Why are teenage years so difficult?
Adolescence is a time of many physical, mental, emotional, and social changes. Hormones change as puberty begins. There are many pressures on our young teens (12-14 years) and Teenagers (15-17 years), it is no surprise there is an increase in mental health issues and mood changes.
We understand that it is important to:
- Reduce stress and improve concentration, memory and improve intellect
- Balance hormones
- Ensure healthy lifestyle choices
We can help you make this time of life smoother for the teen and the family around them. Here is some practical advice on how to take advantage of this age and create healthier and happier teens. But let’s first understand what is happening to them.
Teenage Developmental Milestones
The teenage years have a lot in common with the terrible twos. During both stages, our kids are doing exciting new things, but they are also pushing boundaries and throwing tantrums. The major developmental task facing this age group is pulling away from parents to assert their own independence.
Young Teens (12-14 years)
During this time most girls grow pubic hair and breasts and start menstruating and boys grow facial hair, pubic hair and their voices deepen. They may be worried about these changes and how they are perceived by others. This will also be a time when your teen might face peer pressure to use alcohol, tobacco, drugs or to have sex. Other challenges can be eating disorders and depression.
Children in this age group may:
- Have more ability for complex thought
- Be better able to express feelings through talking
- Develop a stronger sense of right and wrong
- Develop eating problems
- Experience more moodiness
- Self-confidence issues with looks, body, and clothes
Teens (15-17 years)
This is a time of changes for how your child thinks, feels, and interacts with others. Most girls will be physically mature by now, boys may still be maturing physically during this time. During this time, your teen is developing their unique personality and opinions. Relationships with friends are still important, but your team will have other interests as they develop a clearer sense of who they are.
This is a time to prepare for more independence and responsibility, many teens start working and many will leave home after school.
Children in this age group may:
- Show more defined work habits
- Show more concern about future work plans
- Have a better understanding of the consequences of their choices.
- Have more interest in romantic relationships and sexuality
- Go through less conflict with parents
- Show more independence from parents
- Have a deeper capacity for caring and sharing and developing more intimate relationships
- Spend more time with friends.
This is a phase that will pass and your job as a parent is vitally important. I will help you navigate this terrain with some practical solutions but let’s first understand what’s happening.
Why is my teenager so moody?
As kids grow up, hormone levels begin to surge in areas of their brains that manage emotions. The first surge starts deep within the brain. With time and maturity, some areas right behind the forehead will also get involved. And those new areas can be important to make decisions that allow teens to keep their cool.
The teen brain changes rapidly once puberty hits. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where more complicated behaviors are regulated – more complex decision making, expressing one’s personality, guiding ones social interactions. This area of the brain has a surge during adolescence after connections between these brain cells occur at a high rate. After being stable during childhood.
This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses. Because these skills are still developing, teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors without considering the potential results of their decisions.
When adults process an emotion — if they see an angry face, for example — multiple places in their brains will turn on. One area is the limbic system — a group of small brain areas deep in the brain where emotion processing starts. Adults also show activity in the prefrontal cortex. This is that area behind the forehead that plays a role in making decisions. The limbic system may advise an adult to scream or fight. The prefrontal cortex helps to keep unwise urges in check.
The brain of a young teen isn’t just a bigger version of a small kid. It isn’t a smaller version of an adult’s, either. As children grow, their brains morph. Some areas mature and build connections. Other areas may disconnect or get trimmed away. Brain areas that process emotions mature very quickly. The prefrontal cortex does not. This leaves the emotion-processing centers on their own for a while.
Teen brains also grow more white matter in certain areas of the brain in the frontal lobe and parietal lobe. These areas of the brain deal with many different processes, including reasoning, judgment, and impulse control. This means that teens may have poor impulse control due to their brain changes and may express an emotion before being able to think about it or deal with it.
The amygdala (Ah-MIG-duh-lah) is an area deep within the limbic system that deals with emotions such as fear. “Adolescents activate the amygdala more in emotional…situations,” says Anna Tyborowska. Meanwhile, their prefrontal cortex is not yet ready to take control of emotional processing.
Moodiness vs Depression
What is normal moody teen behavior and what should be a concern? Generally, if the moodiness doesn’t last long, it’s probably normal, if your teen has a bad night or day and is irritable but is good most of the week, it is most likely temporary.
