Stepping Off Your Teen’s Emotional Rollercoaster

roller-coasterA reader writes:

I had 3 sons when my oldest daughter was born. When the boys became teens everyone told me, “Just wait till your daughter reaches that age.” I was worried about mother/daughter issues,  clothing, boundary issues, surliness, rebellion. Now she is 12 and what I’ve gotten instead is sudden, unexplained, intense sadness,  usually in the evening hours.  It’s not every day, and I haven’t found a pattern. I’ve done blood tests and thank G-d all is fine.  In general she is a happy, friendly, busy, responsible, independent  kid.

Recently there have been social issues, which I assume is normal at this age, but nothing extreme. A lot of her friends have become interested in clothes, music, and other things that she’s not interested in. There seem to be cliques forming, and she has to refind her place.  I’ve been encouraging her to invite friends she has more in common with to sleep over, and that’s been helpful.

I am looking for advice in dealing with girls this age. Have others had similiar experiences, with sudden sadness and/or social issues and how have you have handled it? I’m not looking to solve her social issues for her, but to encourage her to find her own social circle.

Don’t you hate when more experienced parents tell you to “just wait until you get to the next stage”? Somehow, that never makes me feel better. Every child and age has its own challenges. If you have one child, you spend all of your energy worrying about the one. If you have ten, you divide up the worry among the ten but end up worrying an equal amount. And when a child is unhappy, it affects everyone in the family and usually the mother most of all.

I’ll share a story from when one of my children was about the same age as yours—it may or may not be helpful.  At the time the child spent hours lying on the sofa and complaining dramatically about how miserable he was. I was sure he needed psychological or even psychiatric help. When I described the situation in detail to a professional, she said he was doing it to get attention. Long-time readers know that I don’t usually like the idea of ignoring a child. If a child needs attention, I try to give it in a positive way. But the next time he came to me with all of his anxiety I  said a few sympathetic words and went back to what I was doing. After I did this a few times the long discussions ended and he became an even-tempered child again. Okay, that’s probably not true as he was still a teenager. But things did improve considerably.

I think that a teen’s emotions can be like a roller-coaster. If we’re not careful, we end up going along for the ride.

Insights or suggestions for this mother are welcome in the comments.

(Photo credit: *clarity*)


  1. Since the question specifically mentioned girls, may I interject the word “hormones”?

    I have found that my oldest daughter has been able to provide sound advice to her younger sisters that it probably more welcome and meaningful than the same stuff coming from me.

    Slightly related: my oldest daughter, almost 16, has suddenly shown an interest in clothing and style for the first time in her life. Just this morning she indignantly rejected a pair of pantyhose with a run in them, while 6 months ago she wouldn’t have noticed if they were full of holes. My husband and I view this as a welcome stage in her development (but not necessarily welcome to our wallets). Has anyone else seen a sudden transformation in a teenager? (I’m pretty sure there are no internal issues or external pressures driving this).

    • mominisrael says

      Tesyaa, my friend said that a teenage boy is one large hormone! My daughter is willing to let me buy her a bathing suit, without her being there. But she does not wear clothes with holes. She’s almost 15.

  2. When I saw this link on FB, I immediately came over, knowing that this post was written especially for me. I have a 15 year old daughter who sounds very much like your reader’s child. Only, until very recently I kept blaming myself for my daughter’s unhappiness episodes because we made Aliya and ripped her away from what was true happiness. But when I spoke to a friend of mine several months ago, she told me that her son was behaving the same way, and nothing has changed in his life. She gave me a great piece of advice, similar to what you were saying, Mom. She said that as mothers, we sometimes become to involved in our children’s emotional lives, always trying to make things better for them because we feel bad, guilty, hate to see our kids unhappy. So the next Shabbat (usually a hard time because many of her friends are not in our city) when she started her moping, I told her very firmly, “I will not be part of your pity-party. I just can’t do it anymore. There are things you can do to make yourself happier; it’s your choice”. She was shocked. I had never spoken to her like that before, I always tried to sympathise with her…and wouldn’t you know it? The next week she made arrangements for Shabbat.

