Parents of teenagers, does your son or daughter brush you off at the simplest question? Does your child throw a tantrum over what most ordinary adults would consider a minor setback? Does your teenager change his or her hairstyle/wardrobe/sense of identity every six months or so? Is he or she "in love" with a different person every couple of weeks?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, don't panic. Your child is most likely afflicted with a common condition known as moodiness. Researchers have just published a study on teen moods that offers parents a simple strategy that will work in the majority of cases: Wait it out.
According to the study, appearing in the journal Child Development, although the teen years are undoubtedly a period of heightened emotionality, due to raging hormones and new life experiences, teens learn to regulate their moods as they age.
Top 10 Back-to-School Brain Foods
For their study, a group of researchers from institutions across the Netherlands enlisted 474 middle- to high-income Dutch adolescents with ages ranging from 13 to 18. To monitor teen emotional stability, the study's authors asked the participants to rate their moods using online diaries over the course of a three-week period during the school year. To measure changes over time, the teens continued to record their moods over the same period for five consecutive years.
As they grow into young adults, teens' ability to cope with emotions such as happiness, anger and sadness increases over time. Although there was some discrepancy between the genders, with girls showing more emotional variability with boys, both genders stabilized their moods at a similar rate over time.
There was one emotion, however, that didn't fit the overall pattern: anxiety. While anxiety dipped as teenagers aged, as they came close to adulthood, it increased again.
Teen Brain Wired to Take Risks
And herein lies a potential cause for concern for parents. While certainly some anxiety is to be expected from teens, particularly as they get older and eventually leave their childhood homes to pursue college or a career, excessive anxious behavior could translate into a mood disorder as an adult, according to a study published in 2008 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that neurotic teens often report high levels of anxiety in situations where such a reaction isn't warranted. These teens could then develop an anxiety disorder or depression in their adult years.
One study published in 2011 in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development identified a means of assisting teens with anxiety using a technique known as cognitive bias modification of interpretations. This method basically means training adolescents to interpet social situations, particularly those with a degree of ambiguity, in a positive light, where a negative response is typically the more common reaction. For adolescents with severe anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of both can be effective in mitigating the disorder, found a study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Video: The Teen Brain: Under Construction
Kids will be kids, which means that generally they'll have about as much control over their emotions as they do over the weather. But eventually many of them will grow up into emotionally stable adults who will look back at their adolescent mood swings with just a tinge of embarrassment.