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12 Signs That Your Teen/Tween May be Experiencing Emotional Crisis

It can be a scary time to parent teens: pre-teen and teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 24. The last two years of a world-wide pandemic and the isolation caused by COVID-19 have exacerbated levels of distress experienced by our children and teens.

Adolescents are impulsive and highly emotional; it is normal for their stage of their brain development. Their frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for problem solving and reasoning, isn’t fully developed until the age of 24. The amygdala is the most active part of the brain during the teen years and is responsible for high levels of emotional expression, impulses, aggression, and instinctual behavior. This puts teens at a disadvantage when experiencing emotional crisis, as the amygdala easily hijacks the reasoning center of the brain. They may not yet have the tools to navigate emotional regulation when life gets difficult. You can be your teen’s best support.

Assessing a teen/tween’s level of emotional distress can be challenging, as they avoid conversation and spend less time with their parents and more time alone in their rooms on social media. It’s normal teenage development to individuate, or separate, from parents and to become emotionally volatile at times. So how is a parent to determine what is “normal” teen/tween behavior as opposed to being highly distressed?

Below are 12 signs that your teen/tween may be suffering from emotional crisis:

  1. Increased mood swings.

  2. Increased time alone and in isolation.

  3. Irritability – more than usual.

  4. Significant changes in appetite and eating patterns

  5. Change in sleeping patterns - Either excessive or lack of sleep.

  6. No longer interested in activities once enjoyed such as sports, movies, walking the dog, spending time with others, etc.

  7. Emotionally overreacting to small things - Okay, so part of being a teenager is being dramatic, right?!? This is where you get to practice your Sherlock Holmes sleuthing skills. Try to define your teen’s baseline for dramatic behavior, then look for behavior and emotional reactions outside of this baseline.

  8. Engaging in high-risk or self-destructive behaviors.

  9. Complaining about being bullied - the internet has an entire underground of negative online bullying that is rampant. The internet provides an unmonitored platform for young people to be publicly taunted and humiliated on a level of mass proportions. I encourage monitoring your teen’s internet and social media use. Your intervention will be paramount in stopping this form of harassment .You may need to report to law enforcement, other parents, and/or the school’s administration for assistance.

  10. Frequently tearful.

  11. Lack of emotional expression, a flat affect – an absence of outwardly expressing any, and all emotions to include anger, sadness, and happiness.

  12. You have that “Spidey Sense” that something is off: listen to it!

You don’t need to look for all 12 signs; if your young person is expressing even one, take time to connect with them and assess their situation. Open lines of communication and let them know you are there to help and support - no matter what. Find a mental health counselor in your school or community that can engage with your teen/tween.

Depression, anxiety, and other emotional distress can be treated successfully with counseling. This does not mean it will be a lifelong issue or struggle. Often, a few months of weekly counseling can provide them with the tools and strategies to navigate life’s challenges and improve their moods. If your teen/tween remains in crisis and distress for a substantial period of time after engaging in counseling, the counselor can assist you in exploring other treatment options.

Communicating with your teen/tween may be a challenge. Look for next week’s blog post about how to improve communication with your teen/tween.



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