Your once relatively happy, kind, friendly kid has suddenly morphed into a crotchety teen (AKA Debbie downer, moody Judy or negative Neil). Now you’re finding their moods are starting to affect you and you’re getting sucked into the vortex.
“All we need is a Little Patience” – Guns & Roses
First things first, I’ve got some bad news. There’s no way to “fix” this. No amount of discipline, punishment or consequences is going to have your teen become a happy-go-lucky child who loves life and everything in it so you enjoy being around them more. However, there’s a few key ways you can support your moody teenager, and build a better relationship along the way.
The first step is patience. This process takes some time, just like building muscles at the gym, so take some deep breaths and be gentle with yourself and your teen. Increasing your patience begins with understanding your brain works differently from your teen. Waaay differently!
The Teen Brain Explained
Your teen’s brain is currently going through its final growth phase, shifting from a simple computing system (from childhood) into the far more complex system necessary to be a successful adult. Their brain is literally pruning down existing neural pathways (even the good ones) to make room for new ones.
Although this process is necessary and useful their brain development, teens often tell me it feels scary and incredibly destabilizing. Their perception of the world they knew is shifting, and they’re not given a manual or GPS to navigate these new pathways. If you were going through that you’d be grumpy too! Especially if no one told you it was going to happen, or what to expect during the process. It’s like being pregnant and having no idea what was happening to your body but everyone around you expecting you to ‘get over it’.
Building more complex neuropathways means eroding what they knew and liked about themselves and developing an entirely new self-identity. They’re stuck in this awkward, terrifying phase between knowing who they were and who they’ll become. It’s disorienting, thus the self-confidence dip.
And even worse, your brain is wired for negativity. For mature adults, this isn’t a constant issue because your frontal lobes are developed enough to filter uncomfortable things without letting them ruin your day. For your teen, it’s the end of their world! Their brain is hyper reactive and often in a state of fear, fight, or flight, therefore negativity is harder to overcome.
You’re the witness, not the target.
This can be hard when you’ve just come home from a long day at work and all you hear are complaints, whining, and more complaints. Suddenly, your teen is pressing your buttons and your instinct is to ‘fix their feelings’ so your stress doesn’t go higher.
This is totally understandable! After all, you don’t want your kids to turn into crotchety adults who never see the good in anything. You want them to be happy and grateful. So lecturing or smothering them with positivity isn’t going to do the trick. In fact, it’ll alienate them and they’ll be less inclined to share their feelings with you in the future.
Just because your teen is in this normal development stage doesn’t mean you need to push them through to the other side.
The next time your teen is complaining, take a deep breath and ditch the cheerleading. Chiming in with “At least you…” is called toxic positivity, and it’s your attempt to change their perspective by forcing a positive mindset down their throat because their negativity triggers YOUR stress response.
If you were telling a friend about your terrible day and they responded with “Well, at least it’s a sunny day out,” wouldn’t you feel unheard or invalidated? And another thing, labeling your teen’s emotions as “bad” or “negative” is a version of shaming. All emotions are human!
Validate, Validate, Validate
Once you’ve taken a breath and centered yourself, take a moment and listen to what your teen is saying. Offer a simple response like, “Yeah, I get that sucks. That would be hard.” Validate and empathize, then leave it at that! You don’t need to follow up with advice or a lecture for fear they might go further down the black hole of despair.
You don’t even have to agree with their complaints! Empathy does not mean agreement. It means a willingness to take someone else’s perspective as they believe it to be.
It is incredibly important for your teen to feel fully seen and heard, because it creates emotional and psychological safety, the foundations for meaningful connection.
When you become a safe place your teen can bring their messy emotions and feel seen and hear, they’ll process their emotions and release them faster. Moody and negative is a normal part of their brain development. Rather than feeling responsible for their feelings and trying to fix them, witness and listen with patience and compassion without ‘the bright side’ lecture.
If you’re looking for more support along your parenting journey, join me and other caring parents in my private parenting community on Facebook where teen moods are just one of the hot topics being covered. I’m hosting a LIVE Q&A this Thursday, July 21st at 3pmPT so jump in now and get answers to your burning questions!
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Parenting is hard. You don’t have to do it alone.