Adolescence is a difficult time for many teenagers and their families. During these years, you might be surprised to see behaviors that you hadn’t seen before from your child. He or she might slam doors, roll his or her eyes, and refuse to talk about matters that you deem important. Unfortunately, these can be par for the course when dealing with a completely normal (albeit frustrating) teenager. If your teen is extremely disrespectful, using alcohol or drugs, dealing with mental illness, or having serious behavioral disturbances, however, those are signs that you are dealing with something far more severe than run-of-the-mill teenage angst. Here are some things you can do to reduce your stress and repair your relationship with your troubled teen.
1. Seek Professional Help
If you are worried about your teen’s behavior or mental health, this is not something that you will be able to solve on your own. It’s vital that you seek professional help as soon as you can. During the teen years, many conditions can seem worse than they would be if they affected an adult, due to hormone fluctuations and the general difficulty of transitioning from a child to an adult. At the same time, mental illnesses, addictions, and behavioral disturbances can be more easily treated during the teen years, simply because they’re not usually as deeply rooted as they can be after years or decades pass.
Start with your teen’s pediatrician or family doctor in most cases. If he or she already has a mental health care specialist, then you can contact that professional. If you believe that your child is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room.
2. Look for the Forest Through the Trees
It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of your teen’s misbehavior. A missed curfew here and a night of drinking there can lead to a lot of anger and frustration on your part. This is normal, but it’s helpful to consider where these behaviors are coming from. Is it simple teenage rebellion, or is there a pattern forming? Often, conditions like depression, anxiety, addictions and other types of mental health disorders can present themselves as poor behavior, impulse control, and other actions that can cause you to want to throw your hands up in the air.
While occasional misbehavior can often be chalked up to normal boundary-pushing, a pattern of plummeting grades, anger, and sudden changes in personality should be closely investigated.
3. Be Available to Listen
Your troubled teen might be trying to tell you that something is amiss not only by his or her behavior, but also with words. While most parents of teens are busy juggling work, driving kids here and there, household duties, and other responsibilities, it’s vital that you carve out time to spend with your teenager. One-on-one time can open up the door for conversations that might not happen during dinner or in the few minutes that you’re rushing around together in the morning before work and school. Have a standing date each week to do something with your teenager, even if it’s just running errands on Saturday morning. Also, if your teen wants or needs to talk, try to set aside your other obligations for a while to allow that to happen. Take your teen’s concerns seriously and keep the lines of communication open. Let him or her know that you’re available.
4. Establish Rules, Boundaries, and Consequences
When your troubled teen is acting out, it might be tempting to simply let the cards fall as they may. Unfortunately, this approach won’t help anyone, including your child. If you have let rules and supervision fall by the wayside, it might be necessary to impose boundaries and consequences to get everyone back on track. If your teen is acting out, don’t be afraid to assert your parental authority. Even older teens who are still living in your home must follow the household rules that make living together a pleasant experience.
If you fear for your safety, as is sometimes the case, particularly for single moms of teenage boys who do not have a strong male authority figure in their lives, do not get into the habit of walking on eggshells around your child. Seek professional help, whether that means mental health care treatment, counseling for you, or getting the law involved if there has been physical violence.
5. Watch for Mental Health Red Flags
While there are many behaviors that can warrant intervention, there are some that are outright dangerous when it comes to your troubled teen. Some mental health red flags to watch for include signs that a teen is contemplating suicide, dropping all of his or her friends, getting involved with drugs or alcohol, dropping out of school or allowing grades to fall dramatically, and being violent toward younger siblings, other people, or pets. Any of these should warrant a prompt evaluation by a doctor or mental health professional to see what is going on. Again, if you fear that your teen is in danger of hurting him or herself or someone else, seek emergency care. You can take them to the nearest emergency room or call 911, if necessary.
Being the parent of a troubled teen can take its toll on you. It’s normal to feel angry, confused, sad, guilty, or frustrated. Sometimes you will have all of these emotions over the course of a day — or an hour! It can be helpful to seek counseling for yourself. The teen years are difficult, and you will not be the first parent to need to focus on self-care while dealing with your child’s issues. A support group for parents of troubled teens can help immensely; you can talk to other parents about how they handle specific situations, look to those who have successfully gotten their adolescents through these tumultuous years, and bounce ideas off of one another. Talk to your child’s mental health professional for a referral to a counselor or support group for yourself and others in your household. Taking care of your own mental health needs will better enable you to support your troubled teen during this time.