- During puberty, your teen will experience physical and emotional changes.
- Rapid brain development during puberty affects the way teenagers interact with others, and how they identify and express their emotions.
- This can be challenging for young people and their families, particularly parents.
- Good communication, role modelling and setting boundaries can help parents and teens navigate this time.
- If your child is 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 difficult and rewarding. Both males and females experience changes during this time that are:
These changes are a normal part of the process known as puberty.
Changes that occur during puberty may also trigger changes in your child's behaviour. During puberty, your teen may interact with family and friends differently.
Emotional changes during the teen years vary widely from person to person and over time. Your teen may:
- develop a greater sense of self and identity
- develop a stronger need for social connections outside your family
- begin to take more sexual interest in other people
- feel more self-conscious about the way they look
- feel more empowered to take on new responsibilities and make their own decisions
- seek independence in some aspects of their lives
Other teens may feel confused and frustrated when they are unable to reach their goals, and may consequently experience negative emotions.
During puberty, your teenager will likely have changes to their:
- energy levels
- sleep patterns
This may create difficulties for your relationship with them. These emotional changes are an important, normal part of your teenager's growth. You, and other adults in your teen's life, can help them navigate puberty by showing:
What causes my teen's mood to change?
Around 90% of your child's brain will develop by the time they are 5 years old.
As they grow up, the number of connections in their brain are 'pruned'. Some neural connections will become stronger, while others will weaken. Those that are strengthened are the ones that your child uses most often.
This 'pruning' changes the amount of grey matter in your child's brain. This part of the brain is involved in processing. Pruning helps your child's thought processes to become more efficient.
The times that the different parts of the brain mature depend on the things they control. Your brain will usually mature in the following order:
- motion control, mobility and senses
- language and orientation
- complex thinking and self-control
- planning and decision making
Planning and decision making is controlled by the prefrontal cortex. As this part of the brain is the last to change, teen behaviour may come across as:
How can I support my teen during puberty?
The emotional demands that occur during the teenage years may be stressful for your child. They can include:
- peer pressure
- academic demands
- comparison — perceived differences between them and the people they know
The physical changes they undergo during puberty can also be overwhelming or scary. Stress can significantly impact how their brain develops. It's important to support your teen during this time, by:
- helping them to understand the effects of puberty on their bodies and emotions
- communicating with them openly, and with curiosity
- encouraging positive behaviour
Your teen's environment will influence how they:
Introduce and encourage your child to take part in a range of activities and positive experiences — both inside and outside of school. This helps to support their development.
Your child will need more sleep during their teenage years as they grow.
However, their sleep patterns may also change. This is because their body begins making the sleep hormone, melatonin, later in the day. Your teen may:
- not feel tired until later in the evening
- find waking up early more difficult than before
You can help your teenager get enough sleep by encouraging them to develop a regular sleep schedule.
As your teen grows during puberty, they may feel hungry more often. The emotional changes that come with puberty and your child's body image can also impact their eating habits. Nourishment and healthy eating are important for their brain development.
Your teen may become independent and want to make their own food choices. It's important for you to:
- help them adopt healthy habits
- be a good role model for healthy eating and lifestyle
Are my teen's mood swings normal?
Mood swings are a normal part of the teenage years and puberty. To support your teen through mood swings, try to:
- keep calm and let them know you want to understand their feelings
- give them space to process their feelings
- help your child problem solve, but don't try to fix their problems for them
It's also important to keep track of your child's emotions. This is because long periods of mood changes may be a sign of something more serious, such as a mental health issue.
There are 3 key factors to watch for when keeping track of your child's mood swings:
- 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 — note if your teen's mood disrupts their home, school or social life or is causing them distress.
If you are concerned that your child is experiencing something more than just a teenage mood swing, seek support from your doctor 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 during their teenage years, you and your child argue more. This is normal.
Mood swings can cause arguments, as can any of your well-intended efforts to help them make decisions. During puberty, your teen will:
- want to become more independent
- develop their identity
- question different points of view
So, your input may not be what they want to hear.
Try to remember that:
- your child does not mean to upset you
- they might not realise how their words affect you
- conflict is usually at its worst during teenage years and is a sign your child is maturing
It's important that you act as a positive role model for your child. One way is to demonstrate positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions and constructive ways of resolving conflicts. You can:
- Keep calm even when you are angry.
- Listen to your child — make eye contact and avoid interrupting them.
- Try to understand their perspective, even if you have a different opinion.
- Be open with your own feelings and explain how their behaviour affects you.
- Admit when you are wrong, without making excuses and apologise.
- Maintain your boundaries and expectations while giving your teen opportunities to express their independence in a safe and healthy way.
This will help teach your child good, constructive communication. It will also help them 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.
If your child is showing aggressive behaviour:
- Ensure that you and those around you are safe.
- Give your child space to calm down and remove anyone who is aggravating the situation.
- Make it clear that violence and aggression towards anyone is unacceptable.
Always respond to any kind of aggression respectfully and calmly. This will help them learn to communicate in non-violent ways.
Set non-violent and appropriate consequences, and follow through to teach your child that violence is unacceptable.
If your child doesn't respond to any of these strategies, it may indicate that there is a deeper problem. Check in with your child's school — there may be issues with your child's friends or teachers.
Consider professional support, such as from:
- your doctor
- school counsellors
- 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).
Resources and support
There are several professional resources that you and your teen can access to help manage difficult emotions during puberty.
- Beyondblue — call 1300 22 4636 for confidential telephone counselling.
- Headspace — 1800 650 980 has a range of ways to support you online or by phone.
- Kids Helpline — 1800 55 1800 for free (even from a mobile), confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for people aged 5 to 25 years.
- ReachOut — offers a wide range of support options for young people and their parents.
There are also counselling services available to you and your child:
- 1800RESPECT — 1800 737 732 (24 hours, 7 days) to support people impacted by domestic, family or sexual violence.
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Last reviewed: September 2023