Depression and other psychiatric disturbances have other signs other than just crankiness or moodiness. For example, teen depression may be accompanied by weight loss or gain, sleep disturbances, withdrawal from friends and family or talk of suicide.
The role of hormones
Hormones have a role to play in mood. Sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) do affect a teen’s brain, possibly leading to problems with moodiness.
Tyborowska is a neuroscientist at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. She recruited 49 14-year-old teens for a brain study. She used an MRI scanner and asked each teen to complete various tasks. The scientists measured which area of the brain was active as the teen performed each task. They also measured each teen’s level of testosterone. This hormone rises in each sex during puberty. One of its key roles is in reorganising the brain during adolescence and helps control how different brain structures develop during this time.
When forced to control their emotions, teens with less testosterone tend to rely on their limbic systems, Tyborowska’s group now finds. This makes their brain activity look more like that of younger children. Teens with higher testosterone, though, use their prefrontal cortex to rein in their emotions. Their brain activity includes the prefrontal cortex regulation of the deep-brain limbic system. This pattern looks more adult.
A hormone that typically calms an adult actually makes teens feel anxious. During moments of stress THP or allopregnanolone is released in our bodies – for adults, this is calming, in teens it’s the opposite. If your teen seems stressed, he/she might be more likely to be cranky or irritable than the average adult.
What are the symptoms of teenage hormone imbalance
Irregular or heavy periods, fatigue, weight gain, facial hair and extreme moodiness are all common symptoms of teen hormone imbalance. But there are less common signs as well that can occur in various combinations such as:
- Increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- Constipation or more frequent bowel movements
- Dry skin
- Puffy or rounded face
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Muscle weakness
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Pain or stiffness in muscles or joints
- Hair loss or fine, brittle hair
- Increased hunger
- Depression or anxiety
- Blurred vision
- A fatty hump between the shoulders
- Purple or pink stretch marks
- Hot flashes
- Sugar cravings
- Fluid retention
- Brain fog
What are the most common causes of teen hormone imbalance?
One of the most common causes of serious teen hormone imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Common symptoms include acne, weight gain and patches of dark skin on the back of the neck, inner thighs and armpits. PCOS can also cause excessive body hair growth and irregular or heavy periods.
Endocrine gland malfunction can cause a host of different teenage hormone imbalance issues. Endocrine glands are specialized cells that produce, store and release hormones into the blood. There are several endocrine glands located throughout the body that control different organs, including the ovaries, adrenal glands, pituitary, pineal, hypothalamus, thyroid and pancreatic islets. Anything awry with any of these glands can cause teen hormone imbalance.
Which hormones commonly cause issues for teen girls?
- Progesterone: this hormone is produced by the ovaries and increases production during ovulation. Low progesterone can cause headaches, anxiety and irregular periods. Progesterone also balances estrogen, so when progesterone is low, dominant estrogen can create its own set of problems.
- Estrogen: an imbalance can impact every aspect of a young woman’s life. Too much can cause weight gain, low sex drive, tender breasts, mood swings and PMS. Too little means hot flashes, UTI’s fatigue, body pain and difficulty concentrating.
- Cortisol: commonly called ‘the stress hormone’. Excess cortisol can cause Cushing’s disease, weight gain, anxiety and depression in teen girls. Low cortisol can lead to Addison’s disease, fatigue and weight loss.
- Thyroid hormones: hyperthyroidism or too much thyroid hormone can cause anxiety, weight loss, heart palpitations and fatigue among other symptoms. Hyperthyroid, or low thyroid hormone levels, also lead to fatigue but can cause weight gain, depression, dry skin and hair and irregular periods.
- Testosterone: teen girls also have testosterone and it is one of the culprits of PCOS but can cause other health issues.
Treatment will vary according to the hormones involved and the severity of the imbalance. In most cases, supplements and lifestyle changes can offer relief from symptoms.
If you believe your teen has a more serious issue such as depression or an eating disorder, please ensure you contact your local GP in the first instance for a plan.
So now you understand the developmental phases, what the potential goals and risks are for your teenager, how can you help!
Neuroplasticity & Meditation
The teen brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt, and respond to its environment. Challenging academics or mental activities, exercise, and creative activities such as art can help the brain mature and learn.
