It is not unusual for adolescents to experience emotional highs and lows as they move through this challenging phase of life. Parents need to be aware of the differences between “normal” moodiness and stress, and what constitutes a mental health issue. When parents are equipped with the information and tools to help their children, it makes moving through the difficult parts of adolescence much more manageable. The first question to ask is whether or not a child’s mood swings and behavior changes are a normal part of adolescence, or indicative of something that needs therapeutic intervention. Here are some good questions for parents to ask themselves:
1. How long has my child been acting differently? The persistence of behavior changes is crucial to determining if a teen is experiencing something as serious as depression, or just normal fluctuations in behavior. Some of these behavior changes include: sleeping more or less, changes in grades at school, isolating from friends, changes in eating, and losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed. If it’s been a week of significant behavior changes, then it could be normal adolescent stress. If it’s been a month or more, it’s time to consult with a therapist, physician, or psychiatrist.
2. Has my child experienced emotional changes? Behavior is only one piece of the puzzle when considering if a teen has depression or anxiety. Parents should also stay tuned in to emotional changes, such as: increased irritability, sadness, anger, fear, or apathy.
3. Has my child experienced physical changes? Physical changes can be a major indicator of a problem, as well, and they can more or less obvious than the behavioral and emotional changes. Has there been sudden weight gain or loss? Have they been harming themselves? Presenting themselves differently with a new style?
4. Is there a possibility of cyber-bullying? With an increase in teenage use of technology as a means to connect with their peer groups, there is also an increased chance of cyber-bullying. Think about what kind of technology, or social media websites that your child uses to connect with others. Better yet, ask your child about it. There is Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, online blogs, and group chats. Instead of taking away a child’s access to technology, which could make them feel very isolated, begin an open discussion about it. Let your child know that you are a safe person to talk to about what they are doing online.
5. Does this feel normal, or does something not feel right? You know your child best. Trust yourself, and trust your instincts. If you aren’t sure, it may be safer to get a consultation with a therapist or psychiatrist. If you decide to do this, talk about your reasoning with your child. Let them know your own feelings, and that you are concerned. Keep communicating; be open and kind.
Christine Frank, LMSW, is an EWN therapist who loves working with tweens, teens and young, emerging adults. Contact her at 716.430.4611 or email firstname.lastname@example.org