Warning Signs: When should you be concerned about your teen’s behavior?
When we have babies, the first year is so focused on growth and milestones. We worry about schedules for sleeping and eating. Developmental toys and tummy time. Most moms are so hyper focused on this all consuming developmental year of life. Then we move into talking and potty training. Learning to share, make friends and then reading and writing and going off to school. Although these years are trying and exhausting, we are more mentally aware that our child is learning and we have more patience as they figure it out. As a parent of a 7 and 4 year old, I have noticed that the older my girls get, the less consumed my thoughts are with their development. We have conquered the major steps with potty training and starting preschool. The oldest is a beautiful reader, friend, budding athlete and bike rider. So, in some ways, I have relaxed and stopped paying attention to the small changes that occur like I did in the early days.
After years of counseling adolescents, I have also noticed how little parents talk about the development of their tweens and teens. Of course we talk about hormones and the body and mood changes that come with puberty. Those are obvious (and SCARY). But I think we often bypass how these physical and mental changes are actually impacting the teen and how you do parenting during these formative years. We become task oriented with things we can check off a list. They go to school, turn in their homework, make acceptable grades, etc. In the throws of managing the daily routine, you may miss the emotional struggles your teen is having in this developmental stage and assume it is just bad behavior or defiance. Webster’s Dictionary defines an adolescent as a young person developing into an adult. So, in essence, you have a child that is slowly acquiring the knowledge, skills, lessons and experiences along the way that will eventually develop them into an adult. As they are acquiring the skills they need to become adults, we need to under that this is a work in progress.
Emotional and mental changes in adolescence
During the adolescent years, teens can feel overwhelmed by all of their new feelings, emotions,
experiences and responsibilities.
You may find your teen struggling with:
• Identity issues
• Intense peer pressure
• Strong desire to fit into their social groups
Adolescents are also more likely to be impulsive in their decision making without thinking through the consequences of their choices.They often struggle with feeling stuck between wanting independence and needing guidance. You may expect things of them now that they aren’t quite mature enough for. Their thought process and common sense may not have caught up with their physical growth.
Impact of technology
Your teen is also most likely to feeling impacts of social media and smart phone use. The use of technology has greatly impacted how your teenager communicates with their peers and family members. The boundaries with overexposing every thought and moment of their day and the desire for instant admiration and affirmation are at the forefront of this issue. However, teens may still struggle with communicating their feelings and thoughts verbally and in person. This may leave you feeling that your adolescent is disengaged from the family which can lead to mistrust and frustration.
Should you be concerned?
Because this is a process of development, the odd, quirky behaviors are normal. Some mood swings and outbursts are part of their internal struggle in the transition from kid to adult. This is all part of the process. However, if their mood or behavior changes are more intense than these normal adolescent adjustments and last more than 3 months, there may be things that need to be addressed at a deeper level
Warning Signs: Is this a “big deal”?
Changes in Mood or Behavior
• Decreased enjoyment in most aspects of their life
• Hostile relationship with parents
• Poor grades in school
• Loneliness with no desire to engage in any social interaction
• Does not have at least one close friend
• Has lost a sense of hope or dreaming for future plans
• Chronic physical complaints
• Persistent headaches
• Stomach aches
• Sleep disturbances
• Changes in appetite
Teenagers will be unable to get relief from these symptoms. Sometimes, teens will seek relief from these symptom by using food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or caffeine as aids.
Talking with someone can help.
If you have concerns because your teen is experiencing any of these symptoms, talking with a counselor can help your teen begin healing and learning ways to experience healthy relief from their feelings of anxiety or depression. If you are unsure if what your teen is experiencing is temporary or more chronic, a counselor can also help guide you through this developmental stage to gain better insight and communication within the family. Your teen may benefit from being able to openly talk with an outside voice and listening ear as a resource through this time. If you have a good relationship with your teen, but still have some concerns with moods or difficulty with adjusting to life changes, counseling can help your teen work through these issues.
Kelsey Dennis, LCSW