As any teenager can tell you, growing up isn’t easy. However, sometimes normal teenage problems swing out of control – whether a result of an underlying mental health issue, peer pressure, or some other factor – and become something that needs to be addressed. While raising a struggling teen may be difficult at times, there are a number of ways that you can help eliminate the issue.
When dealing with a struggling teen, the first step is to recognize the signs. A struggling teen may express their emotions in a number of different ways and as a result of a plethora of potential causes. As such, it is important not to dismiss the problem as simple “acting out”; instead, by observing the behavior of the struggling teen, it is possible to figure out the cause.
Identifying the Signs
Every struggling teen is different. One teen may adopt a rebellious attitude, while another might isolate themselves and lash out occasionally. There is no set formula: rather, there are patterns that can often be used to track the problem.
Sometimes, a struggling teen will have some sort of mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and stress among many others. If you suspect there is a deeper issue causing this behavior, it is crucial to investigate further: as with any health problem, the sooner it is caught, the easier it is to handle.
There are several general warning signs that can typically point to the existence of something more serious than merely puberty. While it goes without saying, the most glaring alarm bell is the mere fact of how long your teen has been troubled. If your child has a bad day or even week, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong; months and months of tension and difficulty, on the other hand, do.
Along with personality shifts, changes in appearance and interests are often a sign of trouble. A struggling teen who dyes their hair black doesn’t necessarily have to fall in with the “wrong” crowd – but this sort of radical change is rarely good. Long sleeves and jeans during the summer may hide self-harm scars. If your struggling teen suddenly develops a passion for the 60s, it could point to drug use. Sometimes, the most obvious signs are the most telling ones – if you think your child is being influenced by a bad group of friends, chances are that they are.
Although some rebellious behavior is to be expected with puberty, if fights escalate to becoming a daily occurrence – or if your struggling teen resorts to violence – there is a serious problem. Drastic mood swings and reckless behaviors also frequently point to the necessity of intervention. Your teen might also start being truant, or lie about their behavior. Another thing to watch out for is sudden physical shifts, such as weight loss or gain – or alterations in sleeping habits.
How Can I Help My Struggling Teen?
A struggling teen may face a wide variety of triggers. It could start at home (a result of abuse, neglect, attachment issues, parents’ martial problems, or issues with self-image) or it could start at school as a reaction to bullying, not having friends, or trouble with the coursework. Any combination of factors can tip a struggling teen over the edge, especially if a mental illness is present. In order to help your struggling teen get through this difficult time, it is useful to remember several important tips:
- Listen. Many teens are hesitant to approach their parents for help: some don’t think their parents will take them seriously, others are afraid of judgment. As such, it is crucial to open lines of communication. If your teen feels safe approaching you, they are more likely to reveal what is causing the problem.
- Stay positive. Sometimes, it can be tempting to simply order your teen to be better. While setting boundaries and abiding by them is important, it is more important to have a good attitude. Reward good behavior and don’t dwell on the bad.
- Be fair. Regardless of what the issue is, remember not to overreact. Whether it’s declining grades or signs of drug use, there is a solution. Fear only leads to resentment; instead, be supportive. Your struggling teen needs help, not chastisement.
- Build healthy patterns. A consistent sleep schedule, good eating habits, and regular exercise can alleviate many problems.
- Have fun. Being a parent doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time with your child. Find activities you both enjoy — or let your child pick the activity – and enjoy some time together. Letting your child know you’re there for them can make all the difference in the world.
If your struggling teen doesn’t get better, it may be time to consider professional help.