Good God, Teens Really Are Moody

Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with it.

Couple of teenage friends sitting on sofa in living room
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Growing up, my father was a very moody person. I always felt like I was walking on eggshells because I never knew which version of him I would get. Then, after I went through puberty, I discovered I was a very moody person as well. I guess you could say I have experience with mood swings and people who seem hot and cold — but then, who doesn’t?

We all experience inconsistent moods or know someone who does. But when your kids are moody, especially toward you, it’s an entirely different experience. I have three teens who roam the halls of my house. At any given moment at least one of them is having, well, a moment. When they first transformed from happy, adoring kids who told me everything to oversized bundles of hormones who always seemed pissed off pretty much everything I was beside myself. But over time, I’ve learned to deal with the moods a lot more effectively than I used to.

First, I realized a lot of their moodiness had nothing to do with me, yet I was a safe place for them to be themselves. At school, with friends, or at work, most teenagers don’t feel like they can shuffle around with their heads down and not speak. But at home, it’s their time to decompress and take out some of their angst on me. I’m not saying I let my kids walk all over me and disrespect me simply because they’re in a bad mood. I do take into account that they are teenagers, though, and I give them space. If it’s obvious they aren’t in the mood to talk, I don’t pepper them with questions. If they come home from school and seem down, but they haven’t done their chores or I’ve heard from one of their teachers, I give them a minute to have a snack and be alone for a while before I confront them.

Another thing that has worked well is instead of overloading them with advice out of a knee-jerk desire to fix the problem immediately, I ask them if they’d like to talk about anything. If they say yes, I listen. That’s it. There are times it takes the strength of a million mothers not to chime in or cringe but when I do that, they stop talking. When they are done, I ask them what they need from me. It’s rarely advice but when they do ask for it, I try hard not to sound judgmental.

I understand they might not have a reason for their bad mood and leave it alone. I know there are days I feel down for no reason and teenagers are the same. If I ask them if anything is wrong and they say no, I remind them they can always come to me. If it seems to be going on for an extended amount of time and I start to worry about their mental health, I will talk to them and voice my concerns. There are times when distant or rude behavior is a sign they are looking for some help.

After all, being a teen is hard, and going from being happy and talkative to shutting down is going to happen a lot. It’s not the most comfortable feeling to be around someone when they seem quiet, distant, and mad. But, we need to show our teens those feelings are okay, a normal part of life, and they can say, “I’m just not myself today.”

If anyone expected me to be in a good mood all the time, I’d probably give them the middle finger. And that’s something I’ve tried to remember when one of my kids doesn't feel like socializing or talking at the dinner table.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.