Emotional Regulation for Troubled Teens and Why They Need It

Emotional-Regulation-for-Troubled-Teen-Girl

During the teen years, the brain kicks into this state of developmental overdrive. The limbic system functions peak, hormones fluctuate, and numerous changes take place in regard to outlook, maturity, and emotions. Unfortunately, all this change can make even the most even-tempered teenager feel like their emotions are all over the place, and parents can have a hard time keeping up. Executive functions of the brain, such as using good judgment, following logic, or even using reasoning skills can come as a challenge for the teen. 

While emotional fluctuations can be normal for teens, teenage psychology problems or a past history of trauma can lead to severe emotional regulation problems. These teens feel intense emotions, even deeper than usual, often for longer than normal, and the situation can become dire without intervention. This is known as emotional dysregulation. 

Emotional Regulation and Dysregulation Explained

Emotional regulation is a psychological phrase used to describe the internal process of moderating emotions or mental state and behavior when exposed to either external or internal stimuli.  While emotional regulation is often looked at as a common-sense skill, most of us possess learned skill sets that make it easier to cope with major emotions. Not all teens yet possess these skills, and some have to be shown how to use them.

Teens that may have underlying mental health concerns or prior trauma may not be able to manage and regulate emotional reactions. Teens with this issue may have what is called emotional dysregulation. 

A teen with an emotional dysregulation issue can be triggered by certain feelings, thoughts, outside influences, and life situations. Instead of working through the intensity of their emotions, the dysregulation can cause major interruptions in the teen’s life. For example, if a teen is reminded of a past traumatic event by something on TV, they may become overwhelmed with anger and have an emotional outburst. In short, the feelings of a teen suffering from emotional dysregulation are so intense they drive actions beyond reason, logic, and perhaps even maturity level.

Teenage Mental Health Problems Associated with Emotional Dysregulation

A number of emotional problems and even types of experienced trauma can be associated with emotional dysregulation. A few examples of mental health issues and situations that can heighten the risks of emotional dysregulation include if the teen has:

  • A prior history of abuse or neglect
  • Experienced a sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD
  • Suffered from either depression or anxiety
  • Been diagnosed with PTSD


In addition to emotional dysregulation being often linked to underlying mental health concerns or past trauma, teens with this problem can also be prone to experiencing other issues. For example, teens that struggle to regulate their emotions may be more likely to slip into severe anxiety or depression.

Emotional-Regulation-for-Troubled-Teenboy

Signs of Emotional Dysregulation in Teens

Emotional dysregulation is usually characterized by extreme or unwarranted reactions to emotional stimuli. Therefore, the problem can be relatively easy to point out in most cases. A few common signs of emotional dysregulation include:

  • Apparent lack of inhibition
  • Explosive bouts of anger or aggression, often directed at caregivers or teachers
  • Ongoing passive-aggressive behaviors
  • Poor assessment of the reality of a situation
  • Prolonged bouts of crying or showing signs of being upset
  • Out-of-the-ordinary reactions to seemingly common situations
  • Severe mood swings
As a result of the illogical reactions to certain triggers, the teen with emotional dysregulation problems can suffer severe consequences. Specifically, the individual can face difficulties with maintaining interpersonal relationships, have problems in social settings, and possibly have issues at school.

How to Deal with Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation can produce extreme states of emotional instability. As a parent or caregiver, you may find yourself feeling like you are walking on pins and needles, fearful of the next moment when something will trigger a drastic reaction.

While it can seem simpler to try to avoid emotional outbursts or reactions by rearranging everyday life, this is not the most effective plan of action. Without intervention, the teen may never learn how to adapt and grow their skills to handle what they are feeling and how they react. Pick times when the teen is calm to teach them how to deal with emotional dysregulation. 

Show the teen that feelings may not be a reality. 

An intense reaction to a feeling can be unwarranted because feelings and concurrent emotions are not always absolutely reliable. Guide your teen to see that feelings are not always reliable even though they feel like truth. Sometimes, the recognition of the disconnect between emotions and reality can encourage more inhibition. 

Help your teen identify and even name their most intense emotions.  

Some teens with emotional dysregulation issues have difficulties pinpointing precisely what they are feeling. It can be a good idea to expose your teen to the numerous emotions and their many variations. For example, rage could be rooted in irritation, annoyance, or simply frustration. The Plutchik Emotion Diagram is a good reference to use. Some theories suggest that distinct language used to express emotions can give a greater understanding of that emotion in the heat of the moment.  

Teach the teen self-soothing techniques. 

Self-soothing can involve everything from breathing exercises to creating space between yourself and your trigger. Numerous self-soothing ideas for teens can be found online as well. For instance, Young Minds recommends creating a self-soothing box, which is filled with pertinent items that can help the teen feel more emotionally grounded.  

If you have tried to help your teen deal with emotional regulation, but they continue to have problems, it may be time to seek professional guidance. Some teens who have experienced past trauma can have a litany of both neurological and biological factors at play that need to be addressed through therapy. For example, some teens from abusive situations have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which can generate issues with emotional regulation.  

A Look at Treatment Options for Emotional Regulation 

If you have tried to help your teen deal with emotional regulation, but they continue to have problems, it may be time to seek professional guidance. Some teens who have experienced past trauma can have a litany of both neurological and biological factors at play that need to be addressed through therapy. For example, some teens from abusive situations have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which can generate issues with emotional regulation.  

A combination of therapeutic intervention and environmental alterations is often recommended along with medications to regulate emotions.  Residential treatment is an effective options for teenagers who struggle with emotional dysregulation contact a family advisor for more information on what treatment options are available for your child.  

Emotional Dysregulation Treatment for Teenagers

Treatment for emotional dysregulation can vary depending on the situation. However, the two constants tend to be a combination of therapeutic intervention and environmental alterations. Medications may also be used to regulate emotion in the most severe situations.

Regardless of the severity of the situation, every teen with emotional dysregulation should be properly evaluated by a mental health professional. Without some form of therapy or treatment, issues with getting a handle on emotion can impede the child’s ability to live a fulfilling life. If you are ready to seek help or need to know more, contact a family advisor now via the messenger here on the trouble teen website, give us a call, or fill out our contact form for help.

Is Your Child In Need Of An Intervention?

When everything you try fails, the answer is likely an intervention and a therapeutic residential treatment facility.

If you are not sure and would like help or more information. Please Click the Button below to speak to a family advocate and learn more about residential treatment and intervention options.