Causes of Negative Emotions in Adolescents

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Teenagers, like grownups, can experience an array of stressful situations than can trigger negative emotions. Although negative emotions during adolescence are not exclusively linked to stress, negative changes in behavior are nearly always a clear sign that something is amiss, explains the American Psychological Association. Growing pains may bring out the worst in teens as they struggle with the hormonal changes of puberty.


Self-imposed demands or pressures from teachers or parents to get good grades, expectations from coaches to perform well, finding and keeping friends and romantic relationships are examples of stressful events in a teen's life that can potentially bring out negative emotions. Openly expressing hostility toward parents or going out of their way to avoid them and ditching old friendships to seek out a new group of friends can be warning signs that a teen is under a significant amount of stress, explains KidsHealth, a website published by the Nemours Foundation.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Emotionally intense pressures such as struggling to heal a broken heart or grieving the death of a loved can overwhelm a teen with negative feelings and emotions. Days jam packed with activities like sports, choir, band, or simply making time for friends can weigh heavy on a teen's shoulder, as well, leading to stress overload and negative emotions. Making time to slow down and relax can help improve a teen’s outlook.

Identity Issues

Teens are busy trying to carve out their unique identity and self-image. On the one hand, a teen wants to be treated like an adult and have the right to make his own decisions; on the other hand, such freedoms may feel like too much to handle. Concerns over fitting in and being accepted by peers can seem like a matter of life or death during adolescence. Disgruntled teens may think or say negative things about themselves such as "Everybody hates me" or I'm so stupid."

Hormonal Influences

The hormonal changes experienced during puberty appear to cause both physical and emotional changes including mood swings, notes KidsHealth. A teen's emotions may be negative one moment and positive the next. However, not everyone agrees that puberty effects emotions. Reed Larson, Ph.D., professor in the department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois, suggests that teens display similar emotional states before, during and after puberty. A teen's mood tends to be more positive when he spends time with friends and family, but is more sullen when he's alone, according to Larson.

Potential Problems

Negative emotions are linked to problem behaviors, explains Teens may handle stress and accompanying negative emotions in different ways. One adolescent may become extremely upset and take out his negative emotions on others. Another teen might keep his feelings to himself, which can lead to alcohol or drug problems and eating disorders.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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