Understanding teens

Understanding Teens: When is it more than normal mood swings

It’s normal for teens to be moody but when are the mood swings a sign of something more? Understanding teens is not impossible, we promise.

Teenage Behaviors

In the adolescent and teenage years, it is very common for young people to start pushing for more independence, engaging in more risky behavior, and challenging authority.  Essentially, the teen brain is wired to test limits and distance themselves from parents as they begin to individualize.  And while some do this in a “healthy” way, some teens seem to go to extremes. 


Teenagers become irritable as they begin to develop an identity separate from their parents. As this happens, teenagers want distance and privacy and become defensive when questioned.  While uncomfortable for parents, normal teens use defensiveness to attain a sense of separateness. Although these teens protest spending time with parents and family, they still enjoy time with friends and engaging in activities outside of the home. Teens who are angry, sad, and chronically disengaged from both family and friends may be struggling.


Seemingly small events, like poor test grades, may result in an overly distraught teenager. Still developing skills to manage emotions, teens are easily overwhelmed producing dramatic expressions. If a teen’s reactions are related to specific events and only last a few days, this is probably normal. If the emotions continue or the teen appears chronically sad or anxious, it may signal something more serious than typical teenage angst.

Warning Signs

As parents, we need to evaluate if there is a problem by looking at the level of daily life disruption due to our teen’s thoughts and feeling, the length of the time the behavior has lasted, and areas it’s affecting. Other warning signs can include:

  • Irritability and anger which can appear as defiance
  • Difficulty bouncing back from stressful situations
  • Routinely isolating from friends and family
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Chronic tiredness and attempting to sleep as much as possible
  • Complaining of headaches, stomach aches or aches and pains in general
  • Showing little interest in previously liked activities
  • Dropping out of activities all together
  • Showing difficulty concentrating, remembering things or paying attention
  • Taking little interest in physical appearance

Talk to Your Teen

These symptoms have many causes and don’t necessarily mean something is seriously wrong. However, if your teen begins to exhibit several of these symptoms, make time to talk to him or her about what’s happening. When talking with a teen, it is important to:

  • Speak calmly and be prepared to listen
  • Do not assume your answer is the only answer or even the correct answer
  • Try not to use words like “always” or “never”
  • Avoid sarcasm, threats and yelling
  • Don’t make personal attacks
  • Work with your teen to generate multiple possible solutions without demanding specific outcomes
  • Remind your teen that you are in their corner and they are not in this alone

Both teens and parents find the teenage years difficult. The multitude of changes that occur during this developmental stage in life make it difficult to identify when there is a problem, so listen to your instincts as a parent, ask questions and take action if you are concerned. And always know you are not alone as a parent. We are here to help support you and your teen through these years.