Every stage of life has its purpose and challenges to help us grow into a more complete version of ourselves, but adolescence is perhaps the most precarious. It’s the stage that establishes a foundation for all that follows and where life-steering habits form. It’s an age of vast physical and mental change, great emotional vulnerability, and intense pressure to endure. As such, behavioral issues are quite common in adolescence, and these issues can make parenting an adolescent a trial by fire. So, how do you help your child navigate, survive, and thrive during adolescence?
Dealing With Common Adolescent Problems
While not every teen will face every problem, the best way to help your child navigate their adolescent years is to know what problems they may face and to have a game plan to manage the problem should it arise. Here are seven common issues adolescents face and how to parent your way through them:
1) Physical Changes
Teens go through immense physical, emotional, and cognitive changes as their hormones surge during puberty. The first change is most often physical, which makes their body appear adult-like long before they’ve reached emotional and cognitive maturity. In other words, they have all these physical developments that they aren’t prepared to handle, such as:
• Breast and muscle development.
• Facial, pubic, armpit, and chest hair growth.
• Skin changes that lead to acne.
• Embarrassing body odors.
• Weight loss or gain.
• Male voice changes.
It’s a lot, but parents can help their adolescent deal with such physical changes by explaining that it’s all normal. Help your child develop good grooming, hygiene, nutrition, and exercise habits. Believe it or not, this is the easy part.
2) Emotional Changes
Adolescence is the pivot point between childhood desires and adult responsibilities. Roles become blurred and confusing as the child makes a progressive switch from follower to leader. The result:
• Emotional states can switch between happy versus sad, excited versus angry, and inferior versus superior very quickly.
• The hormonal moodiness lends to periods of pouting, crying, and outbursts.
• Physical changes lend to self-consciousness, worry, and doubts.
• Sexual thoughts develop, which may lend to feel weird about themselves or guilty.
Adolescent behavior is like the up and down of a seesaw, but it’s all normal. Help your child cushion the landings by encouraging them that it’s okay to feel everything. Help them find productive outlets and ways of expressing those feelings.
Listen without judgment, be open about your own personal experiences, and give advice once they’re ready to hear it. Encourage creative and physical activities that boost serotonin levels.
3) Behavioral changes
The transition between reliance upon a parent and exercising independence gives rise to behavioral confusion and impulsiveness. While much of it may seem like stubbornness and being difficult for the sake of being difficult, this period of behavioral development is actually how your teen is learning how they think and feel as an individual and how their own personality and identity looks and behaves.
• They’ll begin to question authority and test limits, such as by disobeying and arguing against parental and school rules.
• Mental lethargy.
• Sensitivity to stress, criticism, and judgment.
• Hormonal surges can cause teens to become confrontational, bullies, and aggressors.
• Curiosity leads to risky, careless, and impulsive decisions.
• Peer pressure emerges to fit in, which can lead to unhealthy and/or addictive habits like drug use, alcohol use, tobacco use, promiscuity, and eating disorders.
• A desire for independent choices may lend to fashion, hairstyle, and makeup changes.
• Teens often lie and hold secrets as they engage in unacceptable behaviors.
• Self-esteem issues can pave the pathway for dangerous, addictive behaviors and self-harm behaviors.
Anorexia and the different treatment options are another seesaw that you’ll need to address. This will require trust. Your child needs to know that you can and will help them help themselves. Do it by actively listening. No judgment. No criticism. No accusations.
Actually, hear what your child is saying. Support them in being true to themselves, not what others think of them. Encourage constructive ways to deal with negative emotions, and intervene if bad company or decisions are leading to a series of risky behaviors.
Address the root cause of negative behavior – fear, self-esteem, depression, peer pressure, anger? Monitor your child’s actions, sleep schedule, appetite, and friends. Seek educational materials and professional help if you suspect behavioral problems of an addictive nature or your child is suffering from a clinical mental health issue.
