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5 Things You Can Do To Understand Your Teen Better


Teenagers can be complex people. Just like anyone else, your teen has all types of challenges in their everyday life that can be physical, emotional, stressful and sometimes even overwhelming. But there is something you can do to help your teen if you feel like they could be struggling with life – as we all do. However, the balance of tiptoeing into your teen’s life is very delicate. And while you need to respect their boundaries, a teenager also needs clear expectations, goals and enforcement of those boundaries to feel safe and comfortable.

It’s up to you as a parent or a member of a teen’s support system to reach them in a way that is actually helpful. But what if you feel like you’re not reaching them? This is a common problem for parents as they may struggle to completely understand their teenage child.

Teens are great at protecting themselves by building up walls and hiding behind them. And the walls can be tough to scale!

These types of “wall-building” behaviors may include:

  • Isolation
  • Changing their schedule
  • Avoidance of mealtime, conversations or friendships
  • Snapping angrily over small issues
  • Loss of interest in regular activities
  • Low-self-esteem
  • Ongoing talk of sensitivity to rejection or failure1

All of these behaviors create distance and for teens, sometimes that’s exactly what they want. But you can bridge the gap between yourself and the teen you love by taking steps to understanding them better. Here are just 5 ways you can take that first step.

5 Things You Can Do To Understand Your Teen Better

If you want to develop a deeper relationship with your teen it’s important to recognize these 5 things:

1. Their Bestie

For a teenager, their best friend may be the wind beneath their wings. In fact, for teenagers having a best friend is associated with better mental health. One recent study published in the journal Child Development revealed that during the teen years, social challenges and fluctuating expectations can make growing up hard on kids.

“Our research found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may directly predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health,” according to Rachel K. Narr, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. “High school students with higher-quality best friendships tended to improve in several aspects of mental health over time, while teens who were popular among their peers during high school may be more prone to social anxiety later in life.”

So, supporting your teen’s relationship with their bestie (best friend) may also boost their overall mental health as well. And once you offer the house and sleep-over time to the relationship you’ll be sure to gain more insight into your teens life. After all, what are best friends for?

2. Gain Online Awareness

Your teen may have a social media profile on one or more websites. They can access their friends on these social media sites and today the most popular include Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. But without an understanding of your teen’s screen time you may not really know them. There is an entire world of interaction online and if your teen has a smartphone, they are most likely engaged in that world a good portion of the time. A recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that spending more time online was linked to an increase in the symptoms of depression in teen girls.

One study of 500,000 teens associated excessive use of online screen time with depression. The researchers connected this increased risk with smartphone use as depression and suicide rates in teenagers jumped (almost doubling) between 2007 and 2015 – when smartphones reached their peak popularity. What’s important to note about this study is that the online use was recreational, suggesting that maybe social media isn’t good for teen’s mental health after all.

What’s excessive? About 9 hours or more per day. In yet another study, smartphone overuse was linked to a risk of mental health problems in teens. So, don’t risk it! Understand your teen’s online habits and limit overuse.

3. Warning Signs

When teenage behavior is “normal,” that will be a day pigs grow wings and fly. But when your teen starts displaying these specific changes, it could be the sign of a mental disorder:

  • Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
  • Decrease in school performance
  • Cutting class
  • Problems with memory attention, concentration and focus
  • Physical symptoms like chronic headaches or stomach ache
  • Depressive thoughts like hopelessness and anxiety, aggression and disobedience
  • Excessive neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
  • Substance abuse
  • Dangerous or illegal thrill-seeking behavior
  • Paranoia or suspicions of others
  • Hearing or seeing things
  • Negative/Dysfunctional friendships

4. The Teen Brain

When it comes to mental functioning, teens are different. Because their bodies are still developing physically, emotionally and developmentally their mental health poses important challenges that you need to be aware of.

Teen Brain Facts:

  • It is ready to learn and adapt
  • It is maturing
  • It reaches its largest physical size usually by 14
  • It is prone to mental disorders
  • It is resilient
  • It needs more sleep than a child or adult brain

5. Substance Abuse

Your teen could be experimenting with any number of prohibited substances including cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. One recent CNN report revealed that cigarette and marijuana use among teens was associated with a higher risk of psychosis – a mental condition in which people lose touch with reality, experiencing hallucinations or delusions.

Teens face many challenges in their everyday lives. But just like everyone else they need support from their family and friends to push through to live a life they love. Address these 5 things with your teen and you may be able to understand them much better, opening up doors of communication and strengthening your relationship.

Visit our teen counseling page

Contact us at 919-647-4600

1. Mayo Clinic. Teen Depression.
2. Close friendships in high school predict improvements in mental health in young adulthood. Society for Research in Child Development. August 22, 2017.
3. Jean M. Twenge, Tomas, E. Joiner. Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. November 12, 2017.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickSstates: Suicide Rates for Teens Aged 15-19 Years by Sex – United States 1975-2015. August 4, 2017.
5. National Institute of Mental Health. The Teen Brain: 6 Things to Know.
6. Susan Scutti. CNN Cigarettes and Pot Linked to Teen Psychosis. January 2018. 

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