Do you have a moody teenager on your hands? Teenage anger, sadness, frustration and even aggression is a normal part of the development that occurs through the teen years. However, there are some ways that we can support them through this transition.
Are teenage anger, frustration and moodiness due to hormones?
The mood issues and imbalances that occur during the teen years are largely due to hormones. As adults, we know how powerful hormones can be when it comes to our moods!
Even small shifts in hormone levels can lead to anger, impatience, sadness, aggression or generally feeling emotional. When teens go through puberty, the hormonal shifts that occur are massive.
But teenage anger, frustration and general moodiness can’t be put down solely to hormones. There are many other changes that occur during the transition to adulthood. Many of the changes that impact on mood occur in the teenage brain.
How a teenage brain develops
The teenage brain is a brain under construction. Areas of the brain that are unused or no longer needed are being pruned away. Some connections are being strengthened. There is a lot of change happening in a relatively short time.
During the teen years, one major part of the brain is still being built. The prefrontal cortex is where decision making, impulse control, problem-solving and understanding consequence occurs. This area won’t be fully developed until their 20s.
Instead, the teenage brain makes its decisions in the amygdala. This area is associated with emotions, aggression and more impulsive instinctive behaviour. If you’re on the receiving end of some teenage anger, the amygdala is behind it. So although teens can make decisions, they are more emotional than logical in nature.
So your teen isn’t being risky or difficult for the sake of it. Their brain simply isn’t designed to act sensibly and logically yet!
The changes occurring in the teenage brain also affect neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. The changing levels of these chemicals affect the way that they think and contribute to mood swings.
One brain chemical that affects teenage behaviour is dopamine. This is a feel-good chemical that is triggered by rewards. The teenage brain has more receptors that dopamine can connect to, which encourages them to seek out rewarding experiences. Dopamine is stimulated by experiences such as high-sugar and high-fat junk foods, social media use, gaming, alcohol and drug use.
Teens have a lower baseline level of dopamine, but they have higher spikes when dopamine is stimulated. So they are constantly looking for the next ‘hit’ to make them feel better.
The good news is that there are healthy ways to stimulate dopamine. These include:
- Creative arts
- Performance arts
By encouraging your teen towards these types of hobbies, you can help them to feel good without being hooked on junk food, social media and games.
One overlooked part of a teen’s moodiness is the impact of social development. The teenage years are a time of transition from childhood to adulthood.
Children often follow their parents’ way of thinking about the world. But as they hit the teenage years, they start to develop their own thoughts, values and beliefs that are unique to them.
As their independence grows and they spend time ‘finding themselves’, their mood can fluctuate.
How to balance teenage anger and moodiness
Mood swings in teenagers are a normal part of their development. We can’t prevent teenage anger, frustration, sadness or moodiness completely. But there are still ways that we can help them to smooth the transition and lessen the swings.
Focus on a good sleep
We all know that a bad night of sleep can leave us grumpy and irritable. But the link between sleep and mood is even more important for a teenager.
There is a dramatic change in sleep rhythm and cycle for a teenager. This is because of the shift in melatonin, the brain chemical that helps us to sleep.
In children and adults, melatonin is produced as the sun goes down and the light diminishes. This induces sleepiness. Melatonin drops as the morning comes so that we can wake up.
For teens, this cycle is delayed by about 2 hours. So teenagers are actually wired to go to sleep later and wake later. If you try to wake them up at 6.30 am with the rest of the family, it’s like you trying to wake up at 4.30 am!
Unfortunately, school hours don’t allow for the later wake times. But on weekends, it’s ok to let them sleep in and get the extra rest that they need.
One factor that can influence melatonin further is screen use. The light that is emitted from devices can interfere with melatonin production. So if your teen is on their phone or tablet until late, they will sleep even later and wake later.
A good rule of thumb is to keep phones out of the bedroom. Ideally, they will stop using their phone for one hour before bed. It may be a good idea to charge all phones in a communal area such as the kitchen.
If your teen refuses to give up their phone, look into installing a blue light blocking app or mode. This will help to reduce the effects.
Support their stress
Stress makes us more irritable, impatient and short-tempered. For teens, this is even more of an issue as the developing brain is more vulnerable to stress. This means that they have a lower tolerance for stress. Heightened stress levels can lead to outbursts of teenage anger, frustration and even aggression.
As an adult and parent, it’s easy to wonder what teens have to be stressed about. But when you think about it, teens have an incredibly busy and chaotic life!
Teenagers are juggling:
- The pressure to do well in school
- Pressure around future studies and career choices, particularly towards the later years of school
- After school activities, sports and hobbies
- Social pressure
- The start of dating and relationships
- Body image shifts
These add up to a lot of stress on the average teenager! That stress can have a big impact on their mood.
