Many of us can remember how difficult it was to be a teenager, i.e., wanting to fit in, acne, gossip, bodily and hormonal changes, etc. Teens go through emotional ups and downs all the time, often, unbeknownst to the teen. Unlike, younger children, teens are more likely to seek approval and support from their peers rather than their parents. The relationship between teens and parents begin to evolve from a dependent child that heavily relies on their parent to more of a mentoring and guidance position from parent to teen. With age and maturity, more accountability and responsibility is expected. As children move through the various tumultuous transitions that accompany adolescence — physical, emotional, hormonal, sexual, social, intellectual — the pressures and problems they encounter can all too easily seem overwhelming. Hence, parents no longer require child care services while they are away from home or working extended hours, teenagers can now be entrusted to monitor and self-direct their own behaviors.

Teenagers more than any other age group rely on peer support for negotiating challenges, helping them with identity formation, etc. Peer support can play a significant role in determining who we become as adults and how well we relate to others. However, when there are symptoms of a mental illness present, more than a good friend is needed. Unfortunately, children and teenagers do not have the capacity to truly understand “something may be wrong”. Teens are not able to fully understand what they are feeling and what those feelings mean. Recognizing symptoms that may suggest an underlying mental health condition can be difficult for a lot of people, specifically, persons that are not familiar or do not have a thorough understanding of mental illness. Although, the relationship between parent and child evolves into a mentor and mentee relationship parents are expected to remain vigilant to the changes in the lives of their teenagers. It is important for parents to stay connected so that they will be able to notice any significant changes or any symptoms of mental illness in their child.

It is important to note mental illness can look very different from person to person, even persons diagnosed with the same illness may exhibit different behaviors or have more pronounced symptoms than the other. Mental illness includes but is not limited to depression; anxiety; mood disorders; schizophrenia; borderline personality disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and many more disorders that can interfere with a teen’s daily life.

Signs Your Teens Behavior May be More Than Teen Moodiness:

  • Significant depressed mood, angry mood, or mood swings
  • Self- injurious behaviors (cutting, burning, etc.)
  • Alcohol or substance abuse/Self-medicating
  • Significant behavioral changes
  • Self-isolating
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Academic decline/challenges
  • Unusually impulsive/risky behavior
  • Promiscuity
  • Change in energy, decrease
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Abandonment or loss of interest in favorite pastimes

Parents that have concerns about their child’s mental health should be discussed openly, honestly, and compassionately with the teenager and all pertinent adults. Parents should be open and accepting of the possibility that their child’s mood and behavior may be more significant than “normal teenager behavior and angst”. If your concerns are serious, discuss them with your pediatrician. Because so many mental health issues display physical manifestations — weight loss being the most dramatic but not the only one — your pediatrician can offer both initial medical assessment and refer you to appropriate mental health organizations/professionals for counseling and treatment if needed.