How do I deal with my teen?

Guest post by Jennifer Evans, a licensed mental health counselor at DCF who specializes in child trauma. Have questions for Jennifer? If you think your child is showing signs of needing more help, visit our map of local children’s mental health professional s in your area.

You know teens will be teens, but what exactly does that mean and how can we let them have freedom while keeping them safe? Here are some answers to common questions I’ve heard from parents:

How can help my teen avoid peer pressure?

Teens are biologically driven to want to engage in high risk activities and be around their peers.

Failing grades, not sleeping or eating and engaging in reckless behaviors that could be life threatening are just a few warning signs to look for.

It is important to talk with them, but it can be hard. Although teens are becoming independent, an invisible string should still keep them grounded and able to be pulled back in when needed.  The best way is to have an open dialogue with your teenager.

Establishing expectations with your teen is another key in maintaining a connection in this time where they crave independence and freedom. It should be clear that they will check in and call when plans change. Know WHO they are hanging out with, WHAT they will be doing, WHERE they are going, and WHEN they will be home. Asking  WHY will create defensiveness in your teen and disrupt the whole process, so stick to the other 4 W’s.

Is my teen depressed?

Mood changes, crying, sadness, happiness, joy, excitement, and anger are emotions to be expected from teens on a daily basis. The stresses from hormonal changes, social connections, increasing responsibilities make this a very trying time. Parents should follow up with their child and ask more direct questions if these emotions or behaviors are severe, persistent and lasting longer than two weeks.

If the child mentions feeling hopeless, parents should talk to the child immediately to understand if they feel hopeless like it will never get better or do they feel helpless they can’t change the situation.  If a child mentions anything resembling thoughts of suicide or hopelessness, seek immediate help.

Until now, there may have been little to be concerned about with your child and this could be the first time you have a conversation about your adolescent’s feelings and emotions.  Say things like, “I notice you spending more time alone and not hanging out with your friends like you use to, it can be difficult to understand why we feel the way we do,  I am here to listen.”

How can I protect my teen from bullying?

With social media and technology, teens are never very far away from their social environment.  That means what used to happen for only a few hours during the day can now be expanded to encompass their entire life.  Often there is a lot of shame and embarrassment that goes along with bullying, this helps the bully maintain control and helps perpetuate the victimization.

Staying aware of your child’s social connections is important.  If your child is not showing signs of social support systems with anyone, this should be addressed.

Showing support and keeping a positive social connection for a child being bullied is very important. It can be overwhelming to feel so isolated because adolescence is a time to be joining in peer groups.  Try engaging your teenager in new activities, maybe even away from their surroundings, to let them explore.

If a child mentions they feel like there is no point, gives away things that are important to them, or lacks future orientation – be direct and ask them if they are thinking of harming themselves or others.  This is a scary question to ask, and a scary response to hear, but facing it and providing support prior is an easier feat then after.

Is my teen a wallflower?

Teens are going through a lot of changes.  It is common for teens to be scared, hesitant or even avoid taking on some of their new milestones (going to dances, starting new schools, puberty, dating, etc).  All of these are typical ways teens express themselves as they deal with stress.

When your child begins having ritualistic behaviors (checking, counting, compulsive behaviors), or the anxiety begins to interfere with their daily activities (not going to school, not eating, sleeping, grades are being affected) a professional should be consulted.

For families starting a dialogue with their kids, begin with quick statements to let them know you are aware and responsive to their needs.

Using a universal validating statement related to their personal experience will help the child not feel alone and spark interest for follow up conversation:

“I notice you are acting differently, I know this time in your life can be very difficult and stressful and it can be hard to feel like anyone will understand; I want you to know I will always make time to be here for you if you need,”

“I hear you saying things are stressful right now, it is common to feel overwhelmed or frustrated, talking to someone can sometimes be helpful.”

It is important for the parent to continue to support their willingness to be open while validating their experience as they further engage:

“I can hear how important this is to you, thank you for sharing this with me.”

If you think your child is showing signs of needing more help, visit our map of local children’s mental health professional s in your area. 

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