"Help! My teenager is so moody and cranky." Does that sound like someone in your household? Teens have a lot on their plate: homework, friendship dramas, maybe a new relationship or a breakup. Plus, their bodies are changing and they're starting to separate from their parents. That's all normal. But if you suspect something more might be going on, consider these aspects of your child's life.
Quality of sleep. Bedtime isn't just for little kids. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need eight to nine hours of sleep a night. In a recent study that looked at more than 15,000 teens, lack of sleep was linked to depression. Teens who went to bed past midnight were 24% more likely to be depressed and were also more likely to have suicidal thoughts. You may think there's little you can do to get your teen to respect a lights-out rule. But more than 70% of teens say they go to bed at a time that parents set, so your opinion still matters.
Moods and possible depression. The teen years are often painted as "the best years of your life," but let's face it, they can be plenty rocky. Some teens -- up to 1 in 8 -- develop depression. Watch for symptoms such as appetite or sleep changes, lower energy levels, and irritability. Lots of teens go through mild changes and are not depressed. But if you see big swings from your teen's usual behavior, take it seriously. Talk to him, without judgment, and remember that seeing a therapist might help you both.
Diet and fitness. Pay attention to what your teen eats (or doesn't eat). First, how healthy are his meals? Does he eat breakfast? A sound diet can make a real difference in mood and how he thinks. In one study of teens, those who ate breakfast had better moods and were more alert than those who did not. Second, is your teen active? Exercise is a known mood-booster and stress reliever because it releases the body's feel-good chemicals such as endorphins.
Above all, try to be compassionate and remember what it was like to be that age. Of course, you should always feel free to bring up any concerns with your doctor. But often, you are the person your teen needs most -- even if he doesn't act like it.
"Don't belittle whatever your teens are going through, and don't overreact either. Make sure they know you believe in them." -- Hansa Bhargava, MD
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