Lately, you might notice your teenager is having more emotional ups and downs, unpredictable moods or strong feelings. This should be no surprise, especially living in this pandemic. But even in “normal” times, emotions run strong. A teen’s brain is still developing, figuring out how to manage and express emotions in a more controlled way. Part of this involves learning how to recognise and understand what they’re feeling.
You can help your young person by:
- asking about their feelings – “You look worried. Is there something on your mind?” or, “It sounds like you’re really angry. Would you like to talk about that?”
- listening to your teenager when they talk about their emotions. This helps them to identify and understand what they’re feeling and to manage their emotions effectively.
- not dismissing or trivializing your teenager’s emotional responses. This may be interpreted as “my feelings are unimportant”.
- avoiding responding in a way that could lead them to believe that their emotions are wrong and that they are bad for having them, e.g. “Why are you crying like a baby?” or “You’re such a wimp!”
- validating their feelings, especially if they’re upset or struggling with what’s going on – for example, when a pet dies, when they’re having issues with friends, when they fail an exam, or simply aren’t sure why their feeling bad.
Learning how to deal with grief, loss and disappointment are important life lessons. You can help your teen figure things out by showing empathy and giving them space to express their feelings.
Dealing with stress
Stress is part of life, and a bit of stress can be a good thing. It helps us work harder and faster in spurts, meaning we can perform at our best when we need to. But learning how to deal with stress, managing it, so it doesn’t manage you, is an important life skill. One of the most important adults can teach a teen.
Since ongoing stress is a risk factor for mental health conditions, it’s important to sort out stressful issues as early as possible. You can help by using effective strategies for managing stress as an example for your teenager, as well as modelling how to cope well with stressful situations and setbacks.
Pay attention to your teenager’s behavior for indications that they may be experiencing or not coping well with stress, and talk about what you can do to help. If stress is becoming a problem or they’re getting overwhelmed on a regular basis, seek the support of a mental health professional.
- Encourage your young person to talk about problems when they happen so they can be sorted out sooner than later.
- Help them find ways to relax that work for them – listening to music, going for a run, doing something creative or reading a book.
- Some young people also benefit from meditation or guided relaxation.
- Suggest they plan their week, figure out their deadlines and how they’re going to get their study/work done.
- Suggest that your teen leaves big decisions until they’re feeling a bit better and able to approach the situation with a clear mind.
Dealing with pressure and expectations
Many young people feel the weight of expectation from parents, teachers, friends, school, and maybe the toughest-what they expect from themselves and their lives. And while we all want our teenagers to reach their full potential, try to match your expectations to their individual personality, interests and capabilities.
Where there’s an ‘expectation gap’ between what you think your teenager should be achieving or aiming for and reality, it’s important to recognize the effect this pressure can have on your teen. Remember that the most important thing is that they are healthy and happy in whatever they choose to do.
The media, and increasingly, social media, can be a source of pressure and expectations. Talk about the messages and images your teenager receives through the media or their social feeds. These can shape their values, perceptions and expectations about life.
Pressure at school
Don’t let your young person’s grades define their self-worth. Reinforce that there are lots of measures of success, and many avenues to getting where you want to go, and who they will be in life.