When it comes to raising teenagers, it can be tough to know what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. Suddenly your sunny, high-spirited child is responding to your questions with “yes” and “no” answers. A flood of hormones can change your teenager’s mood, behavior, and personality. Before long, they’ll build an emotional wall between themselves and the rest of the family. While developing a sense of self and a modicum of independence is perfectly natural, it’s important to know when your teen’s morose attitude is normal and when you need to bring in a little extra help.
Your Teenager’s Changing Mind
It can be hard to know exactly when puberty will strike. Your teenage child’s brain releases a hormone called GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone). When it reaches the pituitary gland, the pituitary releases two additional puberty hormones: luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. This happens in both girls and boys, but the effect these hormones have on their brains can different. In girls, the sudden rush of estrogen can lead to symptoms of depression. For boys, a rush of testosterone can be attributed to anxiety, aggression, and risky behavior. Teenagers can also experience difficulty concentrating. This can be linked to both hormonal changes and general psychosocial changes.
As they mature, teens become more aware of the world around them. They’re able to think more abstractly and, as such, can think creatively about the future. This can mean increased interest in politics, the environment, and the well-being of others. Despite the bad rep that teens get, they really are heavily invested in what’s going on around them. While on the surface, this is great news, psychosocial stress is heavily taxing. In response, the body can release the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. At high levels, these hormones can cause depression and anxiety.
When teen girls eventually begin using contraception, this can cause additional hormone-related issues. Women who take hormonal contraceptives are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with depression six months later than other women. Though it’s a great idea to discuss safe sex with your teenager, it’s important to know that non-oral hormonal contraceptives (e.g., the patch, an IUD, or vaginal ring) can cause particularly rough bouts of depression and anxiety in teenage girls.
Warning Signs of Declining Mental Health
Due to their changing minds and bodies, teenagers are liable to exhibit personality changes and develop different habits construed as a decline in mental health. Teenagers may become aloof, feel misunderstood, act sullen, or reject your attempts to bond with them. This is all normal teen behavior. While it may be frustrating to you as their parent, please know that (within reason) this kind of behavior is pretty standard. Still, it’s important to stay aware and in tune with your teen’s behaviors. If your child starts to self-isolate and begins to avoid their friends, if they’re not sleeping well, or if they start engaging in self-harming activities, it’s time to intervene.
When and Where to Get Help
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to create an environment where your child feels safe coming to you if they need help. Keep the lines of communication open. Even if you get frustrated with your teen, make them feel loved. If you start to worry about your child, have an open and honest conversation about how they’ve been feeling. If you’re concerned, it’s not a bad idea to bring in a professional. Finding a therapist or psychiatrist is as simple as looking up “best psychiatrists in NYC” or whatever city you live in! You can also find a therapist by communicating with your insurance company. In some cases, outpatient care is not enough. For teenagers who engage in self-harm or disordered eating, you should turn to teenage mental health facilities. Residential treatment facilities provide dedicated care by experts in the unique mental health problems teenagers face.
Though teenagers can be hard to raise, it’s important to keep a level head and pay attention. Teenagers today are faced with unique challenges, and their mental health can be tenuous. Be ready to provide professional help when your child needs it.