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Is My Kid Just Moody, or Is There a Mental Health Issue?

Is My Kid Just Moody, or Is There a Mental Health Issue?

Anyone who has a teen in their life knows that some moodiness and irritability are unavoidable. With so many physical, psychological, and hormonal changes underway, not to mention adolescent depression because of smartphones, teens tend to be easily irritated. They can be happy and excited in the morning and then full of sadness just hours later. For most teenagers, irritability and mood swings are part of the normal ups and downs of growing up. But for others, it can point to underlying mental health issues that require attention.

Meet Emily and Jake

Emily, a 15-year-old girl, and Jake, a 16-year-old boy, are typical teenagers experiencing the rollercoaster of adolescence. Emily used to be cheerful and engaged in school activities, but recently, she’s been withdrawn a lot on her phone and easily upset. Jake, who was once energetic and sociable, has become irritable and prone to angry outbursts. Their parents are concerned and wondering if this is normal teenage moodiness or something more serious.

Why Are Teens So Moody?

Hormonal Shifts

Puberty brings a surge in sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which significantly impact emotional regulation. For Emily, the rise in estrogen and progesterone has made her more sensitive and prone to mood swings. Jake, on the other hand, is experiencing fluctuations in testosterone, contributing to his irritability and aggression. Interestingly, a hormone called THP (allopregnanolone), which typically has a calming effect in adults, amplifies anxiety in teens during stressful times, affecting both Emily and Jake.

Changes in the Brain

Adolescents experience substantial brain growth, particularly in the midbrain (emotional center) and the forebrain (reasoning center). Emily sometimes feels overwhelmed by her emotions because the connections between these brain areas are still developing. Jake finds it challenging to regulate his anger and frustration for the same reason. Notably, the amygdala, the brain’s threat center, is larger in boys than in girls, potentially explaining why Jake can become volatile quickly.

Typical Irritability vs. Mental Health Issues

Emily’s parents notice she has been isolating herself with her phone and losing interest in activities she once enjoyed. Jake’s parents observe his growing irritability and risky behaviors, such as speeding in his car. They wonder if these are signs of typical adolescent behavior or mental health concerns. Here are key differences to watch for:

  • Scope, Severity, and Duration: If Emily’s sadness and Jake’s anger are linked to specific issues, don’t interfere with daily functioning, and last only a couple of days, it’s likely normal. However, if these moods persist for two weeks or longer and impact daily life, it could signal a mental health problem.
  • Additional Symptoms: Mental health issues often come with other symptoms. Emily has been experiencing fatigue, sleep disturbances, and weight changes. Jake has difficulty concentrating, withdraws from friends, and talks about feeling worthless.

Teen Girls: Unique Challenges

Teen girls like Emily often express sadness, self-blame, and guilt more openly. Emily’s mood swings and irritability are sometimes mistaken for typical teenage behavior, but they might be signs of depression. 57% of teen girls report feeling persistently sad or overwhelmed. Her parents are vigilant about changes in her behavior, knowing that mental health issues can manifest differently in girls.

Teen Boys: Unique Challenges

Teen boys like Jake are often conditioned to hide sadness and fear, fearing ridicule for vulnerability. As a result, Jake expresses emotions through anger and aggression. Depressed boys might show irritability, frustration, and aggression rather than sadness, making it easier to overlook depression in them compared to girls. Jake’s parents note his risk-taking behaviors, like substance use and reckless driving, as potential signs of deeper issues.

Anxiety and mental health counseling Utah teen driving with dad

Tips for Parents of Moody Teens

Set Clear Boundaries

If Jake is verbally or physically aggressive, his parents calmly tell him it’s unacceptable and allow him to cool down without shaming or screaming at him. For Emily, they ensure she knows it’s okay to express her feelings but set limits on harmful behaviors.

Anxiety and mental health counseling Utah teen talking with mom

Let Them Vent

When Emily is upset, her parents let her express her frustration without interrupting with solutions. They listen calmly and let her know it’s normal to feel emotional ups and downs during the teenage years. Similarly, they allow Jake to vent his anger and not freak out.

Try to Get to the Root of the Issue

Outside of emotional outbursts, Emily’s parents talk to her about her feelings. They speak calmly, avoid sarcasm, and listen patiently. They affirm her feelings and remind her they are there to support her. Jake’s parents do the same, encouraging open communication and not shame him for being angry, but teach productive ways to exert his energy and aggression, like through physical activity.

Help Them Find Healthy Coping Strategies

Emily’s parents work with her to develop ways to maintain balance in life, like healthy sleep habits, good nutrition, deep breathing, meditation, listening to music, and spending time with friends. Jake’s parents help him find physical activities to channel his energy positively and explore creative outlets, as well as encourage open emotional dialogue even if it seems scary sometimes.

When to Seek Professional Help

If Emily’s or Jake’s moodiness and irritability persist or worsen, their parents consult a mental health professional. At Life Launch Centers, early intervention can prevent more severe issues and promote healthier development. Emily, Jake and their parents benefit from having these principles reinforced by professionals and receive the emotional exercises to build lasting emotional resilience.

Anxiety and mental health counseling Utah teen with parents


Navigating teen moodiness is challenging, but understanding the underlying causes and knowing when to seek help can make a significant difference. By supporting your teen with empathy and appropriate strategies, you can help them manage their emotions and thrive during these formative years. Easier said than done, right?

For more info and help, give us a call at Life Launch Centers. We’re currently taking new clients.