Therapy
Parenting

Are Your Teenager’s Struggles Normal… Or Something Else?

Feb 7, 2024
4
min

Not to sound pessimistic, but navigating teenager-dom can be… challenging.

Raising children successfully to the teenage stage is a bit like cooking a complicated recipe from scratch without being able to taste it along the way. You just never really know if you’re getting it right. You keep your fingers crossed that you’re doing your best, you ask for help when you need it… and then wait it out to see if you’ve added the right ingredients. Not enough truffle oil? Can’t remember how to fold in the cheese?

Sometimes It Takes a Village to Make a Soufflé

In “normal” times it’s common to need a little assistance, but with our current state of everyday affairs being unpredictable, unstable, and constantly changing, the responsibility of keeping everyone safe and thriving becomes So. Much. Harder.

A simple overview and guide to help you help your teen may make the challenge a little easier. Knowing the warning signs of mental distress, feeling confident talking about them, and getting your hands on some resources can help you feel better equipped.

Concerning Behaviors

Unusual behavior often slips by. Teenagers are learning, growing, and evolving by the minute. They can change their personalities, their likes, and their style as often as they change who their TikTok favorites are. It helps to be on the lookout for these behavior changes:

  • Having lower or higher energy levels
  • Spending more time alone or avoiding friends/family
  • Losing interest in social activities/things they used to enjoy
  • Exercising or dieting excessively/developing a fear of gaining weight

Sudden mood changes can also be a sign of something deeper. It’s good to be aware of these more subtle signs:

  • Appearing sad or withdrawing
  • Sleeping throughout the day, sleeping too much or too little
  • Having severe mood swings or drastic changes in demeanor
  • Experiencing overwhelming fear, sometimes with a racing heart

If your teen is in full on distress, they may even begin showing more overtly concerning behaviors, such as:

  • Engaging in things that are destructive or risky, either alone or with friends
  • Using drugs or alcohol repeatedly
  • Self-harming, such as cutting or burning the skin
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Ways to Communicate Concerns

If you’re noticing any of these behaviors, it’s best to address them with honesty, empathy, and straightforwardness.

Ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the answers.

Pick a safe, comfortable time and place. Speak in a straightforward manner and pay attention to your child’s verbal and nonverbal answers. Slow down or back up if your child appears distressed or agitated.

Try asking:

  • Can you tell me how you’re feeling?
  • Have you had feelings like this before?
  • How can we help you feel better?
  • I’m concerned about your safety — can you tell me if you’ve had thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else?

Your child may be hesitant, or want to communicate their worries with someone other than you. This is normal, and still a good sign.

Try asking:

  • Do you feel like talking to someone else about how you’re feeling?
  • Is there another adult you can think of that you’d like to talk to?
  • Let’s talk to a counselor or therapist about your worries, ok?

Listening openly and allowing your child to communicate their feelings and fears without fear of judgment builds trust and connection.

Instant Hack: Help Your Child Have Important Numbers Ready

Saving emergency numbers in their cell phones is another way for your child to have help and prevention at their fingertips. You can help/encourage your child to add the following to their contacts:

  • Phone number of a trusted friend or family member
  • Crisis Text Line: 741741
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273-TALK (8255)
  • Local police department non-emergency number

The Village: Mental Health Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Tava Health has counseling services available for teens age 13+. If your employer sponsors your access to Tava health, log in or sign up to see if therapy for your teen is also covered.

You can also talk to your child’s doctor or school counselor to see if they recommend further evaluation. Assistance is also available on websites such as MentalHealth.gov, the National Institute of Mental Health, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Children are resilient, and no caregiver is perfect. At Tava Health, we believe that finding a path forward is the first step toward better mental health.

We’re part of your village. Please reach out to us at care.tavahealth.com or support@tavahealth.com if we can be of help.

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