You, Your Teen and Big Emotions

Adolescence is a time of great change where young people move from the simple, managed world of childhood into the more complex, unpredictable world of adulthood. Sullen and grumpy mood swings, along with the other normal, but sometimes frustrating, indications of being a teenager are signs that your child is experiencing complex emotions and working hard to understand and manage them. This is an important part of teenage development and you, as their parent, have a big part to play in helping them as they navigate through adolescence into adulthood.

Although the brain has reached its full size by early adolescence, significant development, change and fine-tuning continues into early adulthood.  The front, decision-making part of the brain, responsible for planning, thinking about consequences of actions, solving problems and controlling impulses, is one of the last parts to develop, continuing until about 25 years of age. Because of this, teenagers often rely on another part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems. The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain and this helps us to understand why teenagers may act on impulse, take risks, and display aggressive or dysregulated behaviour.

Many of the common teenage behaviours that parents find hard to deal with are an essential part of puberty and growing up. Surges of hormones, body changes, pressures from peers and a developing sense of independence, can lead to the teenage years being a particularly confusing time for your child. Teenagers are often observed to become detached, wanting more time alone or with friends, rejecting attempts to talk or show affection, and experiencing frequent mood swings. It can be helpful to remember that your child or young person may not have as much control over the way they react, feel or behave as you may think. However, they can be supported to understand, manage and regulate themselves.

Parents act as ‘role models’ for their children, whereby children pick up what they need to know by watching and copying their parents. Therefore, teenagers are likely to have picked up ways of managing their emotions from their parents. It can be helpful to reflect and notice how you tend to respond to problems yourself – do you think issues through one step at a time or do you tend to get overwhelmed and act impulsively? Do you anger and become frustrated easily?  How do you manage yourself when you experience a big emotion? Our actions (whether we like it or not) model for our children how to process and respond to challenges and setbacks.

When parents take the time and make an effort to understand how this all feels for teenagers, while modelling healthy coping strategies and self-regulation tools, they can help their child or young person to take ownership of challenging and overwhelming emotions, and move through adolescence as smoothly as possible.

Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service are delivering an online parenting workshop on “You, Your Teen and Big Emotions” on 16th November, 10.00-11.30am. This workshop is for parents, caregivers or guardians of children aged 0 – 10. To attend contact Miranda (087-6776096) or Elisha (087-9734925).

This article was written Miranda Comar, Psychology Assistant with HSE Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service. The Child and Family Psychology Service are members of Parenting Limerick.