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Teen Angst: What to Expect During the Teenage Years

Embark Behavioral Health
October 12, 2021

Teen angst can often involve arguing, emotionality, storming off, sullenness, and drama. Understandably, this behavior often leaves parents exasperated, frustrated, and hurt. 

How do you handle teen angst, especially as it’s part of being a typical teen? And, how do you know if this behavior is “normal teen” moodiness or if it’s something more? 

Are teenage mood swings typical? 

We asked Alex Hamilton, Clinical Director of Lake House Academy, about teen angst and how it affects young people.  Alex works with teen girls every day at the therapeutic boarding school. 

“With identity development, angst is totally normal,” Alex says. “The moodiness goes along with how they’re challenging their self-identity. 

“They’re also finding a bit more independence and becoming young adults. So, it makes sense that they’re questioning things like, ‘Why would my parents do this? Why do those rules exist?’  

Sometimes it can come out as oppositional, but really it’s the discovery of self.” 

How should a parent approach teen angst? 

First, recognize teenage angst for what it is — a part of growing up. Also, realize you can help your teen through this process during the teenage years. 

“Lean into it in a positive way and harness it. It can be a catalyst to fruitful conversation.” Alex shared. 

Here are a few ways you can help your teen manage during times of angst: 

1. Help your teen get good sleep 

Healthy sleep habits aren’t just for young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep a night, on average. Their bodies are going through physical changes, and their brains are growing at incredible rates.  

Help them create a bedtime routine that helps them prepare for a good night’s sleep. 

  • Set a time for getting ready for bed and be consistent every night.  
  • Log off social media, silence notifications, and put electronic devices outside the bedroom. 
  • Help your teen relax with stretching, a cup of herbal tea, time sitting together, or reading together. 

We all have fewer mood swings when we’re well-rested.  

2. Spend time with your teen 

To listen to your teenager and have meaningful discussions, you have to be available. Make time for those conversations to happen. 

Commit to spending time with your teen and creating memories so when they do need to talk, you’re there. Share chores, work on projects together, go out to lunch, and appreciate each other’s company. 

3. Give your teen more alone time if they need it 

We all need time alone. Your teen needs the time to process their thoughts, and it’s hard to do when they’re never alone or always involved with an activity. 

4. Model gratitude for your teen 

Keep in mind, you are a role model to your teen. As you model gratitude in your own life, you’re also modeling a healthier life approach for your teenager. 

If teen angst is normal, would therapy still help my teen? 

Therapy provides the space and time for someone to hear our thoughts and emotions who is outside of our daily routine. Therefore, you don’t need to have a mental health condition to get a lot out of this type of health care. Everyone should consider their individual needs when seeking a therapist, and teens dealing with angst are no different: 

“Look for a therapist that’s not going to dampen the fire — not dampen the angst, but can cultivate a culture of acceptance in the therapy office,” Alex recommends. “Working with adolescents, there is an immense need to accept thoughts, opinions, and comments nonjudgmentally while providing interpersonal and dysregulation skills. Leaning in with curiosity is key.” 

You want a therapist who understands the teen years and works through their thoughts with them along the self-discovery process. They say, “tell me more about it… I want to know.”  

Sometimes, it’s hard for a teen to share those thoughts with a parent, and they can be hard for a parent to hear — so a third person can be an asset. A therapist can help you differentiate between a typical stage of development and if your teen needs help for a mental health disorder. 

What’s the Difference between Teenage Angst and Teen Depression or Anxiety? 

Teen angst can look similar to mental disorders, such as mood disorder or an anxiety disorder — irritability, drama, or being argumentative. According to Psychology Today, there are key differences, too

  • Duration of distress — If a teenager fights with a friend, that’s typical. They may be emotional or storm up to their room to be alone. But how long are they upset? Is it interfering with their other relationships? Are they holding on to the emotion, or can they recover, get their homework done, and have dinner with the family? 
  • Frequency of distress — Teens get upset about things and need time to process, but is it happening so often that it seems like they’re struggling to deal with ordinary life? 
  • Severity of distress — A teen with angst can maintain their middle school or high school grades, activities, and relationships. If their lives are suffering and they’re struggling to cope, that’s a sign that may be more than “typical teenage angst,” and they need help. 

It’s important to note that signs of depression don’t always look like sadness in teens. Instead, depression often shows itself as anger, including arguing or yelling. But, it can also result in teens withdrawing into themselves, too.  

As a parent, consider, “Is my teen struggling in key areas of their life?” such as activities and interests, grades, friendships, and how they relate to you and the rest of your family. If they’re struggling with depression or anxiety, you’ll see more challenges with day-to-day activities, and recovery from upsetting situations will be slower. 

Teen Angst Is Part of Growing Up. 

Chances are, your teen’s mood swings are a typical part of developing into an adult. They need the time to challenge their ideas and yours to figure out who they are. It can sometimes be frustrating for you (and them), but this process helps them grow. 

When you see angst as a normal part of the process and work with it, you can turn this stressful period into something that deepens your relationship. 

That doesn’t mean your teen wouldn’t benefit from professional help from a therapist who understands teenage angst and will help them walk through the process.  

If your teen needs professional support 

If you think your teen’s mood swings are affecting important aspects of their lives like grades, activities, or relationships, seek professional help sooner rather than later. This aids your teen with learning how to handle these challenges and get the support they need.  

Other sources: 

Teenage Angst: Causes, Getting Help, & 7 Ways to Cope 

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of clinics and programs offering premier mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults. Dedicated to its mission of reversing the trends of adolescent and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark is unlike any other behavioral health organization in the United States. Embark offers a full continuum and spectrum of services, a unique 25-years of specialization, a deep legacy of serving youth, and a set of internationally validated outcomes that drive treatment in real-time. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including wilderness therapy, long-term residential treatment centers, short-term residential treatment centers, day treatment, partial hospitalization (PHP) programs, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), outpatient, and virtual counseling.