When I deliver mental health workshops in schools, I often get asked by parents whether their child's behaviour is 'normal' or whether there could be some cause for concern.
The life of a teenager can be a very difficult and confusing time, as a result of changes in hormones and school and friendship stressors. It is often difficult to identify whether the symptoms that your child is exhibiting are normal, or whether they could be indicators of a mental illness. I want to provide guidance to parents to help them identify symptoms of mental health problems in their children early, enabling them to address and tackle any problems successfully and quickly.
Within the teenage years, significant developmental changes occur which can cause a certain level of stress. This begins with puberty, where physical and hormonal changes take place in the teenagers' bodies, leading them to become confused and unsure of themselves. They may at first struggle to understand what is happening, and be too embarrassed to speak to others about it. With this comes their desire for independence, which is manifested in behaviours such as locking themselves in their room, or not wanting to take part in family activities. They may become angry and short tempered, particularly with their parents, and often experience sudden and frequent mood swings.
Teenagers often respond to negative experiences with their friends, or boyfriends/girlfriends, in what may seem an over-dramatic manner. What we tend to forget is that this may be the first time they have had experiences like this, and they have not yet managed to, or are still in the process of developing coping strategies to use in response to these situations. In addition, the teenage years come with enormous academic pressure, with exams that will greatly impact on their future, and pressure to decide on a career. Upon achieving a low mark in a test or exam, they may feel despair or concern for their future, and exhibit these feelings in a negative way.
Negative emotions and experiences in the teenage years are common, and completely normal. It is hard to remember how you felt during adolescence, but you probably felt similar! What is important, is to recognise when this negativity has become a problem. Firstly, it is important to consider the cause of the negative behaviour, how intense and severe it is, and for how long it lasts ('normal' teenage mood swings usually last for a maximum of a few days). Take note of your child's behaviour and try to recognise when it seems abnormal to you, as this is probably when there may be a problem.
Personally, I experienced anxiety disorders from a very young age and these affected me throughout my school life. My mental health problems presented themselves in the following ways and although everyone is different, the following may help you in identifying if your child is behaving abnormally:
- I felt on edge and unable to relax, this was presented in my body language
- I would experience migraines and have stomach problems
- I enjoyed school and performed well but on some days couldn't face up to leaving the house due to fear of becoming anxious and having a panic attack.
- I found it difficult to get to sleep and woke up at least twice in the night.
- I was so lost in my thoughts that I became withdrawn with friends.
- In states of higher anxiety, I often lost my appetite and didn't eat much
- I found it difficult to concentrate
As a parent, it is important for you to get to know your teenage child, and develop with them. This will help you to be able to spot any differences or changes in their behaviour which may be an indicator of a mental health problem. This is easier said than done sometimes, as teenagers can be very good at hiding the symptoms (trust me, I know).
If you notice any abnormalities, or are worried, it is important that you are able to talk to your child. Check out my previous blog on 'Five Tips on Supporting Your Child With Their Mental Health' here.
If you need any more support, it is worth checking out the YoungMinds website, which has a 'Parent Survival Guide' and a guide for what to do if you are worried about your child.