Getting through life can be difficult at all ages, but dealing with things as a teen is particularly difficult. The reason is that in terms of brain development and body chemistry, dealing with stress really is harder mentally and emotionally for teens.
If you’re a teen going through stress, or you’re a parent with a teen, it’s important to realize this. Before you think I’m just making excuses for teen “misbehavior,” let me explain the science behind why being a teen really is emotionally difficult.
First, teenage brains are still developing. See The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen for more information about the many ins-and-outs of teenage brain development.
I’ll summarize some of the basics here. The brain’s frontal lobe is the part of the brain that logically “holds everything together.” This isn’t fully developed until your early to mid-twenties. This means you may not even know who “yourself” is as a teen; this is also why some teens seem to change their identities on a weekly basis, which annoys parents and teachers with fully developed brains.
It’s hard enough going through life having a clear sense of identity and purpose. However, due to the way the brain develops, teens naturally lack the brain development to “put it all together” or put everything in perspective.
And, to make matters worse, most teens are totally unaware of their inability to put things together. This makes it harder to deal with stressful events because it can lead to feelings of uncertainty and a lack of purpose.
Second, teenagers are going through hormonal changes. This creates not only mood changes, but huge mood swings. Combine this with an undeveloped frontal lobe, and it can seem to teens like they’re literally going crazy.
The extremes can be staggering, from being extremely happy one minute to incredibly sad the next, sometimes even without explanation. Also, teen guys engage in riskier behavior overall, but especially in the presence of females, thanks to the the surging testosterone flowing through their bodies. This causes young males to do risky, dangerous, and sometimes violent things that they wouldn’t do when they are older. This propensity toward risky behaviors has even been labeled “young male syndrome” by some researchers.
Since they are still developing, teen brains are more sensitive to dopamine, which causes them to take more risks and and seek more thrills. They don’t always know what these feelings mean, and due to the lack of frontal lobe development, they haven’t developed the skills to fully cope with them. So, feelings, especially those surrounding love and relationships are new. They’re exciting, but also scary. And, when things don’t work out (or do), it can lead to an inability to properly react. Imagine going through something that’s both new and emotionally tough.
Finally, teens mainly spend the day with others just as emotionally volatile as themselves: other teens. So, it creates drama and even more emotional stress since these overly stressed teens often cope by bullying and lashing out. So, it makes bad situations even worse.
So, if you are a teen who is upset a lot, or you’re a parent with a teen who seems to be an emotional roller coaster, it is fairly normal, but may reach a point where intervention is needed.
If a person is seriously depressed, has other mental health issues, or is showing violent and risky tendencies, then it’s important to seek help. But, a little bit of emotional pressure on teens is very normal.