Help Teens Work Through Problems

The teen years present challenges for each family member. The key is learning what you can do to keep your teen’s emotions in balance.

Teens struggle with physical and emotional changes, a desire for independence from their parents, and pressure from friends to join in activities they may or may not feel comfortable with. Parents can feel overwhelmed as they try to help adolescents meet these challenges.

How can you give your child the support needed at this critical time? It helps to learn the differences between age-appropriate adolescent behavior and a troubled response that could warn of a treatable problem such as depression or an eating disorder.

Answers to these questions can help you identify symptoms of mental or emotional problems and seek treatment.

Q: What can I do to help prevent mental health problems in my teen?

A: Establish and maintain an open, loving relationship. That’s the most important step you can take to support your child through the tumultuous years ahead. Positive reinforcement will help your teen feel good about himself or herself, so offer praise along with correction.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers these suggestions for parents:

  • Establish a relationship that includes trust, honesty, and respect.

  • Allow teens to express age-appropriate independence.

  • Encourage your children to talk with you when they’re struggling, confused, or stressed.

Q: What are the warning signs of mental health problems?

A: It’s not unusual for teens to feel stressed or unhappy at times. However, a serious mental disorder, such as depression, can harm teens’ relationships, disrupt their ability to function at home or school, and even lead to suicide. Learning to recognize such a problem is vital to their well-being.

These signs and symptoms need attention:

  • Agitation

  • Gaining or losing weight

  • Trouble in school, including an unexpected drop in grades

  • Signs of depression, such as excessive isolation

  • Lack of motivation or interest in people or activities

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Destructive behaviors

  • Substance abuse

Keep an eye on the amount of time they spend on social media, as well. While there are potential benefits to social networking sites, teens on these platforms are at risk of being cyberbullied and experiencing other online aggression. In addition, some studies suggest that frequent social media use may be linked to depression and other mental health problems.

If you believe your child may be struggling with a serious problem or mental health disorder, ask him or her about it. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, and it could put your teen at risk.   

You should also talk with your teen’s doctor. He or she can provide an initial medical assessment and, if necessary, refer you to appropriate mental health organizations and professionals for counseling and treatment.

Q: What treatments help teens?

A: Depending on the disorder and its severity, your child may be treated successfully with one or more psychotherapies or a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Here are some effective therapies:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy aims to help teens replace harmful thought patterns with positive feelings.

  • Family therapy helps parents, teens, and siblings function more positively.

  • Group therapy brings several teens together with a therapist to promote positive interactions and increase understanding of mental illness.

Teens experiment with different hairstyles, clothing, friends, and activities that define their personality. Supporting your kids through these years can be a challenge. Make sure they know that you love them and you’re open to helping them solve any problem that comes along.

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