If you live with a teenager, one thing is certain: their emotions change as often as the weather or their clothes. They ascend to the heights of joy one day, the depths of teenage despair the next.
The teen years are a time when they explore new ideas, new attitudes and new feelings. A certain amount of unpredictability is normal. But how can a parent tell if their teenager’s emotional swings are beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence?
The Minirth-Meier psychiatric organization has a checklist that highlights the warning signs:
Jay Strack, author of Good Kids Who Do Bad Things, suggests that a parent’s response to these signs of trouble is crucial.
“Overreacting parents often drive kids into an emotional shell from which they are reluctant to venture. Underreacting parents send a message to their kids that says, ‘I just don’t care.’ Either response can be devastating when the individual loses his emotional balance,” he writes.
Strack says it is important to differentiate between the normal pressure of life and crisis situations. He offers several steps of action when teens are demonstrating a number of the warning signs.
1. Don’t panic. “This is no time to lose control of yourself,” Strack says. A calm demeanor and a listening ear are crucial.
2. Act quickly. Strack writes that parents should not sit around “hoping the problem will solve itself or just go away. Timing is crucial in a crisis.”
3. Seek advice. Parents can seek the advice of counselors, pastors, teachers, lawyers, police, and other officials, depending on the situation. “See the advice of those who can really help,” he suggests.
4. Stick to the main issues. “While your teenager may have several areas in which he needs improvement (e.g., self-acceptance, personal discipline, study habits, etc.), it is important to stick with the major issues of the crisis until they are resolved,” Strack says. “Only then will the teenager be clear-headed enough to focus on the other issues in his life.”
5. Balance love and discipline. Strack’s fifth guideline is important. Teens need to know that they are loved and cherished, despite their behavior. “At the same time,” Strack says, “you will need to balance love with discipline when necessary so that your teenager doesn’t just run over you.”