Is your teen dealing with deeper emotional or psychological issues? Watch out for these red signs and flags

Teenagers face more challenging issues in today’s fast-changing, ever-evolving world. Adolescence is a crucial stage of development, characterized by a flurry of physical, emotional and social changes. While many teens get through this period with resilience and flexibility, some may face more serious emotional or mental health issues that often go unnoticed. Being alert to warning signs that a teenager may be experiencing internal difficulties is crucial for parents and guardians.

Teen Mental Health Alert: Signs Your Teen May Need Help (Pexels)

Teenagers often act in ways that their parents cannot understand. Unknown to parents, much of this is rooted in normal developmental patterns. During adolescence, teens learn to make age-appropriate choices. As they develop these skills, they may make silly mistakes that parents may label as signs of irresponsibility or immaturity. This often happens because the necessary competence has not been developed. However, when poor choices have material impacts on academics, social success and self-esteem, it is important to understand the reasons underlying such outcomes, says Dr. Pramit Rastogi, child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director of the STEPS Center for Mental Health, Gurugram.

Pramit further shared with HT Lifestyle some crucial signs and red flags that can help you identify if your teen is dealing with deeper emotional or mental health issues.

Understanding the Teenage Brain

The prefrontal cortex of the brain controls choice and decision making. It is responsible for planning, organization and emotional regulation. Between the ages of 13 and 18, this part of the brain is still developing (fun fact: it continues to develop until the age of 25!). As a result, it is normal at this age for teenagers to

  • Shows reluctance to study boring subjects.
  • Struggle with competing priorities, for example, going to a party the day before an exam.
  • Lying and not taking responsibility for your actions, but confessing when confronted.
  • Drag yourself to do chores, for example cleaning the closet or helping around the house.
  • Protect your online/social life, but share difficulties in times of distress.
  • Sometimes trying to fit in socially, to their own discomfort. for example, being too focused on appearance, wearing clothes that are fashionable but that you don’t actually like.

Accountability structures, such as schools, supportive parents, and teachers, play a key role in providing the structure teens need to navigate this period. Ensuring they remain safe and continue to progress along the developmental path to becoming healthy adults.

First signs

The story begins to change if there are negative impacts on day-to-day functioning. This deviation is often observed for one or more of the following reasons.

  • Excessive protection or lack of responsibility expected of the child at home.
  • Low self-esteem, resulting in poor social choices that may conflict with household rules or the law.
  • Impulse control difficulties caused by biological predispositions.
  • Parents can observe behavior according to the following themes
  • Low interest in academic proficiency with dismissive attitude towards studies.
  • Occasional reminders from school about academic or disciplinary difficulties.
  • That they (parents) are working harder than their child to get into college.
  • Lying more frequently, leading to erosion of trust and conflict at home.
  • Emerging social difficulties with limited friends or intense, short-lived friendships.

At this stage, it is recommended that parents be curious and try to understand their child’s difficulties. It is important to use an open and disarming tone, allowing the child to safely express what may be bothering them. Parents should not, under any circumstances, label their children using phrases like pathological liar or you are untrustworthy or no one in the family is like you. These reinforce negative self-perception and tend to perpetuate even worse behavior.

Recognizing the red flags

Deeper struggles to take responsibility don’t happen overnight, they accumulate over time. What may have started out as acceptable disabilities now seem out of step and become established norms of behavior. Mainly due to the amplification of pre-existing difficulties (excessive protection, low self-esteem, biological predispositions) and can manifest itself as

  • Shocking inconsistencies in academics. for example, missing exams due to lack of preparation, failure to attend or failure to attend scheduled tutor sessions.
  • Complete breakdown in the parent-child relationship regarding screen use, sleep regulation, and failure to adhere to reasonable household rules.
  • Strong school disciplinary action leading to deactivation or suspension.
  • A gap year after school due to college’s lack of planning and execution.
  • High-risk behavior patterns without taking responsibility for any actions.
  • Significant impulsivity, including theft, physical aggression, and use of abusive language.

In these circumstances, it is essential to seek professional help. Interventions typically include the following

  • Develop a systemic understanding of the problem as it arose (from childhood to adolescence) rather than focusing only on current symptoms.
  • Work with the child and parents to build strategies and support structures.
  • The use of medication in case of impulse control disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Leverage academic or cognitive assessments to identify any learning difficulties.
  • Psychoeducation to develop empathy for the struggles of the child and parents.

As overwhelming as a child’s struggles may be, timely interventions, parental support, patience, and healing are the only cure.

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