Not ‘in a strop’: understanding why teenagers behave the way they do

10 October 2018

Today is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’. How is a changing world affecting teenagers? Where to begin?

Social media, exam pressures, job uncertainty, loss of recreational and community services and an increasingly tense and divisive political atmosphere all play their part. And that’s just the external world. Teenagers’ own private worlds are also rapidly changing, neurologically, psychologically and physiologically.

Mental health problems affect around one in ten children and young people, but shockingly, 70% of them have not had appropriate intervention.

What is clear is that we can’t just dismiss teenagers as being ‘moody’ or ‘stroppy’. Teenage mental health needs to be understood, as this is this first step towards intervening effectively.

However, when we don’t understand the reasons for teenage behaviour, it can be tempting to complain about it rather than try to understand. Here, we shed light on some of the common complaints parents may have about their teenage children.

Teenagers are lazy and their sleep pattern is all over the place!

Teenagers can struggle with sleep and actually need more than adults. If you notice a huge shift in sleep patterns, this can be a sign that they are not mentally healthy and may need some extra support.

If you notice changes to their social life, eating habits or school grades, these can also be signs that your teenager is struggling with their mental health. The first step is to speak to a GP and Norwood can offer advice and services where needed (see more below).

Teenagers don’t want to talk about their day!

It is totally normal for a teenager to not want talk in great detail. It is all part of their development from child to adult and a continuation of their move towards independence. Even if they aren’t communicating as much as you’d like, remember not to dismiss or attack their responses, as this will shut communication down.

If you want to have a conversation with your child, but feel anxious that they will shut you down, you could try chatting in the car. Taking the face-to-face element out will help both you and your child feel less pressure.

Teenagers are moody and over sensitive!

Being a teenager is a roller-coaster, and as a parent, sometimes it can feel like you don’t know if you are talking to an adult or a toddler. However, these mood swings are a normal part of their development – think of them like a pendulum swinging between dependence and independence as they mature into adults.

In her book, ‘The Teenage Brain’, Frances Jensen says: “Your child is experiencing for the first time the effects of hormones, not yet having learned how to control them. This control will eventually involve the frontal lobes which will dampen the swings but this area, is not yet fully available to them.”

Teenagers reject their parents!

 Again, this is all part of growing up. During adolescence, teenagers will start to separate from their parents as they prepare for adult life. Rather than taking this personally, it is important to understand that they are striving for independence and getting themselves ready for the outside world. As hard as it is, it is actually developmentally appropriate for them to reject family to some extent.

While you want to maintain discipline, it is helpful to try and avoid conflict, apart from major issues. Step back and remember that every stage of your child’s development, from a baby to now, will pass.

Stay away from teenagers!

Although it is a challenging time for both teenager and parent, it is important to not close yourself off. They may be giving you all the signs that they want you to go away, but actually, they need you now more than ever. Parental presence in badly needed and you should do whatever you can to make sure they know you are always there for them.

Although they are striving for independence, it is incredibly important for a parent to remain available to their child. Make it clear that you are available to talk whenever they want.

Good mental health allows young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them. No teenager (or parent) is the same, but understanding some of the reasons for teenage behaviour is key to offering them the right support. It is vital to remember that emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing.

Norwood is here for young people and families affected by mental health issues. Find out more about the services we offer, look here.