A Parent's Guide to Teen Health


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Teens go through a lot of changes, and sometimes they just need help figuring things out. If you see multiple changes in your teen's behavior, don’t be afraid to ask about it.

Get them talking about what they’re feeling. And always take what they say seriously. A lot of times, teens just need support. And remember, you don’t always have to have all the answers — so it never hurts to seek professional guidance on any matter that might concern you.

Signs that an adolescent may be having difficulty:

  • Changes in sleep patterns — sleeping more or less hours than usual
  • Displaying irritability, possibly by being short in responses or yelling
  • Shift in social habits
  • Changes in appearance, hygiene, mood and/or grades
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Changes in interactions with you or his/her peers
  • Depressed mood
  • Excessive sadness with crying or tearfulness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Sleeping problems
  • Change in speech
  • Change in coherence
  • Cut or burn marks
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death
  • Anxiety (including excessive worrying or nervousness, trouble concentrating, uncontrollable fears, avoiding people, irritable, increased heart-rate and/or sweating)
  • Panic attacks
  • No longer engaging in previously important activities

Learn more about adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado.

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How might you know about these issues?

Parents should be aware of what their teen is doing online and keep communication open.  

Signs that your teen is having difficulty could appear in social media:

  • Facebook posts
  • Tweets to friends
  • Blogs that your teen or child has created or posts
  • YouTube or Vine postings

Also, your child’s friends may contact you about something that your adolescent posted or texted them.

Consider doing Internet searches of what your teen or child is doing (proceed with caution on this one, as teens may view this as a violation of trust).

Other helpful hints for parents:

Help to foster independence, confidence and autonomy. For example, give your teenager the opportunity to spend time with friends, engage in activities that are just theirs, let them cook for themselves or the family, or even do laundry for themselves or the family.

Work with and prepare your teens for how to deal with difficult situations, do not let them avoid them. For example, if they have a difficult test and do not feel prepared, don’t let them stay home and not take the test, explore options that involve how to handle taking the test. Examples may include talking to his or her teacher prior to the test or getting involved in a study group.

Model coping and problem-solving difficult situations. If your child sees you react to difficult situations with anxiety and stress, he or she will do the same.  Remain calm, talk through solutions and ask for help for your problems if needed.

Try to coordinate with teachers so that everyone is on the same page.

Validate any anxiety or indications of depression (Don’t dismiss it!)

Practice relaxation! You can’t use a tool in difficult situations when it is not well practiced. Help your child develop thoughts that help them tackle his/her worries, do not come up with them for him or her.

Learn about Children's Colorado's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

 

Use the "stoplight approach"

Green:

  • Problems seem manageable to your child. No more than one to two signs or indicators of difficulty (see signs of difficulty at the top of this page).
  • Only one area of life seems to be impacted.
  • Symptoms seem to resolve within the week.
  • There seems to be a potential resolution.
  • Examples: Sharing that a friend they typically hang out with is not talking with him or her right now, talking about a difficult exam that is coming up, discussing how to talk a teacher regarding a disagreement about a grade, normalizing frustrations or common school experiences.
  • What should you do? Keep communication with your child open, and pay attention to any changes in his or her appearance or behavior.

Yellow:

  • Problems may seem manageable or unmanageable to your child, yet bring up concerns to you as a parent.
  • More than two indicators of difficulty (see signs of difficulty at the top of this page).
  • More than one area of life seems to be impacted.
  • Have not resolved within two weeks of time.
  • Examples include: Your student sharing that he or she has not been completing schoolwork and not sleeping since he and his partner broke up, your child sharing that he or she cannot focus on his classes and is having trouble dealing with the divorce going on in the family.
  • What should you do? Talk with your child about your concerns and contact a mental health professional if you need additional support.

Red:

  • Problems may seem manageable or unmanageable to your child, yet makes you worried about safety.
  • Typically, more than three indicators of difficulty are also present, or one or more very serious indicators. No more than one to two signs or indicators of difficulty (see signs of difficulty at the top of this page).
  • Typically, more than two areas of life seem to be impacted.
  • Examples include: talks about suicide, harming someone else, abuse (rape, physical abuse), cutting, not functioning, incoherence, talking about having been depressed for a long time.
  • What should you do? If there are safety concerns, cutting, burn marks, threats of safety, saying "I’m going to kill myself," seeing things other people don’t see or hear, not logical, lack of hygiene — contact a mental health professional or emergency department right away for evaluation. (If safety concerns, go straight to an Emergency Department for evaluation).