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What causes mood swings in teens?

G. Stanley Hall referred to adolescence as a period of “storm and stress.” According to him, this period of time would be marked by turmoil, turbulence, and frustrated idealism regardless of environmental factors. On the other hand, social anthropologist Margaret Mead did studies that showed that cultural, spiritual, and familial factors played a role in whether or not a teenager ever experienced mood swings, and that different cultures had different experiences. Most researchers agree that it is a combination of biological and emotional factors that affect a teenagers mood.

Biological Factors

Recently researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through adolescence much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of six, it has historically been believed that it had also reached almost full development. Now it is believed that the brain changes much more during the teen years than previously believed. The grey matter on the outer part of the brain thickens over time with this process peaking at age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys. After this process is over, the brain begins to trim away excess grey matter that is not used, leaving only the information that the brain needs and making the brain more efficient. One of the last areas to go through this trimming process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, self-control, and planning. This means that while teenagers have very strong emotions and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these emotions. This is one reason behind teenage mood swings.

Another biological factor is that this is when the body starts producing sex hormones as well as going through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that teens experience cause them to feel strange and perhaps confused or uncomfortable, and this erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.

Emotional Factors

Teenager have not yet developed the ability to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and anxieties of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping mechanisms that adults have developed to help them deal, so they are prone to react very emotionally to situations. Also, teenagers are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming entities with lives separate from those of their parents. This, again, can cause confusion or frustration. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t keep up or handle the pressure, and this will inevitable lead to a slightly off-kilter emotional state.

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