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Why Is My Teen So Negative?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

When it comes to your teen, the cup is always half-empty.

No – scratch that.

It’s always completely empty.

Even when a situation has redeeming qualities, your teen sees it as all bad. They get stuck in a cloud of disappointment, misery, or gloom, and nothing you say changes their opinion.

You keep wondering:

Why is my teenager so negative?

 And what can I do to help them?

Typical Adolescent Phase: Negativity

Frequent mood swings are a hallmark of adolescence. During this period, it’s normal for your teen to be more negative than when they were younger. And you can expect them to stay more negative for longer periods of time.

Dramatic changes in their brain associated with puberty cause this negativity. Hormones flare during adolescence. That’s why your teen reacts to triggers and processes emotions in different ways than during their early years. While a small mishap during the childhood years might have led to tears or a little tantrum they quickly forget, adolescence is far different. The fact that the development of the prefrontal cortex lags behind other areas of the brain during this period means teens become more emotional between the ages of 12 and 18. Your teen could stew about something or someone that wronged them for days or weeks.

And yes: depending on the situation, this could be typical.

When a Mental Health Issue Causes Negativity

 However, there is a certain point at which their negativity could become debilitating. If negative thinking interferes with their everyday functioning and decreases their self-esteem, it may indicate the presence of a deeper mental health issue. Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), bipolar disorder (BD), and certain personality disorders like borderline personality disorder (BPD) can all go hand-in-hand with high levels of negativity and irritability in teens. If your adolescent struggles with any of these mental health issues, they might perpetually look at the glass as half-empty. It’s important to understand they’re not doing it on purpose. For these teens, life can seem bleak and terrible, full of people who hurt them, and situations that never seem to get better.

Residential or Outpatient Treatment for Teens

For teens struggling with extreme negativity as a result of underlying mental health or addiction issues, it’s important to seek professional help. First, start with a clinical assessment to determine the root of their negativity. Many times, extreme negativity is a symptom of a mental health or emotional issue.

Once the mental health professional provides a diagnosis, you can start considering treatment options. If your teen suffers receives a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, ODD, DMDD, or any other mental health issue relating to their negativity, a residential treatment program might be essential. Otherwise, your teen might benefit from an intensive outpatient program (IOP), partial hospitalization program (PHP), or outpatient therapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Teen Treatment Centers

When searching for a teen residential treatment center or outpatient program, make sure the program incorporates Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is a relatively new treatment modality that’s helpful for adolescents who struggle with black-and-white thinking or behavior. For teens who see things as all good or all bad, DBT helps change their attitude to one that is more nuanced and considers things in perspective. In fact, the word “dialectical” means “holding two opposing things at the same time.” DBT teaches teens how to look at the big picture and realize that sometimes things in life are gray. This helps them break out of the black-and-white kind of response that leads to extreme negativity.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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