Storm And Stress: the Turbulence of Adolescence

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What is Storm and Stress Theory?

The Storm and stress theory was first developed by psychologist G. Stanley Hall in the beginning of the twentieth century. According to Hall, most adolescents go through a period of "storm and stress" as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. This may result in conflicts with parents and authority figures, mood disruptions, and risk-taking behaviors.

Hall's storm and stress theory had a significant influence on both psychological practice and popular culture that can still be felt today. Many people still consider the teenage years to be a time of turmoil, and often dismiss the concerns of adolescents and young people more generally as simply a phase. Parents can even project expectations of bad behavior onto their teenage children, making for a stormy time regardless of their children's disposition.

In recent years, some psychologists have argued that storm and stress theory is only partially correct, and that many adolescents have a relatively stable, conflict free experience of young adult life. Nevertheless, the theory of still incredibly influential today, and has had a lasting impact in a variety of different fields.

Reasons for Storm and Stress in Adolescence

Is Your Teen Experiencing Mood Fluctuations?

Storm and stress can occur in teenagers for a variety of reasons. Teenagers are often dealing with elevated hormones, changes at school and in their personal lives, an increased sense of independence, and additional stressors about the future. While everyone is different, there are a few common causes of adolescent turbulence.

Physical Changes

During the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents experience a wide variety of physical changes. These can involve forming new connections in the brain and elevated levels of hormones as teenagers mature both mentally and physically. These changes can be confusing or unexpected, and can cause more sensitive emotional reactions, anger, and frustration.

Environmental Changes

While young people are growing and changing physically, they're also experiencing many things for the first time, including challenging classes, new social bonds, greater responsibility, and more hectic schedules. They may be in the process of forming close friend groups, or experiencing romantic relationships for the first time. They may also be under intense pressure to perform in school, sports, or other areas of life. During adolescence, young people are often also forced to shoulder new responsibilities, whether that means working after school, taking care of family members, or helping to support themselves or their families. Adolescence can also exacerbate already stressful situations, like financial uncertainty, social anxiety, or unhealthy relationships.

Increased Independence

As they leave childhood and enter adulthood, many young people form new opinions and ideas about the world. They also develop their own particular preferences, wants, and desires that are separate from the wants and needs of family or friends. This newfound independence can often result in conflict, particularly when teenagers' wants and needs are suddenly at odds with the wants and needs of those around them. Teenagers may also become aware for the first time of injustice, hypocrisy, and oppression in the world at large.

Symptoms of Storm and Stress and Adolescence

Although everyone experiences adolescence differently, there are a few common symptoms that many teenagers go through as they grow and mature. Conflict and turbulence during adolescence is normal and healthy, and usually isn't a sign of anything more serious. If you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health during adolescence, it's always a good idea to seek the advice of a medical professional in order to determine if anything else is wrong.

Conflict with Parents

Conflict with parents is one of the most common side effects of storm and stress during adolescence. Young people are often more emotionally sensitive and are under a lot more stress than they were as children, resulting in conflict with family members, including parents. Adolescents may also develop their own independent views of what they want for themselves and their future. These views can often be a source of conflict when parents have different hopes or expectations for their child.

Teenagers also have to navigate being subject to many of the same rules and restrictions that they had as children, despite their newfound independence and ideas about the world. They may yearn for change, freedom, and new experiences, while their parents want to protect and shelter their children from the world. Teenagers may feel as if they're already adults, while parents may feel as if they're still protecting their children. Ultimately, conflicts with parents usually lessen over time, as teenagers gain increased independence and move out on their own into the world.

Mood Disruptions

During adolescence, young people often experience a rush of different hormones as they grow and mature both physically and intellectually. These hormones can cause emotional sensitivity, outburst, and negative moods. Young people may feel angry, embarrassed, or overwhelmed more often than usual. They may also struggle to deal with insensitive peers, family members, or friends during a time in which they are particularly sensitive.

While there might be a caricature of teenagers turning into angry, irrational people, the reality is much more nuanced. Teenagers do experience mood disruptions and may be especially sensitive or moody at times. Nevertheless, they're often expressing a normal reaction to new experiences, responsibilities, and realizations about the world. Moody teenagers may be a stereotype for good reason, but young people are for the most part still capable of making rational decisions about themselves and the world.


Another common symptom of storm and stress are risk-taking behaviors. Teenagers may be exposed for the first time to risky temptations like alcohol and drugs, and may experiment unwisely with substances without knowing how it will affect them. In addition, many teenagers become sexually active for the first time, and run the risk of having unprotected sex.

Risky behaviors outside of sex, drugs, and alcohol may include unsafe driving, acts of physical daring, and other risky behavior instigated by peers. They can also include poor performance in school, risky social interactions, or other unusual or unexpected behaviors.

Criticism of Storm and Stress

While the storm and stress theory remains influential, some psychologists argue that not every adolescent goes through such a stormy and disruptive phase. Many people have peaceable teenage years and don't cause much disruption.

Contemporary psychologists often call for a modified approach to storm and stress theory, which emphasizes that although many young people experience a turbulent adolescence, many others have the opposite experience. It ultimately depends on an individual's temperament, external circumstances, and experiences throughout adolescence and young adulthood.

The stereotype of a moody, conflict-prone teenager does have some truth to it, but the teenage years aren't an unavoidable sentence of irrational, unpredictable behavior. Young people may experience slightly disrupted moods, new conflicts, and new potentially risky experiences, but they usually emerge into adulthood relatively unscathed.

Ways to Support Adolescents

If your child or someone you know is entering into their teenage years, you may be wondering about the best way to support them through what can be a difficult time. Teenagers can be subject to all kinds of new personal and school-related stressors, all while trying to navigate the new and challenging world of young adult life.

To support the young person in your life, try offering up a supportive, conflict-free environment in which they are free to express themselves and their concerns about the world. While you might not always agree with them or their behaviors, it's important to be able to empathize with them and engage with their concerns and criticisms.

It's also a good idea to make sure that teenagers have a system of support outside of their parents and immediate family members. This could mean a member of the extended family, a neighbor, mentor, or older friend. These support figures can provide a helpful perspective on any conflicts that may arise during adolescence, and can provide valuable advice to young people outside of the typical parent-child relationship.

Ways to Cope with Adolescence

If you're struggling during your teenage years, the good news is that you're not alone. Many people experience times of turbulence, conflict, stress, and doubt during adolescence. Since you're experiencing many things for the first time, it can be disorienting and overwhelming, especially when you feel constrained and hemmed in by the authority figures in your life.

Is Your Teen Experiencing Mood Fluctuations?

If you're looking for advice to help you navigate young adulthood, or simply need someone to talk to, BetterHelp has a wide array of online therapy services to help you overcome challenges, regulate your emotions, and manage your mental health. In addition, you can share personal thoughts and issues with your therapist that you might have trouble communicating to your parents, family, or even close friends. If you're considering therapy, BetterHelp could be a great choice for you. Get in touch with us today to learn more!

Other Commonly Asked Questions

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