Parents: Your Teen’s Safety Needs to Come First


When a teen has gone through a challenging experience, and that experience is having an effect on his or her well being, school performance, or interpersonal relationships, it’s important to tend to a teen’s safety. It’s important for parents to know that the need for safety is in most cases more important than anything other kind of need. In other words, if a teen still feels unsafe, he or she will not be able to move on and heal.


In fact, parents might remember learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Essentially, the theory states that a person has many needs in life. Some of these needs are more pressing than others. He referred to the more pressing needs as the lower needs because someone cannot move on to meet any other needs before the lower needs are met. Because of this view Maslow ranked needs into a hierarchy or tiers. According to Maslow, the needs that a person has must be met working from the lower needs first and then moving on to the higher ones. For instance, one’s biological needs must be met first before they meet other needs, such as intellectual or academic needs.


The need for safety is one of the lower needs in Maslow’s theory, suggesting that a person needs to feel safe before he or she can move on to greater needs such as educational or occupational needs. Knowing this, it’s important that parents make sure that their teen feels safe, especially if he or she has just experienced a trauma. If a teen has lost a loved one, if their parents are divorcing, if their friends are rejecting them for one reason or another, or if they lost a friend to suicide, a teen may be struggling with feeling emotionally or psychologically safe .


According to Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, safety is the first stage of healing from trauma. Safety might mean various things to various adolescents. However, at the very least, a teen will feel safe when his or her basic needs are met. For instance, when a teen is eating, has a roof over their head, is not using substances, and has friends and family for support, it’s likely that he or she at least feels physically safe.


Once those needs are met, it’s possible that parents might want to explore whether the emotional and/or psychological needs of a teen. For instance, it’s common for children and teens to feel responsible for a trauma. Or they may feel lonely  if they’ve lost someone close to them. Tending to a teen’s psychological needs might feel uncomfortable for some parents. In fact, in some cases, parents might be the very reason that a teen feels unsafe, such as in the case of divorce. Although they may want to be supportive, it might be best for a teen to see a therapist or psychologist for psychological and emotional support. At the same time, parents might be able to provide the most valuable form of support.


If you are a parent who is concerned about the emotional or psychological well being of a teen, there might be an underlying issue having to do with safety. If you’re seeing a teen’s school performance decline and other signs of trouble, contact a mental health provider who can help.