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Help with teenage mood swings

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

"I hate you," Harry Enfield's TV creation, Kevin, would yell at his despairing parents. "I wish I'd never been born!" It's funny, because everyone recognises the over-reacting, stereotypical teenager. However, for many teenagers, and their parents, the reality of rollercoaster emotions is no laughing matter.

"Teens seem to have more emotional range," says Steven Wood, professor of adolescent brain development and mental health at the University of Birmingham. "They can be much more up and much more down and it's completely normal to have those sorts of mood swings."

Although there is no "cure" for what is a normal stage of life, there are some things parents can do to help their teens regulate their emotions a bit better.

What causes mood swings in teens?

The reason teenagers suffer from mood swings, says Professor Wood, is probably a combination of sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen, which rewire the emotional processing areas of the brain-and the constant striving for social position and independence. "They are trying to demonstrate more independence, without being necessarily given that responsibility," says Professor Wood.

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Key to Calm, agrees that the constant jockeying for social position is a big factor in teens' mood swings. "They're trying to find out who they belong with, in terms of their peers, and how they're unique in that group," she says. "It consumes so much of their energy and focus, so a lot of the time they appear irritable when anyone intrudes on their thought processes."

A lack of good quality sleep may also have something to do with mood swings. "When we get tired our emotions flood our reason," Linda Blair says.

A good night's sleep

Sleep changes quite rapidly in early years. "There's a stable period when you're a young child but then, during teen years, the normal process is that you start to reduce the amount of time you sleep", says Dr Ian Smith, director of the sleep centre at Papworth Hospital. "You go down from 10 or 11 hours of sleep to 7 or 8 hours of sleep, which is a normal amount of sleep for adults."

Parents often let their teenage children stay up later as an acknowledgement that they are now older, but this can happen before their sleep pattern has matured to an adult sleep pattern. "It's actually quite common that parents can't get their teenage son or daughter out of bed because quite a few of them still need 10 to 11 hours sleep, but they're going to bed at 10 or 11pm at night," says Dr Smith.

Not getting enough sleep has a noticeable effect on mood. Research has shown that sleep deprived people are worse at handling mildly stressful situations than people who have had a good night's rest.

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