    I guess this fairly common teen behavior, which is a relief. On the other hand, I think as mothers we need to watch our kids to make sure this doesn’t become a true depression. For me personally, I just watch to make sure she wants to be a part of family activities, that she is communicating with friends, is eating appropriately, is fighting with her sisters, and does have numerous happy moments throughout the day and week.

    Of course, I still feel guilty. But that’s a whole other post, right?

    • mominisrael says

      Baila, if fighting is a good sign my kids are very happy. I wish we could get rid of that guilt.

  3. Also, I think it helps to remember your own teenage years. Do you remember being unhappy? Wasn’t it usually transient? Would your parents’ involvement have helped or hindered? I don’t know anyone who would want to go back and relive their teen years.

  4. Don’t you hate when more experienced parents tell you to “just wait until you get to the next stage”?[space]

    Ahhh, my sister used to do this to us. But then she had another baby and it all stopped. A year later she apologized to us for doing it all those years. She has a 17 year old, 2 more in between, and and a 3 year old. 🙂

    • mominisrael says

      Mark, it’s not clear to me why she stopped. She still had the oldest in the family, right? Was the next one really difficult?

  5. To me, this sets off 1,000 red flags: “sudden, unexplained, intense sadness.” I had feelings like that as a teen and in my 20s, and that that time, we didn’t have a name for it. It wasn’t until my 30s that I learned that I have a chronic, low-level depression. Once treated with therapy and medication, my life is 1,000 times better. Please don’t ignore these symptoms. I would have her evaluated by a psychologist and/or psychiatrist. She may need medication. You might try some of the strategies mentioned earlier, but if truly is depression, please don’t make her suffer longer than she needs to.

  6. “We sometimes become to involved in our children’s emotional lives, always trying to make things better for them because we feel bad, guilty, hate to see our kids unhappy.”

    Hmm, I’m 34 already, how do I convince my mom that she doesn’t need to do this anymore? Maybe I’ll send her this post! 😀

  7. rickismom says

    Besides, as Adena says, checking for depression (although, generally, true depression would be causing an interferance in ACTIONS), you just have to keep making deposits in the self-esteem account, so that she has what to fall back on when her *”friends”* make sudden “withdrawals” .

    • mominisrael says

      RM, good point! I think pointing out skills or traits that the teen has mastered or improved is best (without overdoing it–it has to be sincere).

  8. I have a 13 year old daughter who is “Dr. Jekyl and Ms. Hyde”. She often has sudden boughts of seemingly unprovoked anger and intense emotion. She told me that she sometimes feels things so intensly she doesnt know what to do about it. I asked my niece (same age) if she sometimes feels so angry she that she doesn’t know what to do. And she said to me, “I feel that way all the time”.
    MIL – there is a difference between ignoring a child’s behavior and ignoring the child. I agree that it is wise to ignore the emotional rollercoster – but not to ignore the child.

    • mominisrael says

      Ariela, it’s great that your daughter is able to describe to you how she is feeling. As for ignoring, perhaps that was too strong a word.

  9. There is certainly a very delicate balance here. You don’t want to feed your child’s “emo” states, but it’s important to note that sometimes these cries for attention are really cries for help that’s needed.

    I wouldn’t run out and get every teen who has a down day or two on prozac, but if your teen is down a lot of the time, doesn’t participate in activities s/he used to enjoy, seems to lack interest in things, then it would probably be a good idea to get them help before they end up in a hospital with a belly full of pills (drawing from my own experience here).

  10. My 13 year old son seems to have lost his ‘group’ at school. He is a great kid, but not as high self-esteem as i think you need at that age. He is smart enough, funny and athletic but not in that top ‘popular’ group where many of his friends seem to have gone. I know he doens’t want to talk to me about it but i am worried that being ‘dumped’ by some oh his buddies who are now ‘cool’ has really hurt him. He does have other friends too, so i guess i should be glad. But for awhile he really just backed off everything socially, and it seems to me it was like he had gone through a bad breakup like you would with a girl. I hate this for him. Is this normal?

    • mominisrael says

      Pat, thanks for visiting and leaving your comment. Children, like adults, suffer emotional pain. Teens feel things so intensely. We can empathize but they have to go through the process themselves. It really sounds like he has dealt with it and moved on. I also think that everyone’s self-esteem takes a hit during puberty. Being in the popular group is not all it’s cracked up to be.