Why are Today's Teens so Moody?
My friend and I were sitting at her kitchen table the other day, looking out over the backyard, where her young teenager had knocked over the swing set earlier.
I have two young adult kids. My friend has an adult daughter and a young teenager, who, until now, has been known as "the calm one." My first answer was that her daughter is a mutant in an unpredictable world. She quirked an eyebrow. I explained what I meant.
Teens grow so rapidly that they barely have time to adjust to the state of their new body and brain changes before they morph again. Think of any teenager at 12, 14, 16, and 18. Each age brings its own surreal physical challenges.
Many people have mood swings and notice more emotional sensitivity after 2020. But teens have to deal with a hormone load on top of it. They haven’t really had the time to develop a thick skin, and our culture doesn’t support the idea that having intense feelings is just fine. I was 20 when I figured out that emotional pain won’t kill me. Up until then, I thought it would.
Like all of us, teens are surrounded by a rapidly-shifting world with more stressors than most of us had growing up. I mean we grew up with the same kinds of personal stressors — parents that were unsupportive or downright mean, peers that may have made fun of us, the pressure to accomplish something, and unrequited love. We knew that we might die at any time from nuclear war.
But today’s teens are more likely to be poor, to be homeless, and have fewer prospects. College is less affordable than it used to be. Today’s teens are the first generation that grew up knowing they have to save the planet, and that it may be too late. They're growing up in a country in which people have chosen sides and vilified the other side. And while the crime rate, in general, has gone down, specific crimes like school shootings are highly publicized and on the rise. One in six boys and one in four girls are likely to either have been sexually abused or are currently in a sexually abusive situation. That’s a lot of stress.
The internet does its part too. Information and disinformation bombard us online. A teen with little experience in separating the wheat from the chaff can get a warped view of how other people live. They are exposed to online bullying, rumor-mongering, and endless advertisements. According to The Mayo Clinic, there are strong correlations between heavy media use, sleep deprivation, and mental health challenges among teens. Stressed-out and busy parents may not have time to monitor or intervene in their teen's media use.
More, there is less reverence for the sanctity of life in American culture overall. Violent talk is no longer shocking. The brutality that used to be reserved for rated R movies is now shown on prime time TV, or worse, in real life. It is not unusual to hear people speak violently about a whole group of other people, and somehow this has become acceptable on social media. Oh, and don't forget the ever-stronger storms and wildfires all over the world. Today's teens may feel powerless in the face of such gigantic forces. Heck, I know I do.
These are just a few things teens face. We’re all becoming aware that we can’t rely on anything to remain unchanged. (I'm looking at you, Pandemic.) Imagine then also not being able to count on your body to stay the same shape and your brain blowing up with new ways of thinking every month or two.
As I told my friend, I'd be moody too.