To help your teenager grow during this time and ensure they are unlocking their full potential and increasing their ability to manage different types of stress a meditation practice is recommended.
Meditation can have positive effects on the mind, from improving attention span to making an individual more empathetic, reducing stress levels or helping a person stay calm in the midst of pressure. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to change the cortex related to attention and executive functioning.
Kinesiology for teens
Kinesiology is a holistic health discipline that looks after the body as a whole. Few healing modalities keep the whole body in view when assessing treatment methods. Kinesiology challenges the biofeedback system and asks the body to clarify what stressors are affecting your teen. It then uses techniques to diffuse that stress.
A kinesiologist will calm areas of the brain functions, neurons, tracts and biochemistry such as neurotransmitters and hormones. When the stress response is removed from the system, balance is restored allowing the brain to stay integrated under stress and pressure. Kinesiology can also be effective for improving learning outcomes.
Heal your hormones with Ayurveda
Ayurveda, also known as Ayurvedic medicine, is one of the world’s oldest schools of traditional healing. It means “science of life”. Tracing back to India over 3000 years ago, Ayurvedic medicine promotes “whole body” healing in contrast to western medicine, which tends to separate physical, mental and spiritual health.
Ayurveda provides us with tools that can help build resilience to hormonal imbalances. The mind and body vacillate between two states, rest and digest (parasympathetic) and fight or flight (sympathetic) or our natural state.
Ayurveda offers practical advice on how to take advantage of the characteristics of this age and create healthier and happier teens.
The Ayurvedic cleanse is a powerful draw for a variety of reasons. This cleanses, often referred to in its complete format as panchakarma, nourishes rather than deprives. It is balancing to all constitutions, or doshas, and is low-cost, making it accessible to all. Furthermore, it focuses on healing and replenishing both the body and mind, which we refer to as one and the same—the body-mind.
Interested in taking an Ayurvedic to cleanse? We can help you construct a program that is right for you.
Favour a Pitta Pacifying Diet
Pitta Dosha, which governs this stage of life is associated with transformation, heat and metabolism. To utilize this transformation power and balance teens should eat cooling and nurturing foods. This is the time to start building the foundation for healthy tissues. If teens eat nourishing food, it will quickly turn into healthy cells and tissues. If they live on junk food and fast food, it will transform fast into toxins, giving rise to future health problems.
Teens should eat Four Meals a day with the main meal at noon. A cooling and nourishing diet that includes the following.
|Do Eat||Don’t Eat|
|Filtered water||Spicy and salty foods|
|Fresh Vegetables – make sure you include a variety of colours
· Green Beans
|Pizza with tomato and cheese|
|Soaked nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds||Junk food, fast food|
|Raisins and Dates||Canned, packaged and frozen foods|
|Milk, date milkshakes||Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives not only load the liver with toxins but weaken the immune system,|
|Paner or other homemade cheese|
|Fresh juicy fruits such as pears, watermelon, stewed apples|
Physical activity is important, even if it is mowing the lawn, walking the dog or washing the car – anything to keep your teen active and mobile and preferably off screens.
Moderate exercise is recommended. Games and sports can be a fun way to get into a healthy habit. In addition to boosting circulation and metabolism, exercise enhances immunity and endurance. Yoga asanas are ideal as they tone the muscle and stimulate the function of our internal organs.
A good routine is imperative to encourage stability for hormonal ups and downs.
- 10pm or an earlier bedtime
- Plenty of rest
- 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night
Research shows that melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) levels in the blood are naturally higher later at night and drop later in the morning in teens than in most children and adults. This difference may explain why many teens stay up late and struggle with getting up in the morning.
