Parenting teenagers can be rewarding—but also very frustrating. One moment your child is happy and talkative, then suddenly doors are slamming and you’re getting the cold shoulder. Things you consider minor issues can be monumental problems in a teen’s mind.
Unfortunately, parents of high school and middle school students often don’t know what happened to sour their teen’s mood. Did they get a poor grade on a test? Are they worried about getting into college? Did a friend’s Instagram post show everyone else having fun? Are they being bullied?
The good news is that there are ways you can help manage your teen’s emotions, even when you’re not sure what’s wrong. Here are nine tips for understanding your teen’s feelings and helping them weather emotional storms.
1. Remain Calm
When possible, avoid communicating with your teen when you are feeling angry, exhausted, or impatient. Should you find yourself in a heated argument with your teen, staying calm can help diffuse the situation. Admittedly, it can be difficult to keep your cool when a teenager is screaming at you or slamming doors. Remember that your goal is not to win an argument, but to help your child deal with his or her immediate feelings and, long term, grow into an emotionally healthy adult. That doesn’t mean you need to nod and smile while insults are hurled at you. But don’t escalate the situation with your own yelling. Instead, let your child know that it will be easier work out the problem at hand if you can treat each other with respect even when you disagree.
2. Understand the Teenage Brain
Though sometimes teenagers may look like adults physically, research shows that the teenage brain is not as developed as the adult brain. The part of the brain that manages emotions, reason, and decision-making, continues to develop until the mid-20’s. Both the continued brain development and hormonal changes experienced during these years can impact how your teen thinks and reacts to different situations. These biological changes do not in any way mean that there is a lack of intelligence during the teenage years. However, because self-management skills are still developing, teens may have trouble with handling conflicts, making good choices, and controlling their emotions.
3. Be Present
Though your attempts at having a conversation with your teen will not always be welcomed, it is important to show that you are available. Consistently make eye contact while talking to and listening to your teen and ask them to do the same for you. Consider requiring that mealtimes be free of electronics (like phones or television), even if it means eating the meal in silence. Find common ground and discuss mutual interests. If you are available during the calm times, it is more likely that your teen will turn to you during the difficult times.
4. Bite Your Tongue
If you’re lucky enough to have a teen tell you what’s bothering him or her, try to remain neutral. For example, if you feel your child was at fault in an argument with a friend at school, do not blurt out your judgment. (“Well, it sounds like you were being a jerk, and I don’t blame him for being angry.”) Instead, give noncommittal responses to show you’re listening, while also providing time and space for your teen to work out the issue themselves. If you do respond, it can be helpful to reframe any negative or counterproductive thoughts in a positive light. Remember that just because your teen is sharing a problem, he or she is not necessarily asking you to fix it. Often, teens (and adults) just want to share what’s wrong without being bombarded with solutions.
5. Respect Their Differing Perspectives
You can imagine how you might feel if, during an argument, your spouse told you that your concerns were “not that big of a deal.” Teens also don’t want their emotions minimized. At this point in their lives, they are often feeling anxiety about life after high school or may feel self-conscious about their changing bodies and feelings. This can make small problems loom large in their minds. While you don’t necessarily have to agree that a minor incident is, in fact, the end of the world, it also helps to realize your teen might truly feel that it is.
6. Provide Outlets
You can help your teen release some of the stress of those troubling teen emotions instead of allowing them to build up and explode. Some effective ways of blowing off steam include exercise (hiking, kickboxing, basketball, etc.), writing in a journal, cooking or baking, and doing artwork. Taking up a new hobby can also help clear the mind and relieve stress. It’s hard to focus on problems and worries when you’re tackling a new challenge, such as trying to remain upright on ice skates, shaping clay on a potter’s wheel, or staying afloat on a paddle board.
7. Be a Role Model
Don’t just tell them how to deal with their troubling teen emotions—show them. Model good relationships with your partner, friends, and other family members. Let your teen see how you deal with issues, and let subtlety be your guide. If you like to go for a run when you’re stressed, instead of saying, “You should go running; it will really get you out of that atrocious mood,” try casually mentioning, "I’m going for a run to help me relax."
8. Know When to Get Help
A mental health concern can sometimes be mistaken for typical teenage angst. Experts say signs you should watch for include sudden struggles with schoolwork, dramatic changes in sleep patterns, self-destructive behavior (cutting class, drinking, excessive risk taking, etc.), and a preoccupation with death. If you suspect your teen might be dealing with something more than a passing developmental phase, reach out to your School Counselor for resources and support. If you have concerns about the immediate safety of your child, contact local emergency services right away.
9. Consider a Change in School, Such as Online High School
Sometimes parenting teens needs a tactical approach. Your raging teen’s emotions could be a result of bullying, a need for less distractions, or a need for a new circle of friends. Enrolling them into a virtual high school like Connections Academy could be the best thing to help them get a fresh start and boost their negative teen feelings. Learn how the benefits of online high school could help struggling teens.
Parenting your child through their middle and high school years can be a challenge but incorporating some of these best practices into your interactions can make this phase of life less stressful.
Helping your teen develop social and emotional skills for their overall wellbeing will also set them up for success both in school and in life. These include developing coping skills, managing emotions through gratitude, and adjusting one’s mindset based on what they can control. Check out these six tips for improving your student’s social and emotional wellbeing.