Take a look at the family schedule and see what you can simplify. Talk to your teen about what activities they want to keep and whether there are any that they could drop.
Make sure that there is time for downtime, particularly on weekends. Teenagers need more rest and relaxation time – but that doesn’t always mean using technology. They can read a book, spend time with friends, or even nap when they are tired.
Another important step is to make sure that you give them time to stay connected with you. This can be harder as they become more independent, but you want to have something you can do together as 1:1 time. For example, you might go on a weekly bike ride or go hiking once a fortnight.
This helps to keep the channels of communication open when they are having a tough time, which can reduce their stress levels.
Encourage a wholefood diet
This isn’t easy to achieve, as we know teens are biologically drawn to junk food. Instead of worrying about what they eat with their friends, focus on where you can add more nourishing foods in.
Breakfast is a great place to start. A balanced breakfast will give them a decent dose of protein, which steadies their energy and blood sugar levels. Nuts, eggs, leftover meat from the night before are some good options for breakfast proteins. If they tend to get up later or aren’t hungry in the morning, you may want to opt for a smoothie made with protein powder.
When preparing meals at home, you want to include a variety of wholefoods. Fruit, veggies, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat, eggs and seafood contain various nutrients that will nourish a healthy mood.
For some ideas around how to feed your teen wholefoods, check out our favourites here:
Nourish their gut health
The gut is the foundation for wellbeing, including a healthy mood. When it comes to mood, the biggest impact is due to the gut-brain connection. There is a link between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve that allows them to ‘talk’ to each other.
If your teen has an unhealthy or imbalanced gut, their mood will reflect that. Unfortunately, many teens do have imbalances due to factors such as a love of junk food, low fibre intake, history of antibiotic use and use of the Pill in teen girls.
The gut is where the majority of brain chemicals are produced. If the gut is healthy, they will produce a healthy balance of these chemicals. Gut health also plays a role in hormonal balance for both boys and girls, which further influences their mood.
Gut health is a complex topic, but improving gut health doesn’t need to be. The key is to minimise factors that damage the gut and feed the good bacteria the right fuel.
To learn more about nourishing a healthy gut, download our FREE gut health ebook here.
Include the essential nutrients
There are dozens of nutrients that teens need to stay healthy and happy. But if you’re looking to reduce the likelihood of teenage anger and mood swings, there are 4 specific nutrients to consider.
If your teenager is only going to take one nutrient, this is the one to take. Zinc plays an important role in puberty, but it also has a part to play in mood and mental health.
- Act as a natural anti-depressant
- Reduce inflammation, which can impact on mood and brain health
- Support neurotransmitter production
- Help to balance hormone levels that contribute to moodiness
Low zinc in common in teenagers, particularly for teens that are vegetarian or vegan. There are only a few plant-based sources of zinc, which are typically foods that teens won’t eat often! Even if they are eating enough, their levels can be low due to the higher demands during puberty.
The right dose of zinc depends on their size, age and concerns. That’s why we recommend seeking professional advice to help you find the right supplement and dose for your teen.
The most essential fat for a healthy brain is omega-3 fatty acids. Our brain is made up mostly of fats, so we want to make sure that healthy fats make up a big part of that. Omega-3s can:
- Help to balance mood
- Support a healthy stress response
- Reduce inflammation
The best dietary source for omega-3s is fish and seafood. Small amounts can be found in nuts and seeds. For most teens, the best option is a fish oil supplement or an algae-based supplement for vegetarian and vegan teens.
The optimal dose can vary, so it’s best to see a practitioner for guidance.
This group of vitamins is key for a healthy mood. All of the B vitamins play a role in mood, but folate and vitamin B12 are particularly useful.
B vitamins are mostly found in wholefoods, which is why eating plenty of them is essential for a healthy mood! Unfortunately, teens are prone to low B vitamin levels due to low intake. The body excretes B vitamins under high stress, which makes it even harder to maintain healthy levels.
B vitamins can:
- Aid with production and release of neurotransmitters
- Support the stress response
- Assist in energy production
A good quality multivitamin will include a good level of all B group vitamins. However, teens who are vegetarian may require a vitamin B12 supplement, as B12 is often low in a plant-based diet.
Unlike other nutrients, we acquire vitamin D primarily from sunlight. To maintain healthy levels over winter, we need to build up our levels over the summertime. But as teens spend a lot of time indoors between school, homework and leisure time, many are deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D can:
- Act as a mood regulator
- Support release of dopamine and serotonin
- Help to protect against mood disorders such as depression
If you’re concerned about your teen’s vitamin D levels, it is easy to get them tested via a blood test.
Is your teenager feeling frustrated, angry, sad or irritable?
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