Teens should get about 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, but most teens do not get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can make it difficult to pay attention, may increase impulsivity, and may increase the risk for irritability or depression.
|Intelligence Plus||An ayurvedic supplement to improve clarity, attention and focus|
|Stress Ease||The formula of apoptogenic herbs for energy promotes hormone balance that supports emotional resiliency.|
|Shankha Pushpi||Shankha Pushpi is a potent herb for supporting mental well-being and tranquillity. Having a calm and positive mind plays a huge roll in our ability to concentrate. The flowers help restore a clear and balanced mind and improve focus and cognitive function.|
|Brahmi||Brahmi or Gotu Kola is a brain tonic and is highly effective in improving memory, intellect and concentration. It is considered an adaptogen and is deeply soothing for the nervous system helping to promote a positive mental state and emotional well-being.|
|Ashwagandha||Combats stress, anxiety and better sleep. It has properties that particularly target the hormone system and encourage hormonal balance.|
|Organic Premium Amla Berry||Supports muscle growth and vitality.|
|Chamomilla||Can be good for painful periods. This remedy may be needed where the pains are severe, and extend to the thighs, and may be accompanied by fainting or vomiting. Chamomilla is also among the remedies prescribed for premenstrual mood swings, especially where anger is very marked.|
|Pulsatilla||One of the main remedies prescribed for acne in puberty.
As well as period problems including irregular and changeable periods.
Those who benefit from Pulsatilla tend to flush easily and feel worse in warm stuffy environments. They are easily moved to tears and crave closeness with others.
|Cyclamen||Remedy for heavy painful and irregular periods. Those needing Cyclamen may experience very intense labor-like period pains, and typically they may experience migraines with visual disturbance and dizziness before and during menses. There may be depression, with a feeling as if she has done something wrong, and that people are against her.|
|Calc Phos||Those needing it may have grown tall very fast, and maybe easily fatigued and become listless. It is one of the main remedies for growing pains in childhood and adolescence.|
The above are recommendations, but it is always advised to seek professional advice first. In Australia, Chemist Warehouse has a good range of quality vitamins which are from their dispensary and often a naturopath providing free advice. Steer clear of the ‘on the shelf’ vitamins as they are often made with synthetic substances and in suboptimal conditions which can lead to toxins in your body.
A trusting parent-child relationship during the teenage years is more important than ever, however, this is easier said than done. Whilst they are happy to communicate with their friends, who are in constant communication via social media and text messages, they might not be as open to parents. The Child Mind Institute published the following tips:
- Listen: direct questions to a teenager are not as effective as sitting back and listening, if they feel like your prying it is most likely they will shut down. Kids are more likely to communicate if they do not feel pressured. Stay open and interested and listen for ques and small bits of information they share – it is their way of reaching out.
- Validation: try not to solve their problems and downplay their disappointments. Show them you understand by empathising with them “wow that does sound hard”
- Trust: Teens want to be taken seriously, especially by their parents. Look for ways you can show you trust them. Ask for favours shows you rely on them. Offering a privilege shows you think they can handle the situation and letting them know you have faith in them will boost confidence.
- Don’t Dictate: you still need to set the rules, but explain them. Whilst pushing boundaries is natural for teens, hearing your explanation about why parties on school nights are not allowed may help them understand why the rule is more reasonable.
- Give praise: teenagers still care what their parents think and they still want your approval. Looking for opportunities to be positive and encouraging is good for the relationship.
- Control your emotions: you are the adult and your teen is less able to control his emotions (due to the underdeveloped prefrontal quartex) and is less able to think logically when he’s upset. Take a breath and respond calmly and with consideration.
- Do things together: spend some time doing things you both enjoy, whether its cooking, hiking, or going to the movies and don’t talk about anything personal. It’s important that they can be close to you and share positive experiences, without having to worry you will ask intrusive questions or call them out on something.
- Share regular meals. Sitting down to eat a meal together as a family is another great way to stay close. If your teen is comfortable talking about everyday things, they are more likely to share personal things. It is advisable that phones are not allowed at the table.
- Observe: pay attention to your teens mood, behavior, energy level and appetite. Likewise, take note if he stops wanting to do things that used to make him happy or if you notice him isolating himself. If you see a change in your teens daily ability to function, ask about it and be supportive, they may need more help.
- Reserve Judgement. Judgment is considered a form of violence (Ahimsa) in the Ayurvedic philosophy. It is best to remain impartial and respond with kindness to keep the communication open.
- Be aware of TV’s in bedrooms: Set screen time limits including mobile phones, computers, video games and other devices.
- Be open about the dangers: of drugs, drinking, smoking and risky sexual activity. Be open and honest and listen to what they think about it. Monitor this.
- Set Clear Rules: when your teen is home alone. Issues such as having friends over and how to handle potentially dangerous situations such as emergencies, fire, sex etc…