Parents raising their teens can often seem like the only reality is constant changes. One minute they want to go shopping with you, then turn around and do not want to be seen with you. What’s a parent to do?
Being able to tell the difference between average teen behavior and signs to look out for can be difficult and challenging. Parents are often stuck between trying to know the difference between a-typical teen conduct or parents overreacting. Sadly, statistics have shown that suicide and anxiety among children and teens are on the rise.
According to Dana Dorfman, PhD., adolescence is a very difficult period of development which makes it hard to decide if issues are normal or problematic. Dorfman has counseled children and parents for over 25 years and believes this is a judgment call on the part of the parents.
Being able to read specific signs when parenting teens is understanding what these signs mean. Understanding these signs can help give parents guidance in order to take the necessary steps. Here are a few signs you, as a parent, should look out for:
A Change in Your Teen’s Sleep Patterns:
Sleep patterns among teens are very different from adults. According to Dr. Dorfman, teens, by nature, want to stay up later at night and sleep longer in the morning. If your teen wants to stay up really late then sleep half the day away, it could be a sign of some serious issues including anxiety, insomnia, depression, and substance abuse.
A Lack of Interest in Activities:
All students will struggle in class from time to time and it’s perfectly normal for your teen to switch from sports to get involved in the drama club. On the other hand, if your teen becomes withdrawn or starts cutting class, it could be a sign of several issues including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, suicide, undiagnosed ADHD, or bullying.
ADHD, originally known as ADD, will leave your teen feeling forgetful, overwhelmed, disorganized and other issues. Dr. Dorfman knows that kids can compensate academically from these issues but the more demanding their classes become, ADHD can interfere.
If your teen smells of alcohol or you find pills in their belongings, they could have a problem with substance abuse. The problem parents will face is determining if their child is addicted to something which takes a great deal of conversation.
According to Janice Morgan, a mental health awareness and substance abuse recovery advocate who wrote her memoir about her child’s struggle with bipolar disorder and addiction. She knows that teens are always trying new stuff but if you notice they are doing this continually, that could be a dangerous sign.
Discovering if Your Teen is Self-Harming:
Teens that have started harming themselves will go out of their way to hide all signs such as wearing long-sleeve shirts in hot weather to hide cuts. Dr. Dorfman said this can be confusing to determine if your teen is self-harming vs attempted suicide.
These cuts are not usually from attempted suicide as much as self-harming. In most cases, there are mood regulation issues that are interfering with normal thought.
Out of Control Anger:
Everyone becomes angry from time to time and teens are no exception. That said it can be a very big issue if their anger turns violent. Even though most people learn to control their tempers. but those who have really strong impulses find it very difficult to control. You might want to look into anger management groups, a behavioral health center, or a pediatrician to get some guidance.
What should you do if you notice some serious signs?
Talk to Your Teen Calmly & Rationally:
Never go on the attack or make accusations that will put your teen on the defense. Instead, let them know you are concerned not passing judgment. On top of that, you must be willing and able to listen! You need to get to a place where you understand and can see the whole picture. You might think you have all the answers but you have no idea what their world is like until you ask them.
As an example, if your teen is smoking and tells you he or she is doing so for relaxation, you, as the parent, might suggest healthier alternatives for relieving stress or maybe contact a therapist. Doing so is not saying you will let it slide. You can impose some consequences such as grounding them for a certain period of time.
Look for Help From Other Adults in Your Teen’s Life:
If your teen will not open up and talk with you, consider reaching their coach or a teacher to help you out. This could be a difficult avenue as the other adult probably wants to remain trustful in the eyes of the teen.
It might take a balancing act by keeping the trust of the teen while helping out the parent. D. Dorfman believes parents should let their teens know that they do not need intimate details but you should let them know you want to know if they are harming themselves or someone else.
Reach for Professional Help:
Both Dr. Dorfman and Morgan agree that if the situation does not improve, it’s time to seek out professional help from a licensed therapist. If you feel your teen is in harm’s way or going to harm someone else, you must contact someone immediately.
Make sure your teen understands that the therapist is only there to help. You want your teen to remain comfortable, and the sooner you understand what’s going on, the sooner you will be able to stop a situation from becoming worse.