Teen Attitudes: How to Know When Moodiness Might Be a Bigger Issue

Parents of teens understand there is a certain degree of moodiness that comes with the age. After all, it is a perfectly normal developmental stage for teens to grow away from their parents and want to try out all kinds of independence. 

Sometimes for parents, this moodiness can look dark and scary. Just remember that emotionally, there is a push and pull happening inside young people. They are attracted to the changes that come with getting older, but apprehensive of their growing independence. 

In most cases, the highs and lows, moodiness, and (sometimes) surliness are normal for a teen. But how do you know if what you are seeing is within the range of normal development? When does a parent need to be concerned that teenage moodiness might be a sign of a bigger problem?

Teenage “red flags” that can signal to parents it’s time to reach out for help:

  • Lack of interest in activities that usually bring enjoyment
  • Withdrawal from family and friends 
  • Isolating
  • Changes in their normal appetite and sleep habits
  • Seemingly tired all the time with difficulty concentrating
  • Not seeming to care about things which are usually important to them
  • Failing at school and/or school refusal
  • References to drugs and alcohol, drug paraphernalia
  • Unusually reckless behavior
  • Changes in friends or their normal crowd stops coming around
  • References or threats of suicide
  • Unusually dark depressed mood (can include absorption in music and art with references to death, blood, rage, etc.)
  • Cutting self
  • Unexplained pain or stomach problems
  • Unusual lack of self-care

Other behaviors and feelings that can signal deeper problems:

  • Fear and anxiety and generally overwhelmed by life
  • An unusual episode of elevated mood and speech followed by a depressed mood
  • Behaviors such as unusual drumming, tapping, interrupting, and pressured speech can indicate other mood disorders, which should be addressed with the primary care provider

Contributing factors which can predispose some teens to problems with moodiness:

  • History of traumatic adverse childhood events (abuse, neglect, sexual trauma, etc.)
  • Divorce
  • Family history of depression and/or addiction
  • Death or loss of a loved one
  • Incarceration of a parent
  • Bullying (cyber or otherwise)

The key for parents is to evaluate what is unusual for your teen and if these behaviors are prolonged or causing problems at home or at school. If your child is exhibiting multiple “red flags” from the checklist above, it might indicate it is worth talking to your doctor and a counselor.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a licensed counselor with Health Affiliates Maine

This information is not a substitute for a doctor’s or counselor’s advice.

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