As your teen grows and develops they are experiencing a range of emotions and physical changes. They are looking for ways to express themselves—from bold outfit choices, hobbies, friend groups, and behaviors. The teen years can be a challenging time for mental health.
It is completely normal for your teen to be moody or disrespectful as they go through all of the brain development and body changes of puberty. They might be short-tempered or defiant as they naturally begin to seek more privacy and independence. They may also be aggressive or violent in behavior.
As a parent or caregiver, all of these changes can be difficult to navigate. You likely will want to punish the bad behavior but also struggle with how to help your teen adjust. The best thing you can do is provide them with emotional support, guidance, and boundaries. Teach your teen how to form positive relationships with others.
Supporting Your Teen’s Mental Health
Challenging behaviors and moodiness are a normal part of being a teenager but that doesn’t mean your teenager can’t benefit from some mental health support. Connecting your teen with a counselor or therapist can help give them a safe space to turn when faced with challenging situations. I know this can be difficult to accept as a parent who wants to be that safe space for their teen but, let’s be honest, our teens aren’t as open to sharing with parents as they are to a neutral third party. A counselor or therapist can help to provide your teen with valuable life-long tools for when they are feeling anxious, depressed, angry, or sad.
Signs your teen may need some extra support can include:
- Feelings of sadness, anxiety, frustration that are continuous, lasting more than a few days
- Frequent bouts of violent behavior
- Withdrawing from all social interactions
- No longer enjoying participating in activities they once enjoyed
Causes of Your Teen’s Challenging Behavior
There are a number of reasons why your teen may be acting the way he/she/they is. As the teenage brain develops they may feel emotions very intensely, and often they do not have adequate coping tools to deal with those feelings. Teens can often be very sensitive, self-conscious, and experience a wide range of overwhelming emotions causing them to be argumentative or disrespectful towards others.
The frontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in self-control, is not fully developed until adults are in their 20s. This reality causes teens to have trouble with self-management and decision-making. Often times challenging behavior from a teen can be the result of stressful events that are coming up or recently passed, for example fighting with a friend, worrying about a test, or concern that they don’t look the right way.
When trying to figure out why your teen may be struggling, the first step is to consider their current situation. What do you know about what is going on in their life currently? How might current events be impacting them? Talk to your teen. Start a conversation about what is going on with them and why they may be feeling the way they are.
Other reasons for your teen’s behavior are:
1.) Lack of Sleep —Sleep is so important for the growing, changing teen. There is so much going on in their brain and so much information for them to process. Sleep is the number one way for them to keep their mental health in check. If your teen isn’t getting enough sleep, it may be time to cut out activities, shut off electronics early, or schedule homework time earlier in the day.
2.) Poor Diet — Healthy body, healthy mind. It makes sense if you think about it. The foods we put into our bodies affect the overall way we feel and process information. We are better at being more level-headed and calm when our blood sugar is stable. Make sure your teen has healthy snack options and is eating at least three balanced meals a day.
3.) Too Much Screen Time — All that time on screens can make your teen irritable and short-tempered. Sitting stationary isn’t good for the body and all that blue light isn’t good for your brain or your eyes. Screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day.
4.) Mental Health — If your teen is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns there is no wonder why your teen may not be behaving their best. Mental health struggles do not feel good. Your teen likely just wants to feel better but isn’t sure how to get there. They are frustrated, sad, scared, lonely, you name it. They need help but they might be afraid to ask or unable to identify the need.
How You Can Help Your Teen
The best thing you can do for your teen is to be there for them, even if they aren’t making it easy. Spend time with them, listen to them without judgment (you can scream in the bathroom or vent to a friend later), and encourage them to make healthy decisions.
Directing your teen to a mental health professional can be a great first step towards helping them feel better and improving your relationship.
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