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It IS normal for teenagers to stroppy because they are learning to regulate emotions

  • Teens are the time when young adults learn to regulate their emotions
  • As a result, extreme mood swings are to be expected in these years
  • The only thing not to stabilise over the years is feelings of anxiety 

By Colin Fernandez, Science Correspondent For The Daily Mail

Published: 23:12 EST, 13 October 2015 | Updated: 03:34 EST, 14 October 2015

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Most parents hope the rollercoaster ride of dealing with a stroppy teenager will eventually come to an end.

Now a study has confirmed mood swings are normal and do pass with age. However, before you breathe a huge sigh of relief researchers warn of an exception – anxiety.

Teenage years are the time when young adults learn to regulate their emotions – and sulking and strops are par for the course. This usually settles down by 18 but youngsters who still suffer mood swings after this age may be a cause for concern, scientists say.

Totally normal: Teenage years are the time when young adults learn to regulate their emotions – and sulking and strops are par for the course (stock image)

Totally normal: Teenage years are the time when young adults learn to regulate their emotions – and sulking and strops are par for the course (stock image)

While anger, sadness and happiness all stabilise, anxiety is the odd one out. Researchers believe the stresses of being 18 – when worries about going to university or getting a job come to the fore – all make for anxious times.

The study by Dutch researchers appears in the journal Child Development.

Dr Hans Koot of VU University Amsterdam said: ‘We found that early adolescence is the period of the greatest volatility, but adolescents gradually stabilize in their moods.

‘An important message to teens, parents, and teachers is that temporary mood swings during early adolescence might actually be normal and aren’t necessarily a reason to worry.’

The researchers asked 474 adolescents aged between 13 to 18 to keep Internet diaries rating their mood for happiness, sadness or three weeks of the school year for five years. The entries were assessed for fluctuations in day to day mood.

While anger, sadness and happiness all stabilise, anxiety is the odd one out. Researchers believe the stresses of being 18 make for anxious times

While anger, sadness and happiness all stabilise, anxiety is the odd one out. Researchers believe the stresses of being 18 make for anxious times

The teenagers were largely from families where one of the parents had at least a medium or high-skilled jobs. They were also rated at the age of 12 as having a 40 per cent chance of becoming juvenile delinquents. Girls were found to have ‘higher variability’ in happiness and sadness, although the rate of change in adolescents was similar in both sexes.

As the years went by, teens’ moods became more stable for anger, happiness and sadness. The authors suggest that the stability occurs because events in adolescence such as first romances, can be exciting and frustrating arguments with parents about leisure time reduce as time goes on.

In addition, adolescents better understand how to cope with the changes in moods and cope with the conflicts.

Anxious moods were the exception and were found to initially increase, then decrease, then increase again at the end of adolescence.

The researchers suggest that increasing responsibilities – such as leaving school, going on to higher education or getting a job – could be the cause.

Dominique Maciejewski, of VU University Amsterdam said: ‘In general, heightened mood variability will eventually pass.

‘By demonstrating that most teens get less moody across adolescence, our study provides a solid basis for identifying adolescents who develop in a deviant way. In particular, teens who continue to be extremely moody or who get even moodier across adolescence may need to be monitored more closely since earlier studies have shown that extreme mood swings are related to more emotional, behavioural, and interpersonal problems.’ 

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