Nov 15, 2000 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Understanding Your Teenager's Emotional Health

Am Fam Physician. 2000 Nov 15;62(10):2347-2348.

What should I know about my teenager's emotional health?

Your child's teenage years can be a difficult time. Teens may feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are going through. At the same time, they may be facing a number of pressures from friends to fit in and from parents and other adults to do well in school, or activities like sports or part-time jobs.

The teenage years are a time of transition from childhood into adulthood. Teens often struggle with being dependent on their parents while having a strong desire to be independent. They may experiment with new values, ideas, hairstyles and clothing as they try to define who they are. Although this may be uncomfortable for parents, it is a normal part of being a teenager.

What can I do to help my teen?

Communicating your love for your child is the most important thing you can do. Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how their parents react to them. For this reason, it's important for parents to stay positive and help their children feel good about themselves. It is also important to communicate your values and to set expectations and limits, such as insisting on honesty, self-control and respect for others, while still allowing teenagers to have their own space.

Parents of teens often find themselves noticing only the problems, and they may get in the habit of giving a lot of negative feedback and criticism. Although teens need feedback, they respond better to positive feedback. Praising appropriate behavior can help your teen feel a sense of accomplishment and reinforce your family's values.

What warning signs should I look for?

Teens, especially those with low self-esteem or family problems, are at risk for a number of self-destructive behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, or having unprotected sex. Depression and eating disorders are also important issues for teens. The following may be warning signs that your child is having a problem:

  • Agitated or restless behavior

  • Weight loss or gain

  • A drop in grades

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing feelings of sadness

  • Not caring about people and things

  • Lack of motivation

  • Fatigue, loss of energy and lack of interest in activities

  • Low self-esteem

  • Trouble falling asleep

What should I do if there is a problem?

If you suspect there is a problem, ask your teen about what is bothering him or her, and then listen. Don't ignore a problem in the hope that it will go away. It is easier to cope with problems when they are small, so don't wait until your teen gets out of control.

Talking about conflict also gives you and your teen the opportunity to learn how to work through problems together. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Many resources, including your family doctor, are available.

How can I learn more?

For more information, you can contact the following organizations:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

1-202-966-7300

http://www.aacap.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse

1-888-NIH-NIDA

http://www.drugabuse.gov

National Institute of Mental Health Information Resources and Inquiries Branch

1-800-421-4211

http://www.nimh.nih.gov

American Psychiatric Association

1-888-35-PSYCH

http://www.psych.org

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

1-800-950-NAMI

http://www.nami.org

National Mental Health Association

1-800-969-NMHA

http://www.nmha.org


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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