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MindSG

Explore our suite of self-care tools and resources to help you better understand and manage your mental health.

Spot the early signs

As our child enters adolescence, we can expect some changes in their behaviour. However, not all changes are normal and some of them might be signs that they are struggling emotionally. We can try to understand what’s typical of teen behaviour and what’s not, so as to provide them the support they need.


What is emotional health?

Advice for parents of teenagers and teenage parenting tips

As parents, we always have our teen’s best interests at heart. We prepare them for adulthood by nurturing their social skills, helping them navigate the challenges of adolescence, and providing support for their emotional health and well-being.

Emotional health is an important part of mental health. Having good emotional health does not mean one is always happy; emotionally healthy people experience a variety of emotions too. However, they are able to cope with life’s challenges, keep problems in perspective, feel good about themselves and have good relationships.

Let’s read on to learn to identify the warning signs that our teen’s emotional health may be suffering and how we can help.

Learn more children's mental health and emotional health of teenagers

Understand what’s normal and
what’s not of teen behaviour

As our teen enters adolescence, many of them might experience some change in behaviour as they try to define their new identity. At this stage, their friends also become extremely important and have a great influence over them.

As our teen focuses more on their peers, it might become common for them to spend less time with us. This might leave us feeling a little hurt but it doesn’t mean that they don’t need our support and love.

However, if the changes are more unusual and extreme, it might be a tell-tale sign that our teen is struggling emotionally.

Typical teen behaviour
Experimentation

Teens might be tempted to experiment with new things…

Teens might be tempted to experiment with new things.

Some examples may include:

  • Trying new experiences like thrill rides (e.g. bungy jump)
  • Trying new looks to keep up with fashion trends
  • Playing new games to keep up with social trends
  • Dating around
  • Trying different diet fads
Typical teen behaviour
Understanding rebellious teenagers
Defiance or rebellion

Teens can be more rebellious at this stage and refuse to take...

Teens can be more rebellious at this stage and refuse to take instructions like they used to. Some defiance is normal as teens increasingly seek independence.

Some examples may include:

  • Wanting to go out with their friends
  • Having differing opinions with parents which might lead to disagreements
Typical teen behaviour
Moodiness and irritability

Hormones and developmental changes during puberty often...

Hormones and developmental changes during puberty often mean that our teen might experience mood swings and display irritable behaviour from time to time.

Typical teen behaviour
Sleep habits

Teens have the tendency to sleep later due to various factors...

Teens have the tendency to sleep later due to various factors, including changes to biological clock during puberty.

Typical teen behaviour
Usage of electronics

Most teens would have access to smartphones or electronic...

Most teens would have access to smartphones or electronic devices such as tablets, personal computers etc.

It is common for teens to use social media or play online games to interact with their friends, and to learn more about their interests— these can have a positive impact on their well-being.

Typical teen behaviour
Omitting facts or lying

Most teens value privacy and are somewhat secretive about...

Most teens value privacy and are somewhat secretive about what they are doing.

It is also normal for them to want to make their own day-to-day decisions without parental input, which may be why some teens choose to occasionally keep things from us.

Signs and symptoms that our teen may be struggling emotionally

If we notice any of these signs from our teen, it might mean that they need our support:

Frequent emotional or anger outbursts

Frequent emotional or anger outbursts

Social withdrawal

Social withdrawal

Deterioration in functioning

Deterioration in functioning

Significant sleep or appetite changes

Significant sleep or appetite changes

Low mood and low energy

Low mood and low energy

Quiz: Understanding behaviours of concern

Try spotting the behaviours of concern using this quiz. There may be more than one correct response to the questions.

  • Which of the following mood changes is/are warning sign(s)?
  • Which of the following is/are sign(s) that a teen is withdrawing socially?
  • Which of the following is/are behaviour of concern(s)?
  • Which of the following may be sign(s) of emotional struggle?

How can we support our  teen emotionally?

As we grow with our teen, parents play an important role in showing them life skills, role-modelling and demonstrating to them coping, problem solving and help-seeking skills. Here are some tips that can help foster a stronger relationship with our teen.

Practising these tips on a regular basis can help us stay close, maintain open communication and a positive relationship with our teen, this way they are more likely to share with us when they are facing difficulties. It also makes it easier to notice warning signs when they are acting differently or struggling emotionally.

What can I do if my teen is struggling emotionally?

It is common for us to feel angry or at a loss when we see our teen struggling, especially if our teen has emotional outbursts or withdraws socially. Stay calm and think of a way to get our teen to share what is affecting them. These strategies might help our teen to start talking:

What can I do?

  • Share our concern and use open-ended questions to ask our teen to share whether a specific incident led to the distress.
  • As a start, we may approach them by stating our observation.

Try saying:

“I noticed that something seems to be troubling you. What happened?”

What can I do?

  • Practice active listening and show acceptance. Avoid judging and listen attentively to what our teen is saying.
  • Encourage our teen to describe how they are feeling.

Try saying:

“I had no idea things were so bad for you, how are you feeling now?”
Mental health activities for children and teens include getting them to open up and share

What can I do?

  • Be patient and let our teen know that we are here for them. Sometimes, it can be difficult for them to open up.
  • It may be better if we give them space and reassure them that they can reach out to us anytime they need to.
  • We could let them know that they can text or write a letter/note based on their preferred communication method.

Try saying:

“Things must be really hard for you. I want you to know that I’m here for you whenever you need help.”

What can I do?

  • Avoid saying things that may seem to belittle what they are going through. Those responses downplay their pain.

Avoid saying:

“I think you’re overreacting.”

What can I do?

  • After gaining a better understanding of the issue(s), it is important for us to offer our teen emotional support.
  • Remind them that we love them no matter what and that we care.

Try saying:

“You are not alone, I am here to help you now that I understand how bad things really are for you” and ask ‘what can I do to help?’.

We can also reach out using these tips and check out Hi #JustCheckingIn to help us navigate conversations with empathy and care.

When should we seek professional help?

Youth counselling and other professional mental health services

When we observe our teen exhibiting the signs of distress more intensely, we could consider seeking professional support.

Just like how we would see a doctor when physically unwell, it is equally important to seek help from mental health professionals when in distress. Help-seeking is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of resilience and courage.

If our teen feels consistently down for 2 weeks or more, and if their mood has significantly impacted their day-to-day functioning, we may want to bring them to a counsellor or General Practitioner.

We may also choose to approach the School Counsellor if our teen is schooling. The School Counsellor is able to make referrals to mental health professionals at a subsidised rate.

For more mental health resources and services, we can find the help we need via CHAT or Belle, the Beyond the Label helpbot.

If we notice that our teen has engaged in self-harm behaviour (e.g. cutting themself on any parts of the body) or has thoughts about suicide, it is important to take it seriously and seek professional help for our teen.

Self-care matters too

It might be very worrying to know that our teen is struggling, but as we care for our teen and juggle our own life demands, it is important that we also care for ourselves to avoid burnout. Visit here to learn tips on how we can better manage our emotions and care for ourselves.

We can consider enlisting help from other adults or family members that our teen trusts, and work with our teen’s teachers and school counsellors to support them.

If at any time we feel that we need emotional or psychological support and would like to speak to someone for further advice or information, please remember, it’s OKAY to reach out. Here are also some helplines that are available for us to reach out.


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