Parents of adolescents can relax; a new study finds that their moody teens do grow out of those emotional swings.
After studying nearly 500 teens for over a period of five years, Dutch researchers concluded that most teens get less moody across adolescence. The study also found that mood swings are greatest in early adolescence and tend to decrease as teens mature.
In the study, which began at age 13, the kids rated their daily moods in terms of happiness, anger, sadness and anxiety, for three weeks of the school term each year. The researchers looked at fluctuations in day-to-day mood and developmental changes over a five-year span.
Dominique Maciejewski, a doctoral student at VU University Amsterdam, who led the study, advised parents not to panic but remain calm, patient and engage with their moody teens. Pointing to hormonal or brain-related changes in early adolescence that might have an influence, she said. "Studies indicate that during teen years, cognitive control systems lag behind the development of emotional systems, which makes adolescents hyper-vigilant to emotional cues but does not provide them with enough cognitive capacities to suppress their emotional reactions."
Also, significant social factors coincide with puberty, when they are still learning how to cope with their emotions, which may induce more fluctuations in negative and positive emotions. These include the transition to high school, conflicts with parents (curfews are one example), greater peer affiliation, or first romantic relationships. Some of the moodiness could also be driven by a teen's temperament. "People are born with personality and temperament," she said, noting some teens are naturally calmer than others.
Parents can employ a number of strategies to stay sane through the ups and downs of adolescence. For instance, if your teen is rude and disrespectful, step away and avoid conversation, explaining why. Say something like: "I can't talk to you right now. You are being disrespectful." Once everyone has calmed down, you can have a productive conversation.
If moodiness centers on sadness or depression, parents should listen carefully to their expressions of anger, fear and disappointment and stay in touch by exchanging and discussing experiences. This will help the teen not to drift away from contact with the parent and at the same time assist them in thinking about the reasons and solutions for their mood changes.