Teens may not always tell you what they’re thinking, but it’s clear that some teens have a hard time with their thoughts and feelings. This is especially true when teens experience peer pressure, bullying, mental illness, trauma, or violence. To make matters worse, teens might turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to feel better. Fortunately, there are healthy ways that parents and caregivers can help a teen who may be struggling with troubling thoughts.
Troubling Thoughts Teens Might Have
The following explores the troubling thoughts that teens might have and the associated problem a teen may be experiencing.
I hate myself.
One of the symptoms of depression is strong feelings of worthlessness and guilt. A teen might experience harsh self-criticism and self-judgment. Of course, depression comes with many other symptoms, which parents can be on the lookout for. However, if a teen is experiencing even a mild form of depression, they may have thoughts that are harmful to the self. What is critical for parents and caregivers to know is that untreated depression can get worse over time, and even sometimes result in teen suicide. It’s essential that teens who are having troubling thoughts get screened for depression and seen by a mental health professional.
I feel alone.
While isolation and loneliness can also be symptoms of depression, a teen who exhibits isolation may or may not be depressed. Yet, teens who are lonely may struggle with relationships with their peers, low self-esteem, feeling left out, and more. Teens may feel like they don’t fit in. This is especially true if teens don’t have strong relationships with their caregivers. They may feel that their family or friends don’t understand them. Over time, loneliness might also contribute to mental illness.
I’m being bullied.
Teens who are bullied can experience a wide range of emotions, including:
- anger, disappointment
- low self-esteem
- and more
Teens who are bullied might also feel powerless, helpless, and shame about feeling like they can’t do anything about it. Parents can look out for signs of bullying as well as help their teen develop a plan for bringing the bullying to an end.
I feel angry all the time.
Anger result from many experiences, including:
- unresolved trauma
- family events that are never discussed and swept under the rug
- teens feeling unseen or misunderstood
For instance, teens might feel angry about their parents’ divorce or about an alcohol problem in the family. Teens who feel angry may exhibit aggression toward others and themselves. Teens who are angry may need to know that anger is a normal emotion and that learning to express anger in healthy ways can help.
I’m in an abusive relationship.
Violence in relationships can begin when one teen in the relationship feels the need to control the other through manipulation and power. Sadly, violence in teen relationships happen among approximately 10% of high school students. Teens should know that there are four distinct stages of an abusive relationship, which tend to get repeated again and again. When a teen knows the stages of violence that occur in abusive relationships, they can be on the lookout for them. With awareness, a teen might be able to make choices that support their safety and wellbeing.
I’m too fat or skinny.
When teens have persistent thoughts about their bodies or body image, they may be vulnerable to developing an eating disorder or body dsymorphic disorder (BDD). Both of these are mental illnesses where a teen’s negative thoughts about their body create compulsive behavior, such as binge eating or controlling food intake. Parents and caregivers can be on the lookout for signs of an eating disorder in their teens as well as symptoms of BDD.
I think I might be gay or bisexual.
It’s common for teens who undergo a period of exploring their sexuality and questioning their sexual orientation. With this comes facing possible rejection from friends and even family. With exploring their sexual orientation, teens may undergo a wide range of feelings and experience that can make them vulnerable to mental illness. It takes courage to be who you and for some teens, it may take time for them to develop that courage.
I drink too much.
Sadly, teens are often encouraged by their peers to drink at parties, clubs, or nights out on the town. Some teen events promote binge drinking where teens are encouraged to drink a beer, for example, in a short amount of time. Over time, teens can build up a tolerance to drinking, sometimes without realizing it. With tolerance, teens become vulnerable to addiction, alcohol poisoning, dangerous driving, and more. Parents can talk to their teens about drinking, set limits, and have their teen see a drug and alcohol counselor, if needed.
I’m addicted to meth.
The ongoing use of substances, whether it’s meth or marijuana, can be dangerous to teens. Not only is there a possibility for addiction, but the brains of teens are still growing. Drugs (especially highly addictive ones like meth and heroin) can do significant damage to a teen’s body and brain. Parents can look for in their teens that point to addiction and abuse of drugs.
I’m being sexually abused.
Often, teens who are sexually abused by an adult are told to keep silent, adding to a teen’s anxiety, fear, and rage about their experience. Teens who are sexually abused may exhibit signs of depression and anxiety, which parents can look for. Teens should know that there are laws that can protect them. They also need to be told that their experiences aren’t their fault.
How Parents Can Help
Some suggestions for parents and caregivers were provided above. However, it’s important that parents also take the following three steps if their teen is having troubling thoughts:
Step 1. Have a pulse on your teen’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. Parents who are distant or who lack a relationship with their teen leave an adolescent vulnerable to danger, including substance use, violence, and more.
Step 2. Talk to your teen. If given the right opportunity, many teens will let their parents know about what’s going on in their lives. Many teens want to be seen, heard, and understood by their parents. When parents create a safe environment to talk and share, many teens will open up to their parents.
Step 3. Have your teen screened for mental illness. Many teens progress through adolescence just fine, without any signs of mental illness or danger. However, parents should take steps to ensure their teen’s mental health by having their adolescent screened for any psychological illnesses. Such an assessment can lead to getting the right help for a teen who needs counseling, medication, support groups, or another form of mental health support.
These are suggestions for keeping teens who are having troubling thoughts safe and healthy. Although teens may not share everything with their parents, parents can strive to be one step ahead of their teens to help foster their emotional and psychological health.