Challenges of Adolescence: Building Blocks to Raise Resilient Teenagers
Parenting an adolescent can be difficult. It’s not an easy time for many kids. Along with the dramatic physical changes they undergo, they may also be tested by new family dynamics, peer pressure, bullying, or social and intellectual challenges at school. Mood swings, brief periods of emotional distress, depression, or anxiety are not uncommon. But if symptoms of a mental health disorder persist, it may be time to explore treatment options. If your child is acting out, taking action now could boost their ability to develop valuable coping skills and Discovery Mood and Anxiety .
The attempt to thrive in a world that seems to be changing faster than ever taxes everyone. The Internet, and social media, now makes it possible for someone, somewhere, to make a positive or negative impact on another person from anywhere, instantly, with the click of a button. While most kids in the U.S. seem to generally be fairly healthy, physically emotionally, and resilient, one out of every four to five in our country’s population meet the criteria for a mental disorder that they may struggle with for their entire lives. These kids may face additional hurdles like discrimination, negative attitudes, or alienation in social situations.
Just like physical health, sound mental health doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of disease or sickness. Sound mental health is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as “emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being.” It involves being able to:
- Navigate successfully the complexities of life
- Develop fulfilling relationships
- Adapt to change
- Utilize appropriate coping mechanisms to achieve well-being without discrimination.
- Realize their potential
- Have their needs met
- Develop skills that help them navigate the different environments they inhabit
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 2.8 million (11.4 percent of the U.S. population) from the ages of 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. NIMH also found anxiety disorders among 13 to 18-year-olds to be 25.1 percent. 5.9 percent were diagnosed with severe disorders. Depression, anxiety, and other disorders among adolescents and teens not only interfere with their ability to function socially, academically, physically and mentally, they can have serious long-term effects.
Unfortunately, many adolescents that are struggling with disorders do not get the kind of treatment they need. Sometimes, people think it’s just a case of teenagers being teenagers. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender kids are often the least likely to get the help they need. When it’s not treated, depression, and anxiety can contribute to academic failure, social dysfunction, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and sexual risk-taking. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the red flags when they appear.
Know the Signs
AACAP, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, offers this list of some of the key warning signs for behavior disorders. It’s important to keep in mind that no one suffers the same way, and that these indications are for symptoms that continue for several weeks or months.
- Marked change in school performance
- Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
- Noticeable changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
- Many physical complaints
- Sexual acting out
- Depression shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude, often accompanied by poor appetite, difficulty sleeping or thoughts of death
- Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Intense fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight, purging food or restricting eating
- Persistent nightmares
- Threats of self-harm or harm to others
- Self-injury or self-destructive behavior
- Frequent outbursts of anger, aggression
- Threats to run away
- Aggressive or non-aggressive consistent violation of rights of others; opposition to authority, truancy, thefts, or vandalism
- Strange thoughts, feelings, and unusual behaviors
The Stress Factor
We live in hectic times. And just like adults, teens and ‘tweens’ get stressed out, too. Along with any internal fears they may harbor, kids will experience even more stress when they do not have the resources to cope. Some of the obstacles adolescents face may include:
- School demands and frustrations
- Negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
- Changes in their bodies
- Problems with friends and/or peers at school
- Unsafe living environment/neighborhood
- Separation or divorce of parents
- Chronic illness or severe problems in the family
- Death of a loved one
- Moving or changing schools
- Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
- Family financial problems
AACAP offers a guideline with techniques for parents of teens that are under a lot of stress. Parents may also find these tips useful. If you can model positive behavior, you can reduce your own stress levels as well. The following are sound building blocks to raise resilient teenagers:
- Exercise and eat regularly
- Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
- Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
- Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques)
- Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite firm and not overly aggressive or passive ways (“I feel angry when you yell at me” instead of “Please stop yelling!”)
- Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious
- Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks
- Decrease negative self talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help”
- Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others
- Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress
- Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way
By learning these techniques, teenagers can begin to build coping skills that will empower them later in life. Remember that the goal is Discovery Mood and Anxiety , not perfection. If your child is resistant to positive change, or continues to engage in behaviors that may lead them to put themselves at risk, you should consult with experts.
Research shows that with recognition and the appropriate help, students with mental health issues produce higher test scores and better attendance. Studies also demonstrate that effective mental health interventions and positive environments help adolescents and teens develop Discovery Mood and Anxiety .
If They Continue to Act Out, Act Now
Discovery Mood and Anxiety means recovery. If your teenager or adolescent has symptoms of a behavior disorder, don’t wait for a crisis that might put them in danger. Discovery Mood ’s personalized multi-faceted programs include residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment (IOP), and partial hospitalization (PHP) for adolescents and teens that are struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, oppositional defiant disorder, eating disorders, and other major mental health disorders.
Call us now at 800.760.3934. Our integrated behavior modification programs have been helping families discover successful paths to recovery for more than 18 years. Call now and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists today. All calls are completely FREE and completely confidential.
Understanding adolescent depression and anxiety, by Fallon Calandriello. Retrieved Sept 14, 2016.
American Psychiatric Association Foundation: Warning Signs of Mental Illness. Retrieved Sept 14, 2016.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Facts for Families. Retrieved Sept 14, 2016.