I’m never quite sure what version of my teenage daughter is going to show up in my kitchen on any given morning. Depending on her hair, the weather, the tides of social media, and her level of satisfaction with her outfit, I can expect to see happy, cheerful, grumpy, anxious, edgy, or any other of the seven-and-then-some dwarfs of adolescent moods sitting at my breakfast table.
teenage mood swings
And I understand. I get it. For one thing, I was once a teenager. For another, I am a premenopausal woman. I’ve climbed aboard the mood-swing rollercoaster many times myself. I know this is part of the package deal of life with older kids.
But I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent if I didn’t figure out how to navigate these choppy emotional waters so that I can help my teenager learn how to steer through them, too.
(And here I want to be very clear that I am talking about typical teenage mood swings, not about far more serious anxiety or depression or other illnesses that require intensive attention and specialized treatment. My heart truly goes out to parents who are fighting those battles on behalf of the teens they love so much.)
I feel like I go back to school on this every day, but here are a few lessons that seem to be sticking.
Dealing with a Moody teen
Remember the hard. My mercurial teen needs me to remember what it was like to feel awkward and uncertain and self-conscious. She needs me to remember the constant battle between wanting to stand out and fit in all at the same time. She needs me to remember that her brain is still under construction. And she needs me to remember all this, because she needs me to love her through all this.
Blame the hormones. Out-of-whack, up-and-down influxes of chemicals with names ending in “-gen” and “-rone” certainly don’t give our big kids free license to be insufferable with no accountability or personal responsibility. But hormonal surges are the real deal, and they can wreak havoc on mind and emotions. Sometimes I need to remind myself, “That’s the hormones talking.” (Or not talking, as the case may be.)
Don’t feed the fire. When my teen is testy, my natural reaction is to react in kind—to give what I’m getting. Of course, this is effective approximately zero percent of the time. I’m learning that a better approach is not to feed the fire of moodiness, but instead to feed love, patience, and understanding. Sometimes this means asking if I can give her a hug. Sometimes it means saying “good morning” even when it’s clear it’s not. And sometimes it means not saying anything at all (which leads me to my next point.)
saying nothing is best
Zip it up. Years ago, I came across an object lesson to teach kids about the power of our words (which later became a viral social media post.) You were supposed to squirt out a tube of toothpaste and then ask the kids to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Of course, they couldn’t, and the point was that our words are like that, too. I need to remember this lesson when I’m trying to ride out my teen’s mood swings. I can always say something later, but once it’s out there, I can’t unsay it. In general, the tumultuous teen years seem like a good time to err on the side of silence.
Soften the edges. I do lots of things for my teen every day while she does all the things only she can do. But sometimes I’ll throw a little extra sweetening into the mix, some small nicety that smooths the rough spots and diffuses the mood bomb a little. Her favorite Starbucks’ iced tea in the car when I pick her up from school, maybe, or an iTunes gift card left on her desk. And the mood-modulating power of pancakes at the end of a 16-hour day simply cannot be overstated.
Prioritize the Relationship
Rehearse the good. When ornery, grumpy, et al, show up at my breakfast table, it’s easy to forget that there is more to my daughter than her moods. While I’m not talking (see “zip it up,” above), I can be reminding myself of all the personality traits, talents, gifts, and strengths I love about this child.
Prioritize relationship. I’m not just trying to get through the days with my teen, although sometimes that does seem like challenge enough (Mondays at 6 a.m., I’m looking at you.) What I’m really doing is making a deposit on a future I’m dreaming of, one where this child I’m raising becomes a young adult who chooses to keep her relationship with me. If I’m tempted to say or do something in the heat of the moment that could potentially undermine that relationship, I’d better make good and sure it’s serving some higher purpose. And frankly, I can’t imagine what that would be. Because whichever way my teen’s moods are swinging, I want us to ride them out and get to the other side together.