Adolescence is a time of immense physical, emotional, and social change. The growth teenagers are experiencing prepares them for great opportunities, but also leaves room for great risk. They are preparing to take on the responsibilities of adults, but are experiencing a world of pressures and confusion.
One of the key features of adolescence is their increasing need for independence from their parents. Teenagers are developing their own identity, learning how they view themselves and their values, as well as worrying about what others think of them. This is natural and can be a healthy part of their life, but it can cause tension in even the closest parent-teen relationship. Talking with a therapist can be helpful for a teen to work through their struggles and enable them with skills to face new problems.
Just a Phase?
With all its ups and downs, adolescence shouldn’t be seen as something just to “get through” or outgrow. It’s an important time of maturation and can be a time for teens to thrive. The teenage brain is going through substantial and rapid changes which can enable them to succeed; however, the malleability of the brain at this stage also means that unhealthy experiences and patterns can result in further risk-taking and maladaptive behaviour.
Additionally, symptoms of most mental health disorders begin in adolescence, around age 14, but the majority of people do not seek help until about 10 or more years later, when their symptoms have become disabling to their work and relationships. Seeking early treatment in teen years is important to help develop coping skills and understanding of their emotions. Earlier treatment and assessment can reduce later severity of symptoms and prevent the development of addition, co-occurring disorders.
Extra support will help teens access the benefits of their developing brains and can help teens and their families enjoy this time instead of waiting for it to be over.
Is My Teen's Behaviour Normal?
It is normal to see a change in behaviour when your child reaches adolescence, but sudden, extreme, or long-lasting changes in mood and behaviour may be cause for concern. Additionally, if your teen is showing signs of depression or anxiety, it is important to seek appropriate assessment and treatment.
Stress is a typical part of teenage life, but for some teens, stress becomes anxiety, which is intense worry that is out of proportion to the actual event and its possible consequences. When that anxiety starts to impair daily functioning, it may be part of a disorder.
As teens take risks and try new things, they will inevitably experience disappointments, failure, and loss. They may demonstrate more extreme reactions to seemingly trivial things, so distinguishing normal periods of depression from a clinical diagnosis involves judging whether they are able to recover themselves, how long it takes to get back on track, and how quickly they fall back into a depressed state. After a failure or loss, if your teen doesn’t show much improvement even when other things are looking up, they may be showing signs of clinical depression.
Is Medication Enough?
Studies have repeatedly shown that when it comes to mental health, best outcomes are seen when medication is combined with therapy. Medication can help reduce anxiety or regulate emotions so that we are ready to engage in therapy in order to learn healthy ways of thinking and relating and put them into practice.
By Kristi MacDonald
Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee on the Science of Adolescence (2011). The science of adolescent risk-taking: Workshop report. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53420/
National Institute of Mental Health (June 2005). Mental Illness Exacts Heavy Toll, Beginning in Youth. Retrieved from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2005/mental-illness-exacts-heavy-toll-beginning-in-youth.shtml
White, A. M. & Swartzwelder, S. (2013). What are they thinking?!: The straight facts about the risk-taking, social-networking, still-developing teen brain. W.W. Norton & Company, Ltd: New York, NY.