Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Adolescent Enthusiasm: It Can’t Be Beat

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 27, 2012

  Frankie, twenty-one, female, senior in college is elated today. She is doing well at school. She enjoys her friends. She is eating and sleeping well and by her report she has “watched it with the alcohol.” By contrast, a week ago, Frankie felt her life was in the “dumper”. She hated school. She hated her friends. She did not leave her dormitory. What difference did one week do? I am not sure. She did not like how she was feeling so she reversed her mental state very quickly, such that now she is not quite manic, but close. The beauty of seeing adolescents is to witness this rapidly shifting mood state, which means that sometimes just waiting and being patient, the adolescent pulls herself out of one mood and into another mood with the agility that only young people seem to have. Sure, I could try to take credit for Frankie’s improved mood. She saw me last week and we talked about things she could do to improve her self-regulation. I think this helped, but it also helps to have the biology along with today’s culture which allows for a roller coaster of emotion, as somehow a normal and socially acceptable experience in these adolescent years. This rapid shift in mood in an older person would be seen as strange or suspicious, but within our society, we allow it by attributing these mood swings to “normal adolescent turmoil.” Whether we as a society should or should not accept these mood swings is another question. For now, I feel like the beneficiary, as youthful enthusiasm feels like a nice experience to absorb.

2 Responses to “Adolescent Enthusiasm: It Can’t Be Beat”

  1. Shelly said

    Until what age is it considered “adolescence” with it’s inherent lows and highs? Do all young people go through these periods of sulks and quasi-manic bursts of enthusiasm? Why would you consider Frankie’s behavior simply adolescent but in an adult you would consider pathology?

    • That is the big question. The age of the end of adolescence, or the consolidation of identity, is largely determined by cultural forces along with an individual’s drive for independence. This varies from culture to culture and from individual to individual. Yes, I would say the mood swings are typical for this age period, but the degree of the mood swings varies. Our culture gives “permission” if you will to adolescents to behave in this moody way, and so they have some latitude. As people age, society becomes less forgiving. The young adult has to understand their environment and modulate their mood swings accordingly. Pathology is a fuzzy word and hence it is subject to misuse. I don’t mean to say that at twenty-one these mood swings are normal and at twenty-two they are pathology, but I do mean to say that at a certain age we hope it passes and then at a later age we want to intervene. Thanks, as always.

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