Reading Warning Signs and Cues of Teenagers…

Posted: July 17, 2012 in For Parents and Guardians
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Bills to pay, family members to support, money to earn, food to buy, clothes to replace, taxes, housing, rent and 2nd jobs. The responsibilities adults have are endless and can be exhausting. The craving for a break from our obligations is strong and pulls us away from appreciating what we do have. And these feelings are entirely normal and can connect us to others who are sharing in your exhaustion.

But just as easily as these burdens can connect us to others, they can also distract us from seeing what needs to be seen. As hard as it is sometimes to look away from our own frustrations and fatigue to focus on the realities of the teenagers in our lives… it is vital that we find a way.

So what do we look for? What signs do our children give us that they are struggling and in need of our support and guidance? How can we get better at catching ourselves when we become too self-absorbed to see that our children are falling behind or feeling alone?

Adolescents for the most part don’t have the vocabularies adults do, nor do they always trust adults to react in non-judgmental, truly receptive ways. And because of this, they often keep secrets and withhold valuable insights. Instead of coming to us and telling us clearly what’s going on with them, their inside struggles will manifest in their behaviors. And these behaviors are the signs we need to be better at reading.

A child who is struggling or confused may get into frequent fights just as often as they may claim to “not care” about anything. A child who is feeling lonely and misunderstood may cut their own skin, experiment with drugs and alcohol, or engage in risky sexual behavior, or they may lose their appetites or eat too much than is healthy.  Often times, young people will claim to engage in unhealthy behaviors and claim to do so because “it’s fun” or “just because they wanted to”, but rarely is this the whole story.

Teenage years are defined by confusion, curiosity, powerlessness, excitement and the pursuit of more freedom and independence. It’s very easy to attribute strange or unhealthy teenage behaviors to “adolescence,” but overlooking or minimizing these behaviors can be dangerous. Despite our children’s requests to be left alone, they do need us to see the signs. They need us to be more inquisitive and less dismissive. They need us to ask them if they’re okay, and wait for genuine answers. They need us to be more observant of changes in their behaviors, styles, appetites, choices in friends, work ethic and mood. And they need to feel from us enough care to push through our own exhaustion and frustration, and never stop trying to understand what their lives are like for them.

The general rule is that if your gut is telling you that something may be wrong with your child or student… ask. Though you may be accused of being annoying, or pushy, or nosey, underneath these accusations is appreciation. Teenagers, despite all their claims that they’re “fine” and want to be left alone, need to be seen and are comforted when they feel the adults in their lives caring enough to look. And while your probing and reacting to signs might lead to hearing that your child is struggling in ways that scare you or that they’re doing things that are dangerous, it’s better that you know.


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