Much of adolescence is change: physical change, emotional change, and academic change. The body changes right before our eyes. Our moods swing like swing-sets caught in a hurricane. Bodies begin to resemble adults, but the mind hasn’t caught up. The brain of an adolescent is, in essence, a developmental playground. This is the period when the Prefrontal Cortex is still developing. What is that prefrontal cortex responsible for? Oh, you know, it regulates decision-making, rationalization, problem solving, consciousness, and emotions. For adolescents, that roller coaster ride is very real.
Even though your kids may be experiencing mood swings, and mild irrational thought processes, parents have to become aware of when those things go awry. We have to essentially be our kids’ prefrontal lobe and help them make good decisions, and that may just mean we don the titles “meanest mom/dad in the world,” “unfair,” et cetera. I’m okay with that if it means my kid is safe.
Signs of trouble can manifest in many ways. For some kids, the mood swings become more exaggerated to the point of unmanageability. Parents need to look for cues. You know your child better than anyone; trust that. If you suspect trouble, investigate it. Some other indications of concern include:
- Behavioral changes: If your child suddenly becomes a complete stranger, get curious and scrutinize the situation further. This could indicate trouble.
- Negative consequences at school or socially may indicate mental illness or substance abuse.
- Physical symptoms: Changes in eating habits, excessive sleeping, excessive wakefulness, frequent health issues like headaches and stomachaches are some things to look for. They can be signs of stress, overwhelm, or depression and they need to be addressed.
Conversely, a child who has experienced trauma may act out in more extreme ways. For example, a child who has experienced sexual trauma may act out sexually. They may be exceedingly flirtatious, they may have loose boundaries or no boundaries at all, and some may seek inappropriate attention without realizing the negative consequences. Decision-making skills aren’t completely online at this time, and the addition of trauma can make for a more dire situation. In cases like this, it’s imperative for the family and child to be in active treatment.
Not all kids are the same. Some will have a relatively unaffected time in adolescence, while others may have a more difficult time of it. The most important thing we can do as parents is remember that it’s temporary, we were teens once, and we are not alone. Some days, you may need to make that a mantra: This is temporary; I was a teen once; I am not alone.
I love this age. I love the messiness of it, the curiosity, the courage, the vulnerability, and the openness. I occasionally teach yoga to this age group, and there is something truly wonderful about working with them during this time. Some days, kids come to class solemn and quiet; others, they show up wild and wily, almost mercurial in nature. My job (and I believe all of our jobs as the adults in their lives) is to remain consistent. We have to meet our adolescents’ unpredictability with compassion, kindness, and stability. Despite the natural resistance in adolescence, teens look to the adults in their lives for guidance. If we can mirror consistency and stability, the roller coaster of adolescence may not be as bumpy.