I heard shouting down the hall… then crying. My daughter entered the room with an empty mug in her hand and she’s sobbing. “She spilled my hot chocolate.”
So we are crying over…. spilled hot chocolate?
Understandable behaviour if she was 5 but she is in her mid-teens and it took me off guard.
I consoled her with a promise to make more and as I folded her into an embrace, I caught my husband’s eye across the room. He raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
This is not the first incident like this. But I am noticing them happening more often. I tend to be quick to chalk moments like these up to hormones. My husband however questions something deeper. Lack of sleep, stress, relationships… yes, yes, yes! It could be all of those things but also none of them.
I read and I think and I worry. Am I missing early signs of mental illness? With up to 70% of mental illnesses showing up before the age of 18, this is a concern that can’t be ignored.
What is going on?
Unfortunately, the more I read, the less clear it is. It turns out there is more to the puzzle than shifting hormones.
In short, the developing brain and the way it perceives the world around it influences behaviours, feelings, thinking and coping. We’ve talked about this before. There is a lot going on around our teens; school expectations, changing relationships, and for most their peers are their go-to for support – a classic case of the teen brain leading the teen brain.
So, does that mean her behaviours aren’t worrisome? It means that you shouldn’t assume that ‘it’s just his/her age’ because there are times when it’s not.
What can I do?
- Pay attention and don’t brush off emotional outbursts or changes in behaviour.
- Talk with them and acknowledge their feelings.
- Offer empathetic and non-judgemental listening. Listen for what else may be behind the big emotion.
- Offer your wisdom or problem solving if your teen is receptive.
- Suggest alternate ways to express their feelings if they aren’t one to talk; journaling for example.
- Encourage self-regulating behaviours; deep breathing, meditation, or talking to a trusted person.
Signs of concern
Experiences with stress, sadness or low self-esteem are a part of growing up. However, when it begins to interfere with school, family or everyday living, it is time to ask for help.
Have you noticed your teen:
- Crying more often than usual
- Losing interest in favourite activities
- Having difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Sleeping more than usual or alternately, not able to sleep
- Less patient or easily overwhelmed
- Choosing to spend more time alone
- Talking about hurting him/herself, or suicide. All talk of suicide must be taken seriously.
If your teen is showing one or more of these changes and it is interfering with their daily living, talk to them and then talk to your family doctor. The family doctor can rule out any medical conditions that may have similar symptoms, provide support, counseling and referral if necessary.
So at the end of the day, there is no silver bullet. I don’t have all of the answers. But as a parent; I have gained more tools and insight and as we continue on this parenting journey I think that’s a step in the right direction.
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For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.