4) Psychological Problems
Be careful that you don’t mistake a medical, mental health issue with the normal teen changes. Know the signs of depression and other mood disorders. Self-esteem issues and periods of sadness and anger are all normal, but you want to watch that these have not lasted for weeks or months at a time.
While teen changes cause natural behavioral shifts, they shouldn’t result in a swing that causes withdrawal from normal activities and loved ones, inability to go about activities of daily living, nor a pattern of self-destructive behavior (s). If there’s any question between normal teen difficulties and a mental health issue, please contact a medical professional immediately.
5) Educational Performance
As your child enters high school, their educational load increases dramatically. Grades are no longer just an expectation within the moment. Now, suddenly, there’s a pressure to academically perform to stay on a sports team, get the keys to a car, compete with peers, and ultimately get into college or find employment. It’s a pressure that compounds the behavioral and emotional changes your child is already enduring. The result:
• Performance anxiety and stress can make teens even more moody, angry, and resentful.
• Juggling social, work, home, extracurricular, and home life can be tiring, frustrating, distracting, and overwhelming.
As parents, the solution comes down to encouragement and observation. Ask how you can help. This may mean cutting them some slack on your academic expectations and/or lessening their load at home.
Encourage the nutrition and exercise to support mental and physical health. Ensure that the home environment is conducive to success. For example, are you asking your teen to watch a younger sibling when they should be doing homework?
Help your teen focus and prioritize their life for success. If you aren’t sure what to do next in life, Julia Cannon from QHHTOfficial.com recommends talking to others and drawing inspiration from their lives. We often learn new things and tips and tricks for success by looking at the footsteps of others. If nothing else, it can help get your own creative juices flowing.
Teens are social creatures, and they emotionally, sexually, physically, and mentally feed off the input and interactions of this socialization. Depending on the experience, it can make them feel awkward or on top of the world. Keep these facts in mind:
• Teens gravitate to role models to discover and define their own identity.
• Teens use social situations to expand their sense of right and wrong.
• Teens rank socialization as a top priority and need.
• Teens compete with peers on a social level to discover their place on the hierarchy of society, and what they find can drastically impact their self-perception.
• As teens age and can independently transport themselves to various places, their social circle widens beyond school and the offspring of your own social circle.
• Teens may find it embarrassing and uncomfortable to speak with parents about dating, sex, and social displacement.
• Without guidance and knowledge, your teen may become sexually active before they’re ready and could face unwanted side effects like pregnancy and disease.
You’ll need to be confident and honest on socialization, dating, and sex topics if you want them to be comfortable and view you as a serious source of information. Share both your good and bad experiences, and let them know that freedom to explore their social and sexual life comes with both responsibilities and consequences.
Accept that your child’s social life doesn’t revolve or coordinate with your own, but do set healthy boundaries to keep your child safe. If your child doesn’t learn the details and risks of sex from you, then they’re likely to learn it from unreliable sources.
7) Media Addiction
With gaming systems, phones, tablets, and other electrical devices, teens now face an easily accessible and acceptable form of addiction. The result:
• Hours spent gaming, texting, and talking verses creatively thinking, creating, and playing.
• They don’t crave real-life experiences and friends.
• They’re less active as they spend hours sitting idle.
• They’re less interested in academic and extracurricular activities.
Your first step is to determine how long your child spends using electronic devices and what they’re using them to accomplish. It could be that they’re using it as a source of information to be more productive in real life. If not, it’s time to address your concerns with your child; encourage change; and, if all else fails; set parental controls. Do make sure that you lead by example.
In conclusion, you can’t be of help if you don’t know what the problem is, right? You’ve been a teen yourself, but that doesn’t mean that you experienced the same plight as your teen is facing. What doesn’t change is the child’s need for empathy and the parent’s ability to offer it. Do this by acknowledging change is happening and observing and acting to offer a soft place for your teen to fall as they ride the seesaw of adolescence into adulthood.