Watching your teen go through something challenging is hard for parents. You see your teen struggle, wrestling with whatever hardship he or she is facing, yet it is difficult to know what to say, what to do, and how to help your teen.
Still, in these times, your teen needs you more than ever. Understanding why your teen is struggling and how you can and should help is a good place to start.
Why are the teen years challenging?
As adults, we often think that teens have it easy. They simply get up, go to school, maybe participate in activities, spend time with friends, and go to bed. Their housing, food, transportation, and everything is provided for them. They aren’t required to go to work, provide for a family, or take care of people. It’s easy to think that their life should be without stress. But when we think back to our own teen years, we may remember a small fraction of what it feels like to be a teen.
No matter the circumstances or challenges, every teen has one thing in common: they are teens. They are not adults. They are not done growing physically and emotionally. With that growth comes change and development.
“The teenage years bring many changes, not only physically, but also mentally and socially. During these years, adolescents increase their ability to think abstractly and eventually make plans and set long-term goals. Each child may progress at a different rate and may have a different view of the world.” (Hopkins Medicine)
Not only are teens facing these changes, but they are also facing these changes with surges of hormones that affect everything from emotions to physical development. This presents additional challenges related to body image, sexuality, and handling hard situations. Add to those changes in expectations and facing the future, and it’s easier to understand why teens can struggle.
Although your teen is changing, you play an important role in this season. Your loving presence and consistent care (even when it means setting boundaries) give your teen something on which he or she can depend amid all the changes inside him or her.
What hard seasons do teens go through?
With so much change both externally and internally, teens can face a wide array of hard seasons. These are unique to each individual, but some common things include:
As their bodies change, teens can become increasingly aware of how their body compares to those of friends, family, or even people online. This has the potential to be positive or negative. It can affect teens in areas such as self-esteem, eating disorders, self-harm, excessive exercise, and more.
With increasing hormones and development teens are more interested in sex. While this is a natural occurrence, it can be challenging depending on how those feelings develop and how they are received by those around them.
During this season relationships can become more complex. What was once an easy relationship between teens and parents or siblings is changing as the teen seeks more independence and is in the process of learning how to connect with these people in new ways.
The addition of romantic relationships poses new feelings and experiences. This can include rules and guidelines for dating as well as how to relate to a person in this new way. At some point, it often includes how to navigate a breakup,
Learning and the future.
When facing the end of traditional schooling, teens are faced with new decisions that can feel overwhelming. They are often asked at ages sixteen or seventeen what they want to do now to prepare for the rest of their life. This can be intense and bring on feelings of anxiety and stress.
While these are just a few of the most common issues teens are experiencing, there are many more. It’s easy to see why your teen may be having a hard time. Whether it is walking through a breakup or feeling crushed that he or she didn’t get into his or her chosen college, you can help your teen navigate these challenges while encouraging his or her independence and growth.
How to help your teen
The most important thing to recognize when you realize your teen is struggling is that you are there to support him or her. It is not your responsibility to change your teen. Walking through challenges is an important part of your teen’s development.
These are some of the most helpful things you can do when your teen is facing something difficult:
It is tempting during these years to disengage, especially as you feel your teen pull away. Instead, find new ways to be present in your teen’s life. Know the things in which he or she is interested. Be available to talk even if it is late at night. Offer rides and sit down to eat his or her favorite meal. Knowing you are available will help your teen feel secure and come to you when he or she is ready.
Listen more than you speak.
Sometimes it may feel like your teen never talks to you but consider whether you are giving him or her the opportunity. Often, parents spend a lot of time talking to their teens instead of giving their teens a chance to share. Try asking open-ended questions about things in which they are interested to get the ball rolling. Be intentional about listening when they talk, even if it’s not something you are particularly interested in. Talking about the online game they are playing or the drama around the lunch table at school may reveal more than you expected. Teens often share their feelings in surprising ways.
Show physical affection.
Teens may shy away from public displays of affection, especially from parents. But when they are going through a hard season, they may need hugs, pats on the back, or movie night snuggles. The physical reminder of your love for them reminds them that they are not going through things alone.
Compliment your teen.
Little kids hear a lot of praise from parents. However, teens experience less than their younger selves. Be sure not to praise them only for their looks, achievements, or grades. Instead, compliment them for things you notice about who they are. For example, “I saw the way you shared the last cookies with your sister. That was kind of you.” Recognizing the good things about your teen helps counteract the struggle he or she is facing.
As your teen gets closer to being an adult, he or she craves the respect that comes with that stage of life. Show your teen that you respect him or her. Listen when your teen speaks. Try not to dismiss or reprimand your teen’s ideas and feelings. Give your teen times of privacy in safe and healthy ways. Showing you respect your teen will help him or her have a better self-image.
Encourage healthy choices.
It can be hard enough as adults to do things that we know are good for us. Teens can also struggle with getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy foods. Additionally, encouraging things like talking to people they trust and taking care of their mental health is essential. Model and encourage these healthy habits for your teen.
Does my teenager need counseling?
As you support your teen you may wonder if he or she could benefit from professional counseling. While not every situation needs counseling, everyone can benefit from help walking through difficult seasons.
If your teen is showing signs of depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, or other concerning behavior, counseling is a fundamental part of their safety and well-being.
Final thoughts on how to help your teen.
Teens will experience hard seasons. As you watch your teen go through these seasons, you can support him or her and show love even as you provide boundaries and independence. At our office, we are here to support you and your teen in this process.
You and your teen don’t have to go through this challenging season alone. Connect with our therapists today to find help and support for both you and your teen as you walk through this together.
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