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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.
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.
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.
Teens might be tempted to experiment with new things…
Teens might be tempted to experiment with new things.Some examples may include:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
If we notice any of these signs from our teen, it might mean that they need our support:
Try spotting the behaviours of concern using this quiz. There may be more than one correct response to the questions.
With hormonal changes and life challenges (e.g. exams), it is normal to feel worried, stressed or sad at times. However, if our teen is constantly emotional or frequently having anger outbursts, it is a sign that they might be struggling emotionally. This includes frequently crying, irritability, and low mood of feelings of worthlessness.We might want to check in with our teen to find out what is causing them to feel this way, and reach out for professional support if necessary.
At this stage, friends become extremely important and are a great influence. As teens focus more on their peers, they might spend less time with their family members. However, do take note if they suddenly withdraw socially, e.g. losing interest in hanging out with close friends and people they care about or in doing things that they enjoy.We might want to trust our instincts and check in with them to see if things are alright and if they would like a listening ear. Let them know that they are not alone.
It’s perfectly normal to experience ups and downs in school, but a pattern of negative change, deterioration in functioning and sharing of moody messages can be a sign that our teen needs help.
Take any mention of suicide seriously. If our teen mentions or talks about suicide, take it seriously and seek professional help. Do not leave them alone if they are suicidal. If they are in immediate danger, call 995 or 999.
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.
Find opportunities to check in
Look for ways to check in with our teen and find the right time and moment to engage them.Ask them how their day has been and what they have been doing.We can also talk to them about their latest interests and hobbies. For example, we may want to invite them to join in a task, such as laying the table for dinner, so we can use the time to chat about their day.
Practise active listening
When our teen starts a conversation, we may wish to stop what we are doing to listen. Stay focused on the conversation and show genuine respect for what they are saying. This sends the message that we are genuinely interested in what’s going on in their life.
Observe for tell-tale signs if our teen is not keen to talk
If they prefer to keep to themselves, we may let them know that we are available for them whenever they need.In the meantime, we could observe for tell-tale signs that they may not be coping emotionally. If we are concerned, we could proactively check in with them.
Provide assurance and support
We could remind them that we are always here for them and that we are interested to know how they are feeling and what they are thinking.We can encourage them to reach out to us and let them know we are here to support them.
Respect their privacy and give them space
The desire for more privacy is a natural part of growing up as our teen is developing independence and new social interests. We could give our teen the appropriate time and space to be on their own. At the same time, we may want to balance this with ground rules such as curfews and that they should let us know whom they are going out with and where they will be.
Schedule time to spend with our teen
Take interest in what they enjoy doing and do it together. For example, we could go out for meals, or engage in sports with them. This not only shows we care about them but allows for opportunities for conversations to happen naturally.
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.
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?
We can also reach out using these tips and check out Hi #JustCheckingIn to help us navigate conversations with empathy and care.
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.
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.
Signs that our teen may be struggling emotionally
If our teen refuses to comply with reasonable rules and boundaries and experiment in risky behaviours, this might be a behaviour of concern.Some examples of risky behaviour include:
Other signs to look out for include:
Defiance or rebellion
It may indicate a bigger issue if our teen exhibits more extreme rebellious behaviour such as:
These are behaviours that go beyond the norm of teen rebellion. Pay close attention and we might want to check in with their teacher on how they are doing in school.
Moodiness and irritability
If our teen’s moodiness is constantly escalating or if they don’t seem to be able to cope in normal day-to-day situations without landing in frequent anger outbursts, this could be a potentially concerning behaviour.Also, watch out for sudden changes in behaviour such as persistent sadness, anxiety, eating or sleep problems. If this persists over 2 or more weeks, it could indicate a possible mental health struggle.If our teen mentions or talks about suicide, we should take it seriously and seek professional help. We should never leave our teen alone if they are suicidal. If our teen is in immediate danger, call 995 or 999 for help.
If our teen is struggling to fall and stay asleep or routinely sleeping all day (e.g. more than 11 hours/day), repeatedly failing to get up for school, this might be a cause for concern.
Usage of electronics
Signs of cyber addiction in our teens could include the following:
If we find our teen gaming for extended periods, it could be a form of escapism or a coping mechanism where they are withdrawing into themself. Find out what is troubling them and see how we can help.
Omitting facts or lying
If our teen is consistently lying or lies to hide risky/dangerous behaviours, it could be a concerning behaviour.
Frequent emotional or anger outbursts
This includes frequent crying, feeling irritable, low mood or a sense of worthlessness.
E.g. loss of interest in doing things they used to enjoy, hanging out with close friends or with people they care about
Deterioration in functioning
Significant sleep (either too much or too little) or appetite changes
Low mood and low energy
Signs of self-harm behaviour
E.g. burns, scratches or cuts on wrists or other body parts. Some teens may deliberately wear long-sleeved clothing even on hot days, to hide cuts or scars.
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