Parenting a Teenager with Mental Illness: A Resource for Parents

As a parent, there is nothing more difficult than watching your child struggle. Even when it’s something as simple as struggling to learn complicated math equations, it still makes you wish you could make it easier. Also as a parent, you’re aware of common growing pains that occur and that they are nothing more than life lessons.

But sometimes it’s not just a growing pain your child is struggling to overcome. Sometimes it’s actually something much more difficult that requires real intervention, real help. Trying to figure out if your child is suffering from a mental health disorder is difficult to determine. Many symptoms related to mental illness can be related to physical ailments or simply a part of dealing with growing up. If you think you might be parenting a teenager with a mental illness it’s worth getting a professional opinion. Read on to learn more about common symptoms and different ways you can try to talk to your teen about what they’re going through. 

What Mental Health Disorders are Most Common for Teens?

parenting teenager

Common mental health disorders among teenagers include:

  • Depression: Depression can bring feelings of hopelessness and low self-worth. Teens with depression may struggle to maintain relationships with peers or engage in school activities due to a lack of interest or motivation. Left untreated, depression can lead to serious mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety can lead to excessive worry and fear that can have a significant impact on teens’ daily life. They may experience social phobias and avoidant behaviors that can interfere with school or work activities. When left untreated, anxiety can affect their overall well-being and lead to long-term mental health issues.
  • ADHD: ADHD can make it difficult to focus and stay organized. Teens with ADHD may struggle to stay organized, follow instructions, and complete tasks on time. In addition, they may experience problems with relationships due to their lack of self-control or inability to regulate their emotions
  • Eating disorders: Eating disorders are complex conditions that involve an obsessive relationship with food and an unhealthy view of one’s body image. Eating disorders can lead to nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and an increased risk of injury or illness due to a weakened immune system. Teens suffering from eating disorders may struggle academically as they may not be able to focus on their studies or engage in social activities due to fear of being judged by peers.
  • Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder causes extreme highs (manic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes). Bipolar disorder can have serious psychological and physical effects on teens. Teens suffering from bipolar disorder may struggle to engage in healthy relationships due to their inability to manage intense emotions.
  • Substance use disorder: Substance use disorder causes a person to compulsively misuse drugs or alcohol despite potential health risks. These health risks include liver disease or stroke due to toxin buildup in the body. There’s also the increased risk for addiction, increased risk for unintentional injury or death due to overdose or accidents, and the development of other severe mental health issues such as depression or suicidal thoughts if left untreated.

Parenting a teenager with a mental illness can be challenging. But it’s important to remember that your teen is not their disorder. A mental illness can be treated just like a physical illness and your teen can feel like themself again! As a parent, it’s crucial you provide the support necessary and encourage them to make choices that will help them in managing their symptoms so they can lead happy and healthy lives.

Signs Your Teenager May Have a Mental Health Disorder

Mental health disorders can be challenging to diagnose in teens, as the symptoms can be similar to normal teenage behaviors. However, there are some signs that may indicate a mental health disorder. These include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Decline in school performance
  • Withdrawal from activities or friends
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that used to bring pleasure
  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Extreme moods
  • Erratic behavior
  • Lack of attention to self-care

Many of these signs are also related to other conditions, so it’s important to seek advice from a mental health professional to make sure you’re getting an accurate diagnosis of your teen’s condition.

How Can I Encourage My Teen to Talk to Me More About Their Issues?

parenting teenager guide

Parents often want to know what it takes to get their teens to open up to them more. The first question you need to ask yourself is if you’re providing the opportunity and allowing your child to speak uninterrupted and judgment-free. Consider these tips once the conversation starts.

Make Sure Your Providing the Space

Creating a safe and judgment-free space for your teenager is essential to encourage them to open up. Start by letting them know that you are always available to listen and provide guidance, without making any judgments or pushing an agenda. It may take some time, but eventually, your teenager will slowly start to speak up. Remember, once they do continue to allow them to speak and help them work through issues.

Show Support

Show support for their feelings by validating whatever they may be experiencing. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings openly with you, and let them know it’s okay to talk about anything on their mind. Providing support shows that genuinely care about what’s best for them and want to help them find positive solutions.

Ask the Right Questions

Ask thought-provoking questions to get conversations going. Don’t just focus on the problems but also invite positive conversation topics. Finally, let your teen know that you understand their struggles and will do whatever possible to help. Make sure you follow through on the help you plan to provide otherwise you could lose the trust you’re building with your teen.

Consider the Stoplight Approach

The “Stoplight” approach is a way of managing behaviors and emotions that are often used with children and teens. The three colors – green, yellow, and red – represent different levels of intensity in behavior. Green signifies good behavior or emotional regulation, yellow signifies warning signs of an escalation in behavior or emotion, and red signals that the person is reaching their limit.

By recognizing these different levels and adjusting the environment accordingly, people can better manage their behaviors or emotions.

Does Your Teen Need Specialized Support?

parenting teenager with mental illness

At Shortridge Academy, we provide the necessary tools to help teens transition back to normal. Students receive academic assistance as well as access to our therapeutic enrichment programs that help teens find purpose and passion. More importantly, teens are surrounded by peers that are dealing with many of the same struggles. They are able to build a support system that understands their value and can help them develop healthy patterns. To learn more about Shortridge Academy and the programs we offer, contact us today.

parent guide for teen with mental illness

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