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 to explore new ideas, new attitudes and new feelings. Since a certain amount of unpredictability is normal, how can you tell if your teenager’s emotional swings are beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence?
Although it's not always possible to know what goes too far, there are some things you can look for in the process.
Here's a warning-sign checklist from the Minirth-Meier psychiatric organization that can help you:
Deterioration of grades;
Chronic school failure;
Blatant sexual behavior;
Verbal or physical displays;
Withdrawal or feeling of hopelessness;
Suicidal thoughts, unexplained accidents;
Death of significant person;
Interest in the occult;
Poor impulse control;
Family history of substance abuse or mental illness;
Extreme change in appearance or friends; and/or
Inability to cope with routine matters/relationships.
Jay Strack suggests that a parent’s first response to these signs of trouble is crucial. He's the author of Good Kids Who Do Bad Things.
“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.
If your teen is demonstrating a number of the warning signs, here are several action steps you can use.
First, don’t panic. “This is no time to lose control of yourself,” Strack says. "A calm demeanor and a listening ear are crucial."
Next, 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.”
Then, seek advice. Seek the advice of those who can really help, like counselors, pastors and teachers. You may need lawyers, police and other officials, depending on the situation.
Always 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's 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.”
Finally, strike a balance. Strack’s fifth guideline is important. Teens need to know that you love and cherish them, 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.”