minute and a complete loser the next simply because of a look someone gave them in the hallway. Adolescence is the quintessential emotional rollercoaster.

Additional sources of stress for teens include academics and athletics. They may feel a lot of pressure to perform, do well, get straight A’s, or compete at the highest level. The difference between success and failure in their eyes may be as minimal as one wrong answer on that test or one missed shot in the game. They’ve got teachers and parents talking to them about life after high school, and many believe they should have it all figured out. When they’re unsure, they often panic or feel inadequate.

Biological changes, physical changes, emotional changes, social pressure, academic or athletic pressure, family pressure, peer pressure, trying to blend in, fit in, and feel accepted…all of this adds up and has the potential to trigger an avalanche of teen turmoil. It’s no wonder their mood can shift so fast that it gives you whiplash.

While mood swings in teens are quite common and very normal, it should be noted that there are situations where a “mood swing” becomes something more. In the midst of this developmental process, teens are at greater risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. This is in part because they’re still maturing emotionally and cognitively and don’t yet possess the skills that might help them through difficult experiences. When this is the case, early treatment is important. Getting the help of a medical and mental health professional can help reduce symptoms and provide much-needed support to keep our teens safe.

Suppose it’s true that the typical teen experiences significant stressors in their “everyday life,”  imagine the added challenges for teens in tenuous situations. Things like family conflict, poverty, exposure to violence, divorce, loss of a parent or caregiver, death of a peer, and medical issues are just a sampling of what many teens face on a regular basis. Traumatic experiences impact emotional and psychological development and certainly exacerbate mood swings.

Adolescence is also a time kids experiment with drugs and alcohol. Mood-altering substances will obviously lead to changes in behavior and considerable mood swings. Teens may turn to substances to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, or the normal emotional overwhelm of the teen experience.

Parenting a teen is an especially challenging time. They don’t make it easy with their eye rolls, their slammed doors, and their moodiness. It feels like the stakes are high as this “baby” of yours becomes that soon-to-be adult. And when they push you away in an effort to assert their independence, it can be hurtful.

But regardless of how dramatically they complain about your very existence, in so many ways, they need you more than ever during these teen years. They need your compassion, your empathy, your strength, and your experience. They need to know you’ve got their back, even as they insist on going it alone. They need your love. They need your support. And they need you to be their soft place to land. Just watch out for those mood swings! If you are looking for a team of professionals to help you and your teen through this challenging time, contact the team at Simi Psychological Group. Our teen therapy specialists in Simi Valley are here to help you provide support for parents and teens through their therapy services. To learn more, call (805) 842-1994.