Why Are Teens So Moody?

Yesterday I had a profound conversation online with my 14 year old cousin. She’s such a smart girl. She answered the question in the title with one simple phrase. Here’s how the chat went*:

Traci: How’ve you been?
14yo: Good, I guess. I’ve been told I’m moody.
Traci: Do you feel moody?
14yo: Yeah.
Traci: Any idea why?
14yo: I think it’s puberty.
Traci: Probably haha!

Puberty is a wacky time when the brains, bodies and personalities of children throw the wildest party imaginable. The end result is a teenager. But what exactly is it about puberty that causes moodiness? Well here’s what I’ve found:

  • The transition from childhood to adulthood is confusing. “Am I a child? Am I an adult?” The teen struggles to determine who they are and how they should feel/think/act in the world.
  • The hormones that have starring roles during puberty (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) have been linked to up and down moods.
  • Tetrahydropregnanalone (THP), a neurosteroid that usually reduces anxiety may actually be increasing anxiety in times of stress for teenagers.
  • Teens are still developing social skills and don’t yet have fully developed brains. So, they have trouble 1) seeing the world from someone else’s point of view, and 2) predicting the consequences of their actions. This results in awkwardness, that they can then get emotional over.
  • Studies of the teenage brain show, “[Adolescents] are capable of very strong emotions and very strong passions, but their prefrontal cortex hasn’t caught up with them yet. It’s as though they don’t have the brakes that allow them to slow those emotions down.” – Charles Nelson, University of Minnesota

Finally, it’s important to note that what we can now recognize as the normal moodiness of a teen can resemble a more serious problem; genuine depression. Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, says distinguishing between mood swings and depression in adolescents means taking a look at:

  • Severity: The more pronounced the symptoms (changes in mood, behaviors, feelings, thoughts), the more likely that the problem is depression and not a passing mood.
  • Duration: Any deterioration in behavior or mood that lasts two weeks or longer, without a break, may indicate depression.
  • Domains: Problems noticed in several areas of a teen’s functioning — at home, in school, and in interactions with friends — may indicate depression.

If you notice this with your teen, please consult a mental health professional.

Essentially, a teenager is under construction. Just as approaching road works requires us to slow down, proceed with caution, have a lot of patience, and possibly recalculate our routes, so too with approaching teens.

Read More:
National Geographic: Teenage Brains
For teens: Why Am I in Such a Bad Mood?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

* Chat translated into English because we all know teens type in a unique language.


About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, Communication, Depression, Development, Puberty, Social Skills, Teens and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why Are Teens So Moody?

  1. Pingback: Hormones Play a Large Role in Teenage Anxiety

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