Your Suffering Teen: The 7 Most Important Truths

By Sarah Carmona, LCSW Clinical Director @ The Arrow House
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Most parents know the teenage years can be a challenging time for both parents and their adolescent children. Adolescence is a time of significant growth and development, both physically and emotionally. As a parent, it’s essential to understand your teenager and their changing needs during this period. Here are some critical things that every parent should know about their teen that can hopefully make this transitional time much smoother:

1. Every Sunrise Means Another Independence Day

One of the most significant struggles that teenagers face is their desire for independence.  Much like the toddler years where your child wanted to start trying to do a lot of things on their own without your interference, you’ll now find yourself watching your adolescent going through another phase of this newfound autonomy. As they begin to mature and develop their own sense of identity, they often feel a strong need to break free from their parents’ rules and guidelines.  This is normal! While this can be unnerving for parents to navigate, it’s essential to remember that this is a natural and healthy part of the developmental process. It’s crucial to give your teenager the freedom and space they need to explore their independence while still setting clear boundaries and expectations.  Invite them to keep communication open while they navigate their transition.

2. The Maturing Brain Remains a Work in Progress

During adolescence, the brain undergoes significant changes that impact your teenager’s behavior and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, planning, and impulse control, is still developing during the teenage years and won’t be completely done developing until early twenties. This means that your teen may struggle with making good decisions and controlling their impulses, even if they know the right thing to do. It’s important to be patient with your teen and offer guidance and support as they learn to navigate their changing brain and behavior.  Sometimes “doing their best” could change on any given day.

3. Environment Matters More than Most Things

Teenagers need and value a supportive environment where they feel safe to express themselves and their emotions. As they navigate the challenges of adolescence, they may struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, or low moods. It’s essential to create an open and welcoming environment where your teen feels comfortable talking about their feelings and emotions. Encourage your teenager to express themselves and offer support and guidance as they work through their challenges.  When your teen comes to you to talk, ask them if they want emotional support or solutions/feedback.

4. Social Pressures are Carrying Cost & Weight

Teenagers face a significant amount of pressure from their peers and social media. They may feel like they need to conform to certain social standards or expectations to fit in with their friends or be perceived a certain way. In the stage of adolescence, it is normal for teenagers to feel like their social circle is their whole world.  This pressure can lead to risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or engaging in sexual activity before they’re ready. It’s important to have open and honest conversations with your teenager about the risks and consequences of these behaviors and help them build the confidence to make their own decisions.

5. Managing Emotions Remains a Daily Challenge

Managing Emotions Remains a Daily Challenge for teens

The teenage years can be an emotional rollercoaster. As your teenager’s brain develops, they may struggle with regulating their emotions and coping with stress. The brain is changing, the body is morphing. It’s essential to help your teen develop healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise or talking to a trusted friend, therapist, or family member. Encourage your teen to find healthy outlets for their emotions, and be available to listen and support them when they need it.

6. Feeling Heard is a Priority No Matter What

Feeling Heard is a Priority No Matter What

As your teenager grows and develops their sense of self, they may struggle with feeling like their voice isn’t being heard or valued. It’s important to create a safe space where your teen feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, even if they differ from your own. Encourage your teen to express themselves and validate their feelings, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their perspective.  Teenagers are exploring what values they want to keep or reject and will continue this process well into early adulthood.  Allow them to stay curious!

7. Positive Reinforcement is Like a Moving Meditation

Positive Reinforcement

Teenagers need positive reinforcement to build their self-esteem and confidence. They may feel like they’re constantly being criticized or compared to others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or low self-worth. It’s important to offer positive feedback and praise when your teen does something well (even if it’s something small) or demonstrates positive behavior. Help your teen build a positive self-image by focusing on their strengths and encouraging their growth. Teach them to celebrate successes, small wins, and learn from their mistakes.

In conclusion, parenting a teenager can be a great experience, despite it’s trials and tribulations.  You will make errors! There is no instruction manual and every child has different needs.  It is highly encouraged to have your own support as a parent, and finding an individual therapist or parenting coach can be a great resource as you navigate this stage with your child. Your teen will thank you (maybe not right away) for being a soft place to land!

Sarah Carmona, LCSW #87353 (she/her)

Clinical Director @ The Arrow House: The Adolescent Project

O: 657.282.4263

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