All of us, your teen included, are entitled to have tough days now and then. From academic setbacks and conflicts with friends to just waking up on the wrong side of the bed, no teen is immune to life’s ups and downs. When a simple bad day stretches into hard weeks and difficult months, however, it could be more than just a rough patch. How to recognize when your teen is facing a truly difficult season:
- A longer-lasting, pervasive bad mood that they just cannot shake:
More than feeling a little down on occasion, this could indicate depression. This could look like feeling sick often, feeling tired often and struggling to find motivation.
- Withdrawal from people and activities that used to bring joy:
“A really troubling sign is when your teen turns away from things that used to be enjoyable and isolating from others,” says Ed Lowder, a therapist at Shelterwood. “Your teen could also be pulling away from friends who used to be close, or frequently wanting to stay home from school.”
- A sense of hopelessness:
“Pay attention when your teen is saying that life feels overwhelming or hopeless,” Ed says. Teens in a difficult season can feel that the future is bleak and things are not going to get better, ever.
- Mentioning the possibility of self-harm:
“Even if your kid mentions the possibility of self-harm or suicide, intervention needs to happen immediately,” Ed says. Whether you are certain these threats are credible or not, issues like these should not be taken lightly.
What your teen needs in this season is encouragement and support. “Your child needs to know that you are there for them and that they can depend on you as their root base for safety,” Ed says. How to encourage your teen in a difficult season:
- Focus on time in, not time out:
Our initial reaction to troubling behavior might be to punish our teen for a bad attitude or negative actions — but kids facing difficult seasons need more time together with you, not less. Think of it as time in, not time out. “How available have you made yourself to your child? When was the last time the two of you spent time together? When was the last time you had a one-on-one connection?” Ed suggests. “We get caught up in the day-to-day stress of work, managing our home and managing our life and we can forget to deliberately create quality time with our kids.”
- Look beyond the surface behavior to the needs behind it: “The challenging season may be due to an unmet need,” Ed suggests. “You teen might be feeling not cared for by others, feeling pressure to be perfect, having a difficult time at school, or stressed and in need of a respite.” Bridging the gap between the outward behavior to the inward need shows your teen that you care about their heart.
- Take an open approach to communication:
“It is important for your teen to know that you genuinely want to meet them where they are, and you want to work together to get through this time,” Ed says. Instead of dismissing your teen’s struggle, ask, Help me understand. Rather than putting your teen on the spot to fix the problem, say, We can work together on this. Ed recommends a helpful acronym for this kind of communication — LUVER: Listen, Understand, Validate, Empathize and Respond.
- Express your own vulnerability:
“Vulnerability can be a very powerful thing for teens and their parents,” Ed says. “Open up with your own experiences. If you faced something similar as a teen, let your own child in on those struggles. If you realize something you wish you had handled differently, sharing that with vulnerability can strengthen your relationship.”
Worried that this is bigger than a challenging season? Concerned that your teen may need a longer-term residential treatment agency program? Shelterwood offers real hope, real heart change and real restoration for struggling teens. Contact us to see if Shelterwood could be a fit for your teen. We are here to help.