Do you remember being a teenager? When I think about my teen years, I remember being extremely emotional, sensitive and wanting so badly to fit in among my peers. I also wanted privacy, rarely confided in my parents and did not always make the best decisions. But that’s pretty much what teenagers do.
If you’re worried about your teenager, you are not alone. The American Counseling Association reported a significant increase in the number of teenagers receiving services in the last year, and I have personally seen an increase in the number of teenagers coming in to see me for counseling services. They are trying new things, experiencing bits of freedom, going through hormonal changes and testing limits. They are bombarded with social media and all the good and bad that brings. All this exploration and growth is happening during a very tumultuous time in history. In military families, there are the added elements of moving, deployments and uncertainty. So, what can you do if your teenager is struggling or if you simply want to know more about how to support your teenager?
- Take care of yourself. This is the same thinking behind “put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.”
- Lean more about this stage of development. At this stage of human development, teens are all about themselves and looking to see how and where they fit in the world. They are experiencing the world while their pre-frontal cortex is still being developed. I refer to this as the “computer brain” because it is the part of the brain responsible for thinking, reasoning and decision making. Our computer brains do not fully come online until our early 20’s! This is one reason that it can be so frustrating dealing with teens … they do not always make great choices because of this. It is also a time of egocentricity — they are fully immersed in themselves, and it is normal. Knowing how teens think at this stage may help parents to understand them a bit more.
- Respond versus react. When emotions are escalating, we all tend to react in an emotional way. This can look like anger, yelling, storming off, etc. If possible, take a moment and take a pause. Observe how you feel, what is happening in the moment. Can you respond in a calm way versus reacting emotionally? It can help to de-escalate a situation. No, it’s not always easy.
- Tell them you love them and be willing to have honest discussions.
- Seek out resources. Military OneSource has great resources for teens and parents.
Lastly, practice empathy and compassion for your teenager — it is an awkward time under the best of circumstances! It can also be a time filled with fun, magic and growth. Lean on your military family when needed and know that you are doing the best you can — and so are they.