Communicating With Your Emotional Teen

Emotional Teens, Emotional Health, Communicating with Teens, Teen AngstThis guest post is by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, is a mental health therapist in private practice and at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, ON, Canada. She is the author of Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens.

Unfortunately, emotional problems are often a part of growing up – as teens go through hormonal upheavals, while at the same time learning how to separate themselves from their parents, and learning how to interact and fit in with their peers. It’s certainly not an easy time; of course, some teens also experience mood or anxiety disorders which compound this problem. But whether your teen is going through simple teenage angst or is experiencing more severe emotional problems, there are things you can do to help. In this article I’ll first give you some tips to identify when your teen likely needs professional help; then I’ll discuss two skills to help you communicate in a healthier way with your teen, which will also help her learn to manage her emotions better.

There’s no wrong time to offer your teen professional help – it doesn’t make you a failure as a parent or say anything about the relationship you have with your child. On the contrary, offering that option – even if it gets shot down – shows her that you want to help and you’re willing to offer her options if she feels she can’t talk to you. If she does take you up on the offer, don’t take it personally! Rather, be grateful that she’s agreeing to speak with anyone, even if it can’t be you right now. So, there’s no wrong time to offer professional help, but there definitely are some right times:

  • If your teen has talked about suicide or if you see signs of self-harm such as cuts or burns on her body, you definitely need to get her to see a professional immediately.
  • If your teen is isolated, with no friends or very few friends that she socializes with, this can be a problem in more than one way. Of course we all need people in our lives; as humans we’re simply social creatures. But in the adolescent years, kids are learning a lot from their peers about what’s “normal” or “acceptable” and what’s not. If your teen doesn’t have anyone to share feelings and ideas with, this can leave her confused. Social isolation can also be a sign that your teen is being bullied.
  • If your teen is suffering from an addiction – such as drugs, alcohol, videogames, or the internet – she needs professional help. Of course, it’s often hard to know when your teen has an addiction, but look for warning signs: apart from the typical signs of intoxication such as slurring of speech, staggering, symptoms of hangover and so on, look for mood swings; change in school performance; paying less attention to hygiene; increase in requests for money; or isolating herself more from the rest of the family.

Of course, many of these symptoms are also just signs that you have a teen in the house, so remember to look at the big picture.

  • If your teen’s anger is out of control – for example, if she starts becoming physically aggressive, she needs to speak with a professional.

These are just a few suggestions as to when it’s important to offer professional help to your teen, but also trust your instincts. Even though your teen might seem completely different from the child you’ve known for the past 14 years, you still know your child best, so listen to your gut. And, start using the following skills to help you communicate in a healthier way with your teen.

The first skill is about not judging your teen. Often the behaviors you’re seeing are the result of your teen not knowing what else to do to alleviate the emotions she’s experiencing. So instead of judging her or her behavior, just describe what happened factually, and point out the consequences. In other words, instead of saying, “It was stupid of you to skip class”, be nonjudgmental: “Because you skipped class you’ve now got detention, your grades are falling, I’m angry with you, and you’re grounded.” The language we use will often make things worse, or will help us to calm the situation, so even when you’re furious with your teen, try to speak to her in a nonjudgmental way.

The second, similar skill that will help you communicate in a healthier way with your teen is known as validation. Validating your teen means telling her that you understand how she’s feeling, and that it’s okay – she’s allowed to feel that way. Even if you don’t like the way she feels (or the way she’s acting because of that emotion); even if you don’t completely understand why she feels that way; let her know that you understand the emotion, and that it’s not wrong or bad to feel that way.

These are just two skills that can help you keep the doors of communication open. It’s most important, of course, to let your teen know that you still love her in spite of her behaviors, in spite of the arguing, fighting, or other problems you’ve been experiencing, and that you want to help.

This guest post is by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, is a mental health therapist in private practice and at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, ON, Canada. She is the author of Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens.

 

1 thought on “Communicating With Your Emotional Teen”

  1. Hey, cool article, but that photo you’re using was taken by me. Some form of credit would be highly appreciated. Just a suggestion.

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