Emotional Well-Being|Family Health|Kids and Teens|Mental Health|Prevention and Wellness

Understanding Your Teen’s Emotional Health

Last Updated August 2022 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Leisa Bailey, MD

The teenage years are a time of transition from childhood into adulthood. Teens often have a strong desire to be independent. So, they may struggle with still being dependent on their parents. They may also feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing.

Teens may be facing a number of other pressures, too, including:

  • Fitting in at school and among friends
  • Doing well in school and making good grades
  • Excelling in activities such as sports
  • Participating as a member of the family
  • Working a part-time job
  • Preparing for college or their next step in life after high school

The teenage years are important as your child asserts their individuality. Many parents wonder what they can do to help their teenager.

Path to improved health

Communicating your love for your child is the single most important thing you can do to help them during their teenage years. Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how their parents react to them. For this reason, it’s important for parents to help their children feel good about themselves. You can do this by:

  • Building their confidence and self-esteem.Praise them—and be specific. Tell them exactly why you are impressed or proud of them. Spend time with them and let them know how much you value them.
  • Supporting them emotionally.Encourage them to talk to you. Listen and help them understand their feelings.
  • Providing them safety and security.Give them unconditional love. Maintain routines so they feel secure. Make sure they know home is a safe place for them.
  • Teaching them resiliency.Teach your child how to make it through the tough times. Help them cope with change, manage stress, and learn from setbacks.

It is also important to communicate your values with your child. Set expectations and limits for them. These could include insisting on honesty, self-control, and respect for others at all times. At the same time, allow your teenager to have their own space and be their own person.

Parents of teens often find themselves noticing only the problems. They may get in the habit of giving mostly negative feedback and criticism. Teens need feedback, but they respond better to positive feedback. Remember to praise appropriate behavior. This will help your teen feel a sense of accomplishment and reinforce your family’s values.

Establishing a loving relationship from the start can help you and your child through the bumpy teenage years.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests the following ways for parents to prepare for their child’s teenage years:

  • Provide a safe and loving home environment.
  • Create an atmosphere of honesty, trust, and respect.
  • Allow age-appropriate independence and assertiveness.
  • Develop a relationship that encourages your teen to talk to you when they are upset.
  • Teach responsibility for your teen’s belongings and yours.
  • Teach basic responsibility for household chores.
  • Teach the importance of accepting limits.
  • Don’t forget the importance of rules. Teens still need rules that affect their health, safety, and education. Make rules easy to understand. When you make a rule, be sure the reasons for it are clear.
  • Listen to your child’s concerns, opinions, and requests. If you can compromise, do so.

Things to consider

Remember that your teen may experiment when trying to define himself or herself. They may change their values, ideas, hairstyles, or clothing in order to do this. This is normal behavior. You shouldn’t be concerned. However, inappropriate or destructive behavior can be a sign of a problem.

Some teens are at risk for a number of self-destructive behaviors. These teens often have low self-esteem or family problems. They may experiment with using drugs, alcohol, or having unprotected sex. Depression and eating disorders are other common health issues that teens face. The following may be warning signs that your child is having a problem:

  • Agitated or restless behavior
  • Weight loss or gain
  • A drop in grades
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Ongoing feelings of sadness
  • Not caring about people and things
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fatigue, loss of energy, and lack of interest in activities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Run-ins with the law

What should I do if there is a problem?

Work together to maintain open communication. If you suspect there is a problem, ask your teen about what is bothering them. Don’t ignore a problem in the hopes that it will go away. It is easier to cope with problems when they are small. This also gives you and your teen the opportunity to learn how to work through problems together. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with dealing with your teen. Many resources, including your family doctor, are available.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What can I do to keep my teenager emotionally healthy?
  • Is my teenager’s behavior normal?
  • What signs should I look for if I think my teenager might be having problems?
  • I have low self-esteem and am depressed. Is my child more likely to develop those same problems?
  • Does my teenager need to see a therapist or a psychiatrist?
  • Does my teenager need medicine?
  • Will my teenager “grow out” of these behaviors?
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