To Parents of Moody Teens: It Gets Better

Your angsty 13-year-old won't be that way forever.

Photo by Elisabeth Schmitt/Getty Images

Parents often dread two age groups: the terrible twos and the teenage years. At least a crying toddler can typically be soothed by a little ice cream, while a surly teenager can have that "I hate the world" face on for no reason. If the arguments in your home have become hard to escape, here's a little light at the end of the tunnel, courtesy of science. Those unpredictable mood swings should, in fact, decline as your child ages. Just wait it out.

For five years, researchers in the Netherlands studied teenage development and emotional stability in 474 middle- to high-schoolers between the ages of 13 and 18. At age 12, forty percent of the children exhibited high risk for aggressive behaviors. The teenagers kept daily Internet logs of their moods, charting feelings of happiness, anger, and anxiety, for three weeks straight every year. Then, researchers assessed the mood fluctuations and found that the moods gradually stabilized over five years. The results were published in the journal Child Development. 

Researchers speculate that moods become regulated when early adolescent experiences—like first romances, or negotiating curfews—become less common, and teens also become better at monitoring their feelings. But while sadness, happiness, and anger became more stable, anxiety didn't fit the pattern. Instead, anxiety fluctuated—it spiked in the beginning, then decreased, and spiked again towards the end of of the five years. This is likely because the increased pressures and responsibilities of adulthood make teenagers (understandably) nervous.

While this is good news for exhausted parents, researchers also point to the study as a way for parents to monitor troubling behavior.

​"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," study author Dominique F. Maciejewski, Ph.D. said in a statement. "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, behavioral, and interpersonal problems."