“I’M NOT OK!” – CHANGES IN TEENS
Most of us remember the turbulence of our teenage years. Yet, by the time our children become teenagers, we may forget our own difficulties of growing up. As a parent, how can you help your teen through the many changes they are experiencing?
Adolescence is period of intense adjustment. Changes in teens are often associated with an overwhelming sense of not being ok. The physical changes rapidly knock teens from their childhoods in a world where their bodies and minds work completely differently. Teens become obsessed with self. They are trying to work out what these changes mean and experiment with different versions of self. This self-obsession can challenge and complicate existing relationships, within the family and beyond. As a psychologist who works with teens and young adults, as well as my past experience as a high school teacher and university lecturer, I have walked with many teens on their journey towards discovering who they are as young adults. While this is a journey we all walk, it is necessary for us to really understand how teens can be “not ok” and how we can be there for them.
What is happening to my teen?
There are many reasons that make the adolescence period a particularly tough adjustment. Teens often experience difficulties, like troubles with friends, family issues, or problems at school. While we all have different ways of coping, teens tend to either withdraw or lash out when they are struggling. The silent teen is often hiding feelings of sadness, anger or emptiness. The attacking teen lets the world know they are not ok through acting out. As teen changes are happening in their bodies and mind during this time, it can be really hard to know when it’s necessary to intervene and get help.
What is “normal” and what is not?
If you have noticed any marked change in the mood and behaviour of your teen, this is big sign that they are not ok. Generally, teens who need help may seem sad, have angry outbursts, withdraw from friends or family, and refuse to discuss what is wrong. Parents may also notice changes in habits, such as sleep and eating patterns or drug and alcohol use. Any drop in school marks might also suggest that your teen is experiencing difficulties and needs help. It is also really easy for teens to get stuck in not being ok due to their limited coping and problem solving skills.
How can you help?
As parents, we can be important participants on our teen’s journey into adulthood. We can miss that our teen is not ok as the silence can mask what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes, we know that our teen is not ok as they scream at us, lock themselves in their rooms, or break rules. By starting the conversation with an acknowledgement that things are different, as opposed to something is wrong with them, can be an important first step. This is true for all teens: they are changing and so our relationship with them must change.