The preteen years can be turbulent ones filled with emotional angst and frequent mood swings. While hormonal changes do influence how young adolescents cope with budding breasts and deepening voices, they are no longer considered to play as prominent a role as once thought. New studies have shown that what is happening in the brain between the onset of puberty and full adulthood is of far greater importance.
Although the brain reaches adult size prior to the onset of puberty, it contains an overabundance of grey matter that must be pruned away as its neural pathways reroute themselves in preparation for adulthood. This process begins in early adolescence and eventually leads to self-regulation and the development of critical thinking skills.
Pre-teens continue to function largely out of the feeling" and "doing" portions of the brain. Mood swings are a common characteristic in young teens. Anger, petulance, and emotional outbursts may occur with frequency from early to mid adolescence. So when your thirteen year old daughter blurts out that she will never forgive you, she is probably reacting to her own feelings of disappointment. When your twelve year old son threatens to leave home the moment he turns eighteen, relax. He'll do allot of growing up emotionally before the time comes for him carry out his threat.
During the preteen years, teenagers are slowly disengaging from parents and finding acceptance and identity through peer relationships. At no other time are friendships as important as in early adolescence when identity apart from parents is beginning to form. This is the time when parent-child conflicts frequently emerge as preteens exhibit sudden displays of emotion ranging from overt anger to consummate sadness. Don't be surprised when your daughter dissolves into inconsolable tears because of a pimple on her nose, or your son loses his temper and throws a punch at a kid at school. These kinds of mood swings, when occurring intermittently, are usually quite normal even though the behaviors associated with them can frustrate and concern parents.
Mood swings that are a normal part of adolescence eventually resolve themselves as young teens acquire the emotional and mental maturity necessary to self-regulate and control their emotional outbursts. Until this happens, a preteen's feelings can fluctuate like a roller coaster; happy and agreeable one moment and tearful and gloomy the next.
With all the emotional turmoil that most early adolescents experience, how do you know when a preteen's mood swings are an indication of something more serious? Are there warning signs that parents can watch for to alert them to the potential that their son or daughter may need outside help, and if so, what are they? When mood swings begin to occur with greater frequency and/or intensity, they may be indicators of drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, or the beginnings of mental illness. When they are accompanied by two or more of the following symptoms, parents should be alerted to the potential that professional help may be needed.
1. Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
2. Increased feelings of anger and/or irritability
3. Excessive fears and worries about normal every day activities
4. Persistent anxiety
5. Feelings of being different from other peers his or her own age
6. Isolation from friends and/or family
7. A sharp decline in academic performance
8. Change in peer group
9. Threats of suicide
10. Dramatic change in overall appearance including dress, body piercings, hair color, etc.
11. Threats of harming others
12. Purposeful destruction of the property of others
Mood swings are a very normal part of every pre-teens' growth and development. Hormones, brain maturation, and the stress associated with coping with emotional, mental, and physiological changes can all contribute to the teenage angst of early adolescence. But when fluctuations in mood are accompanied by other emotional and/or behavioral changes like those mentioned here, your preteen may need greater help than you can provide. If you believe that your son or daughter may be showing warning signs of needing professional help, then follow your instincts and contact your primary care physician or a trained counselor as soon as possible.