As we all know, puberty is a very stressful time. It’s a time of change in multiple facets of adolescent lives: physiological, physical, psychological and social as well. It takes some time to get used to all the turmoil. Some of the most shocking physical changes are the growth spurts, new growth of hair and menstruation. The teenage brains are developing further but the limbic system (emotions and impulses) is still more developed than the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that is responsible for inhibition and decision-making). This makes it hard for teenagers to also deal with all the personality and social changes that accompany puberty.
Breaking away from the desire of only socializing with your own sex, now boys and girls start to see each other as potential love interests, which creates a new type of anxiety that they need to deal with. In addition, because of the embarrassment they feel with the transitions, they have trouble asking for help from adults. Teenagers are trying to learn to control emotions and have trouble doing this: not because they don’t want to, but their brains are simply not developed enough to have the ability to control their reactions or behaviors. With this, there are certain behaviors that are expected from teenagers, but we must be careful as caregivers, because sometimes potentially dangerous red flags can hide amongst the “normal”. Many of the red flags that are indicators for deeper issues, are chronic versions of behaviors that are sometimes expected during puberty. Such as: throwing tantrums, loss of self-esteem and aggressive behavior. However, there are more to consider:
- Chronic or loss of self-esteem for a long period of time
- Isolation from friends and family
- Rapid loss of weight and appetite that can be an indicator for eating disorders
- Loss of interest in activities that bring a lot of joy
- Chronic loss of sleep
- Unexpected decrease in academic performance
- Although teenagers do need more sleep, not being able to leave the bed during the weekend, or sleeping more than average can also be an indicator (lethargy)
To truly recognize deeper problems, it isn’t enough to only consider the behaviors at home. If the adolescent is exhibiting strange behavior at school or extracurricular activities, those need to be considered as well. Due to today’s emphasis on the importance of social media and the online image, cyber bullying is a real problem that needs to be watched out for as well.
Here are two common approaches that therapists use to help adolescents deal with their maladaptive thoughts and emotions:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): helps improve moods, anxiety, and behavior by looking at confused or distorted thought processes. It brings awareness to how thoughts can affect moods and behaviors. Research has shown that CBT can be effective in treating a variety of conditions, including depression and anxiety.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): can be used to help older adolescents who have chronic suicidal feelings/thoughts, engage in intentionally self-harmful behaviors. DBT emphasizes taking responsibility for one’s problems and helps the person examine how they deal with conflict and intense negative emotions.
- Art Therapy: can be used with adolescents, who do not want or do not know how to articulate their issues. Art therapy helps teenagers express their feelings, thoughts, and worries in other ways, become aware of the emotional triggers, and practice alternative ways of coping with conflict and difficult situations.
It might take a while before your teenager reaches out to you to seek help or to ask for professional help. By recognizing the red flags and offering them the help, you can accelerate this process. Our therapists in Montreal, West Island, and Brossard offer after school and weekend appointments. Call us now!
Author: Mihaela Zlatanovska
Edit: Reyhane Namdari