Saturday, August 27, 2011

Teenagers, Emotions and Moods

Wikipedia has the common definition:

"A mood is a relatively long lasting emotional state.
Moods differ from simple emotions in that they are less
specific, less intense, and less likely to be triggered by
a particular stimulus or event."

Being more global, moods can mask feelings, which are sometimes more intense and often more fleeting. Feelings tend to come and go with greater rapidity and more visibility.
Either feelings or moods can be a problem for teens. My use of the term mood can be understood to reflect feelings that are both short and long term, embedded in or that occur separately from specific moods. I define these terms this way because with teenagers, feelings quickly become emotions, which precipitate out moods-but all this can occur more rapidly than in non-teen groups, hence they sometimes all start to look alike.
Parents have to deal with their teenager's moods, because we all know teenagers have exaggerated moods. This is a nice way to say sometimes teenager's moods are more intense than in "normal" people. The word "drama" comes to mind.
For all of us, at times, moods trample reasoning and compromise
behavior. When is a teen's mood out of the ordinary? The answer depends upon the parent's judgment, just as much as the teenager's experience. Normally, a little fluctuation of mood happens to all of us. In teens, the range of ups and down is slightly extended; that is, they sometimes are a little more "up" and sometimes they are a little more "down." But ups and downs, even if a little expanded in range, do not normally undermine function. Usually, this is your teenager's way of getting your attention, expressing feeling misunderstood, expressing
misunderstood feelings, etc. While slightly unstable moods make dealing with teens more challenging, eventually the moods subside, and "normal" functioning prevails. If this is the case, your teenager's moods are fine.
When teenager's moods deteriorate and stay that way, its time for intervention. Mood destabilization is a sign of pathology, which can be caused by many things. Teens experiment a lot at this age, that being another hallmark of individuation. If in their poor judgment state teens choose to use drugs, lots of very bad things might happen, the first of which are "flame outs." You will more than notice big changes in teen behavior, characterized by emotional volatility. But also beware of sudden withdrawal and excessive quiet. These signs are equally suspect.
The scope of this article is too narrow to warrant a discussion of teen drug use. But parents should not overlook this possibility and they should address it at its first occurrence. The same is true when
considering alcohol use, which is rampant among teens. I consider alcohol to be a "liquid" drug, but a drug nonetheless. Teenagers will put up quite an argument to justify their substance ab/use, debating the merits of smoking pot vs. drinking wine with dinner. Be prepared.

-Dr. Griggs

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