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Emotional changes in puberty

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Puberty occurs during teenage years and includes both physical and emotional changes.
  • Puberty is a time of rapid brain development and affects the way teenagers interact with others, their identity and how they express emotions.
  • Puberty can sometimes be a challenging time for young people and their families, particularly parents.
  • Good communication, role modelling and setting boundaries can help parents and teens navigate this period.
  • If your child or you are struggling with their emotional changes during puberty, resources and support networks are available.

What emotional changes should I expect during my child’s teenage years?

Supporting your child through their teenage years can be both challenging and rewarding. Both boys and girls experience physical, hormonal and emotional changes during this time. These changes are part of a process known as puberty.

Many girls begin puberty at around 10, while boys often begin this process at around 11. However, it’s important to remember that every person is different and your child will grow and develop at their own pace. During puberty, physical, hormonal and emotional changes may trigger changes in behaviour as well, and your teen may choose to interact with family and friends differently.

Emotional changes during the teen years vary widely from person to person and over time. You may find that your teen has a greater sense of self or has begun to take more sexual interest in other people. Teenagers sometimes respond to the hormonal changes associated with puberty by feeling self-conscious about the way they look. Your teenager might begin to feel more empowered to take on new responsibilities and make their own decisions. They may also develop a strong need for social connections outside the family and may seek independence in some aspects of their lives. Other teens may feel frustrated when they are unable to reach their goals and may consequently experience negative emotions.

Your teenager's moods, energy levels and sleep patterns are all likely to fluctuate at this time, which may create difficulties for your relationship with them. It can be reassuring to remember that these emotional changes are an important part of your teenager’s growth.

Throughout puberty, parents and other adult role models can help teens navigate this period of emotional change by showing patience, support and understanding.

What causes my teen’s mood to change?

As children grow into teenagers, their brains develop. Although a 6-year-old will have a brain that is almost the size of an adult’s brain, it is not yet fully formed and doesn’t function like an adult brain. A process of brain remodelling happens throughout childhood, but most of it occurs during the teenage years and into the mid-20s. Brain remodelling doesn’t always correspond with when a child experiences puberty, so you may notice changes in mood before you see physical changes, or vice versa.

The main change that occurs in your teen’s brain is that some neural connections are strengthened, while others weaken. This means the processing section of your teen’s brain (also known as ‘grey matter’) is becoming more efficient in the way it manages information.

The process of remodelling connections begins at the back of the brain. The front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is the last to change. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that regulates decision making. It is responsible for your child’s ability to plan and think about the consequences of their actions or impulses, and to solve problems.

Since this part of the brain is the last to change, teen behaviour often comes across as impulsive and uncontrolled. Sometimes it can even come across as aggressive.

How can I support my teen’s brain development?

There are many emotional and social changes that occur during the teenage years which may be stressful for some teens.

You can help them feel nurtured and protected as they navigate the challenges of increasing academic demands, peer pressure and interpersonal changes. Your teen’s environment will influence how they think, feel and act. Exposing your child to a range of activities and positive experiences — both inside and outside of school — helps support their development.

Your child will need more sleep during their teenage years and their sleep patterns may change. This is because their body begins producing the sleep hormone melatonin at a different time of day. Your teen may feel tired later in the evening and might find waking up early more difficult than before. Try helping your teenager develop and maintain a sleep routine by encouraging a regular sleep schedule.

You might notice your teen gets hungry more often, since their body goes through a major growth spurt during puberty. Your teen is also becoming independent and making their own food choices, so helping them adopt healthy habits and being a good role model for healthy eating are important.

Are my teen’s mood swings normal?

Mood swings are normal and expected during teenage years and puberty. As a parent, you can keep track of your child’s emotions, since long periods of mood changes may be a sign of something more serious, such as a mental health issue.

There are 3 key factors you can consider to assess whether your child may be experiencing more than just a temporary mood swing:

  • Duration — check if your child’s negative mood lasts longer than 2 weeks.
  • Severity — look for significant changes in your child’s thoughts, feelings or general behaviour.
  • Impact — does your teen’s mood disrupt their home and school life or friendships?

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing something more than just a teenage mood swing, seek support from your GP or the resources below.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How can I deal with heated arguments?

You may find that you and your teen are are arguing more with each other, and this is normal. Your well-intentioned efforts to offer to help them make the right decision may not be what they want to hear. Your child is looking for more independence and is starting to question different points of view — including yours.

Look at the big picture. Keep in mind that you child does not mean to upset you; they might not realise how their words affect you. Remember that this is temporar. Conflict is usually at its worst during teenage years and is a sign your child is maturing.

Become a role model for your child by demonstrating positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions and constructive ways of resolving conflicts.

Listen actively. Make time to listen to your child and show them that you are really listening and trying to understand their perspective — even when you don’t share their opinion.

Be open with your own feelings. Explain how their behaviour affects you. This not only models constructive ways to communicate, but also helps your child learn to read and respond to emotions.

How can I manage violent behaviour?

Sometimes teenagers respond violently or aggressively because they struggle to manage their own emotions. Clearly explain to your child that violence and aggression towards anyone is unacceptable and everyone must feel safe at home.

If you have a child who is aggressive towards you, walk away and explain to them that you can continue the conversation when they have calmed down. This will help them learn to communicate in non-violent and respectful ways.

Give your teenager space and remove the person who is aggravating the situation to give them time to calm down. Set non-violent and appropriate consequences and follow through to teach your child that violence is unacceptable. You can also check in with your child’s school, since there may be issues with friends or teachers.

If your child doesn’t respond to any of these strategies, it may indicate that there is a deeper problem. Consider professional support from your GP or school counsellors, teachers or mental health professionals. They can give you and your teenager effective strategies to deal with violent or aggressive behaviour.

If there is violence and aggression in your family or if you feel unsafe or anyone is at immediate risk of harm, call triple zero (000).

How can I support and stay connected with my teen?

Here are a few more tips to help your teen navigate emotional changes in puberty:

  • Help them understand their moods and the effect of puberty on their bodies and emotions.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries and expectations while giving your teen opportunities to express independence in a safe and healthy way.
  • Give them space to process their feelings and support independent problem-solving.
  • Acknowledge positive behaviour and encourage healthy eating and sleeping habits.

Resources and support

There are several professional resources that you and your teen can access to help manage difficult emotions during puberty.

Resources for teens:

Resources for parents

There are also several counselling services available to you and your child:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021


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