As parents, many people discuss the difficulties and challenges that arise with the “terrible twos.” The 365 days of frustration and exhaustion that (for some parents) arrive as your toddler begins to develop a personality all their own. What a lot of parents do not talk about comes several years down the road as your child enters their teens.
The years between about age twelve and seventeen aren’t often easy for teens or their parents. During this time, they experience a range of changes and emotions-physically, emotionally, hormonally, sexually, socially, and intellectually. The challenges each of these changes and adjustments pose can quickly become overwhelming and challenging to manage. For many teens, these (and various other pressures) can lead to multiple physical and mental health disorders. As a parent, what do you watch for? What can you do to help? When is it time to seek treatment at a teen-focused mental health treatment facility like Beachside?
Mental Health Red Flags to Watch For
All teens are different, and therefore, how mental health difficulties will present will be different across the board. However, there are certain changes you may see in your teen that, in many cases, could be a sign of concern.
Changes in Sleeping Patterns
Anyone with a teenager knows they sleep. For some, they sleep a lot. In most cases, this occurs because they are busy. Many teens today have responsibilities above and beyond those of generations before them. Besides academic and family responsibilities, most teens have work obligations, extracurricular activities, sports, and various other things that divide their time. Many leave their homes early (some before the sunrise) to catch the bus and do not get home until late in the evening, at which point they need to start homework, eat dinner and prepare for the next day. By the time they have accomplished everything, most just fall into bed. Weekends are often equally as busy with time for gaming or other means of communication with friends built into the schedule.
Wanting to sleep in is normal for many teens; however, if your teens sleeping patterns or habits have begun to change significantly from their “normal,” it may be a sign of something more concerning. Excessive sleeping beyond that of usual teenage fatigue may indicate depression or the early symptoms of a substance use disorder. In addition, difficulties with sleep, such as insomnia or problems falling or staying asleep, may also indicate mental or physical health concerns.
Loss of Self-Esteem or Self-Worth
Many teens struggle to develop and maintain self-esteem and self-confidence. It can be hard to distinguish oneself and one’s unique value from the clutter that makes up social challenges during high school. Many struggle to feel part of or fit into social groups. Others feel overwhelming pressure to attain specific academic achievements and accomplishments to ensure a secure place in a particular post-secondary institution. When all of these moving parts do not work out according to plan, it can result in decreased feelings of self-esteem.
To some extent, this is normal and expected. For many teens, these feelings tend to subside, and faith in their individual abilities is renewed. However, if you notice your teen feeling increasingly down or if they are vocal about feelings of reduced self-esteem or self-worth, it could be a red flag that something deeper is wrong. In these situations, you may find it difficult to communicate with your teen. It is not uncommon for teens to feel uncomfortable expressing emotions to parents, caregivers, or other family members. This is especially true of the parent or caregiver is the source of (some of) their emotional stress. If this is the case for your teen, offer to arrange a time when they can talk to someone outside of the family, such as a counselor here at Beachside or their primary care provider. Also, be sure to let them know you are available to talk when and if they are ready.
Like sleeping, it is not uncommon for teens to retreat to a private space on occasion. They often do so to complete homework assignments, play video games, or spend time communicating with friends on various social media platforms. In most cases, this happens as your teen continues to participate in hobbies, activities, and other pastimes they enjoy. However, suppose you notice your teen beginning to shy away from their social circles or avoiding spending time participating in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed. In that case, this could be a red flag. Of additional concern might be if your teen has been an active member of particular groups such as athletic teams, theater groups, band, choral groups, church groups, or other volunteer organizations, and they suddenly begin to remove themselves from these groups.
Sudden or Abnormal Decline in Academic Achievements
Academic challenges are common for teens. It is during these years that many decide what the course of the next few years will look like in terms of ongoing academics and higher education pursuits. Slips, stumbles, and setbacks are common on the path to these future goals, but for many teens, such moments are minor deviations from their overall plan. In a short time, they begin to apply the same energy to academics and future goals as before. If you notice your teen is experiencing a significant and dramatic decline in academic performance, it may be beneficial to determine the root cause of these changes. It could be a red flag for an underlying mental health condition.
Significant Changes to Weight and Appetite
Body image is a significant challenge faced by teens regardless of which gender they identify. Social media, television shows, Hollywood, and direct social interactions with other classmates can bring about concerns about weight, appearance, size, and a host of other image concerns. Teens frequently feel pressure to be, attain, or remain a specific “size” to feel accepted in certain groups. If you notice a sudden, drastic change in eating habits, significant weight loss, or other abnormalities related to your teen’s usual diet, this could be a sign of disordered eating. Disordered eating is a dangerous mental health condition for which quick and early mental health intervention in a treatment program like Beachside is crucial to ensure your teen’s ongoing health and safety.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but one meant to provide an indicator of a few significant mental health red flags parents can look for if they are concerned about changes in their teen. Other common red flags include personality changes, aggressive behavior, increased anger, and other behaviors that are out of character for your teen, including substance use and other dangerous behaviors.
How Can Parents Watch for Red Flags?
Under even the best of circumstances, families today are apart more than they are together. Parents and their children have obligations outside the home (such as work, school, and extracurricular activities) that keep each member of the family unit moving in different directions. Because of this, it can be difficult for parents to monitor and understand the changes experienced by their teens. However, you can do a few things to help reduce the chances of missing these red flags.
First, it is essential to keep the lines of communication open. Be sure your teen knows they can talk to you about anything (regardless of topic). It is important to be willing to speak openly and in a nonjudgmental manner.
Next, it is essential to remember that mental health conditions are treatable. Please speak with your teen’s primary care provider or a counselor here at Beachside to learn more about your teen’s symptoms and what they are experiencing. Share this information with your teen and work together towards the best solution.
Finally, be observant. The teen years are a time of change. For some teens, these changes are significant and problematic. Other teens experience events or situations (trauma, loss, etc.), enhancing the strength of these emotions and challenges. However, severe or sudden behavior changes can be a strong red flag for mental health conditions that require treatment. Again, mental health conditions are treatable, but most will not go away on their own.
If you are concerned about your teen’s mental health, the first place you should begin is with your teen. Fostering open and honest communication is not only an excellent way to provide support, but it will be highly beneficial in the long-term should your teen experience a triggering event that may result in relapse. If your concerns are severe, or if you are concerned about your teen’s safety, reach out to their primary care provider or a member of the team at Beachside. At Beachside, we focus on helping your teen attain their mental health goals while ensuring they can explore the roots of their mental health challenges in a safe and healthy space. We will work with your teen and your family to create an individualized, unique treatment plan that considered your teen’s needs. Teen’s today face many significant challenges on the road to adulthood. Focusing on mental health challenges adds an increased level of difficulty that overshadows the positive experiences occurring during these pivotal years. It can be scary to place focus on mental health. Teens often worry about what others will “think” if they see a counselor. Parents struggle with how to best help their teens seek the help they need without feeling overbearing or forceful. If it is time to seek treatment, but you and your teen are unsure where to start, let the team at Beachside help you begin the journey to recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can help.