9 Tips for Dealing with Teen Emotions

6 min to read
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Emotional teenagers are nothing new. Whether they’re expressing anger, frustration, or sadness, it’s not unusual for a teen to experience rapidly changing moods. But if strong emotions are disrupting relationships and school progress—or if they linger—it could signal a deeper issue.  

The good news is that it’s possible to learn how to help a teenager regulate their emotions, even when you’re not sure what’s causing the turbulence.  

Common Stressors for Teens

It’s impossible for teenagers to completely avoid stress. Stress can sometimes be a motivator that leads to better performance in school, sports, or other extracurricular activities. But when it becomes too intense, it can take a physical and mental toll.

The 2020 American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America™ study measured the impact of external sources of stress. Children ages 13-17 reported experiencing elevated stress due to COVID-19 lockdowns and uncertainty about their futures. While the pandemic may be an extreme example of a stressor, it illustrates how sensitive teens can be to forces out of their control. 

What triggers a stress reaction varies from teen to teen. But there are some common stressors that can negatively influence teenage thoughts and feelings. Examples include:

  • Academic Pressure. Whether it comes from parents, peers, or the teen themselves, the pressure to make good grades can sometimes be overwhelming. 
  • Family Issues. Family stressors can include financial issues, separation or divorce of parents, or conflicts with siblings.
  • Social Media. Many social media platforms are addictive and can contribute to a teen’s anxiety, low self-esteem, and fear of missing out (FOMO); or even make them a target of cyberbullying.  
  • Overpacked Schedules. When a teen’s schedule is jammed with rehearsals, training, competitions, performances, or other commitments, it can turn up the stress dial. 

Emotional episodes or outbursts can be a common reaction to these and other stressors for some adolescents. 

A group of happy teenagers. 

9 Tips to Help Teens Deal with Their Emotions

If you’re looking for help on how to deal with teenage emotions, here are nine tips for understanding and coping with your teen’s feelings.

1. Be Calm and Listen

When you find yourself in a heated argument with your teen, staying calm can help diffuse the situation. It can be difficult to keep your cool when a teenager is screaming at you or slamming doors. Your first impulse may be to yell back or offer unwanted advice. Take a step back and listen to what they want to express in an open and nonjudgmental way. Consistently make eye contact while talking to and listening to your teen and ask them to do the same for you. Something as simple as saying “It sounds like you are really frustrated,” can help set an expectation for the conversation’s overall tone and ensure that everyone feels heard.

2. Look for Signs and Causes

Teen emotions can show up as troubling thought patterns or behavior changes. Signs include being more irritable or worried, blowing off chores or homework, or withdrawing from friends and family. Instead of writing it off to adolescent angst, it’s important to consider the cause. It could be one or more of the common stressors listed above, normal hormonal changes that can affect mood, or complex issues like low self-esteem. If the answer isn’t obvious, consider discussing their behavior with your teen or seeking input from a health care provider with them to find the best way forward. 

3. Understand the Teenage Brain

Research shows that the part of the brain that manages emotions, reason, and decision-making, continues to develop until the mid-20’s. Both the continued brain development and hormonal changes experienced during these years can impact how your teen thinks and reacts to different situations. These biological changes do not in any way mean that there is a lack of intelligence during the teenage years. However, because self-management skills are still developing, teens may have trouble with handling conflicts, making good choices, and controlling their emotions. Remember this when moments get heated with your teen and give them room to express themselves and work through their feelings. 

4. Respect Their Differing Perspectives

You can imagine how you might feel if, during an argument, someone told you that your concerns were “not that big of a deal.” Teens also don’t want their emotions minimized. At this point in their lives, they are often feeling anxiety about life after high school or may feel self-conscious about their changing bodies and feelings. This can make small problems loom large in their minds. While you don’t necessarily have to agree that a minor incident is, in fact, the end of the world, it also helps to realize your teen might truly feel that it is. 

An online school student expressing her teenage thoughts and feelings through painting.

5. Provide Outlets

Teens can release some of the stress that leads to suffering by not allowing emotions to build up and explode. Finding outlets that falls within your teen’s natural strengths is more effective, but some common effective ways of blowing off steam include:

  • exercise (hiking, kickboxing, basketball, etc.)
  • writing in a journal
  • cooking or baking
  • doing artwork

Taking up a new hobby can also help clear the mind and relieve stress. It’s hard to focus on problems and worries when you’re tackling a new challenge, such as trying to remain upright on ice skates, shaping clay on a potter’s wheel, or staying afloat on a paddle board. 

6. Model Healthy Behaviors

Don’t just tell them how to deal with their emotions—show them. Model good relationships with your partner, friends, and other family members. Let your teen see how you deal with issues, and let subtlety be your guide. If you like to go for a run when you’re stressed, instead of saying, “You should go running; it will really get you out of that atrocious mood,” try casually mentioning, "I’m going for a run to help me relax." 

7. Encourage Healthy Coping and Stress Management Skills

Developing healthy social and emotional skills is good for a teen’s overall well-being and can also set them up for success both in school and in life. Some examples include:

Two teenagers openly expressing their teenage emotions by laughing. 

8. Consider an Online High School

Sometimes troubling teen emotions are exacerbated by bullying, excessive distractions, or not fitting in—some of the unfortunate realities of high school. Enrolling them into a Connections AcademyⓇ–supported online public school could be a way to help them get a fresh start and alleviate their negative feelings. 

9. Know When to Get Help

You know your teenager better than anyone but how can you tell if their emotional issues are a mental health condition? Warning signs you should watch for include sudden struggles with schoolwork, dramatic changes in sleep patterns, self-destructive behavior (cutting class, drinking, excessive risk taking, etc.), and a preoccupation with self-destructive thoughts. If you see these or other symptoms, talk to your child’s school counselor, pediatrician, or a licensed therapist to get your child the help they need. Give them the Crisis Text Line, where they can text “Home” to 741741 and speak with a counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Guiding a teenager through their middle and high school years can be a challenge. Incorporating some of these best practices into daily life can make this phase less stressful and make an important difference for you and your teen. 

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