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Understanding Your Teen's Emotional Health

December 7, 2012  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

Various scientific studies have documented that strong and loving family relationships make a significant difference in the well being of youngsters as they enter their teen years. Teens with strong family bonds are less likely to be involved with the illegal use of alcohol or drugs.

Your teens will likely act unhappy with expectations you place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that you care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. Without reasonable expectations, your teen may feel you don't care.

The following information is from the American Academy of Family Physicians:

What should I know about my teenager's emotional health?

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

At the same time, teens may be facing a number of pressures – from friends to fit in and from parents and other adults to do well in school or activities like sports or part-time jobs.

What can I do to help my teen?

Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how you react to them. For this reason, it's important for you to help your children feel good about themselves. It is also important to communicate your values and to set expectations and limits, such as insisting on honesty, self-control and respect for others, while still allowing your teens to have their own space.

Communicating your love for your child is the single most important thing you can do.

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

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

Preparing for Your Child's Teenage Years

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests the following ways for you to prepare for your 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 he or she is upset.
  • Teach responsibility for your teen's belongings and yours.
  • Teach basic responsibility for household chores.
  • Teach the importance of accepting limits.

What warning signs should I look for?

Often teens experiment their values, ideas, hairstyles and clothing to define themselves. This is typically normal behavior and you should not be concerned. However, inappropriate or destructive behavior can be a sign of a problem.

Teens, especially those with low self-esteem or with family problems, are at risk for a number of self-destructive behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol or having unprotected sex. Depression and eating disorders are 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 I am concerned about a problem?

Work together to maintain open communication. If you suspect there is a problem, ask your teen about what is bothering him or her. Don't ignore a problem in the hopes that it will go away. It is easier to solve 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. Resources are available, including your child's pediatrician or family doctor, a guidance counselor at your child's school, or a local social services agency (such as Falmouth Human Services) or behavioral health service (such as the Community Health Center of Cape Cod).   


The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Access a set of online resource centers that contain consumer-friendly information about the most common behavioral health issues for children and teens, including such topics as depression, anxiety, bullying, and substance abuse.

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