I’m Worried About my Preteen/Teen

worried male teenager

By Laura Herman and Robyn Saffer, Thinking-Together About Parenting Teens.

You are meant to worry about your teenager or preteen because you love and care for them and it helps to keep them safe, but we are often asked, what is normal teenage behaviour and when do you really need to worry?

Think of a Worry Scale from 0-10

At 0 you are not worried at all, though this will be rare if you are parenting or caring for a preteen/teen.  They will reliably bring you lots to worry about! Your worrying is likely to move up and down the scale through the preteen/teen years from around 4 on a good day and up to 10 or possibly off the scale on a bad day, depending on what is going on in both yours and your preteen/teen’s life.

If you have followed anything that we have written about, you will know that your preteen/teen is going through massive change both physically and emotionally. There is a plethora of information about this stage on our website and what to expect as a parent. It often doesn’t feel ‘normal’ to you because your teen will be living through a new normal which isn’t the same as yours was at that stage in your own life.

In general terms, your preteen/teen will be struggling at times with the hormonal, brain, and physiological changes of this stage.  In addition, they will be adjusting to social pressures, academic expectations and finding out where they fit with their peer group.  This may at times conflict with your expectations or choices that you would have chosen for them. They will also be likely to worry about their appearance and popularity. Then throw lack of sleep into the mix and you have a recipe for irrational behaviour and moodiness.

So, it is fair to say, they may become less communicative, more grumpy, perhaps more anxious and want to spend more time alone in their bedrooms.

But what are the signs that your struggling preteen/teen needs to be taken a more seriously?  We prefer to have a preventative approach rather than a reactive one at Thinking-Together and we know how impulsive young people can be and our priority is keeping them safe.

Concerning signs to look out for:

  • School refusal.
  • Significant deterioration in academic work.
  • Communication from school about changes school staff have noticed.
  • Disengaging from sports or activities that used to be enjoyed.
  • A general lack of interest in life/hopelessness.
  • Secrecy about friends and where they are hanging out.
  • Withdrawn from friends and family.
  • Excessive money being spent or frequent inexplicable requests for cash.
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or burns.
  • Always wearing long sleeves/trousers could indicate cutting.
  • Constantly angry.
  • Medication (including laxatives) or alcohol at home that may seem to inexplicably disappear. Don’t convince yourself you are imagining it.
  • Avoiding eating with other people and/or rapid weight loss.
  • Excessive exercise.
  • Websites or interests on social media that indicate they are searching something concerning.
  • Excessive time spent on gaming.

What can I do if I’m worried about my teenager or preteen?

Remember these are possible not definite signs. Be curious and sensitive. Perhaps you don’t need to be concerned at all, perhaps they aren’t ready to talk to you yet. Some young people may readily tell their parents/guardians how they are feeling and what they are doing. Others are more secretive and you may find out from one of their peers, school or by accident.

Of course, it is normal for any parent to have a strong emotional reaction if they find out their child is doing something destructive to themselves. If they are safe for now, take some time to calm your own emotions before approaching them.

Tips for approaching your child:

  • If you notice that your worrying is regularly rising to around 7 or higher up the scale, don’t ignore it.
  • Find a time to communicate with them when you both have time. A walk or car journey might be a good time. 
  • Enquire generally about how they are, rather than launching straight into what you know.
  • If your suspicions are right, remember they are doing these things because they are struggling with something that is important to them and need support.
  • If you are going through a difficult life event e.g. relationship breakdown or bereavement yourself, don’t assume your child is not struggling with it, even if they say they are fine.
  • Just because your teen is at an age that they can be left at home alone, they still need you and bear that in mind if they are being left alone for very long periods of time and/or you are busy with younger children.
  • Don’t make any assumptions about how they are coping as their form of communication is more cryptic now.
  • Young people can be very impulsive and volatile. Can you be a safe person they can turn to in a crisis without them fearing you will hit the roof?
  • They might tell you something that takes you by surprise or that is hard to hear. Ask yourself how you could respond helpfully to anything your child tells you? For example, their sexuality, sexual activity, drug use, something inappropriate they’ve posted online, they are regularly cutting.
  • It is natural for you to need support or want to talk to someone. Find someone you trust to talk to, who won’t discuss your child with other people.
  • Your child’s school can be a good source of support for both you and child’s school.
  • Be aware of other family members and if you decide to tell them, how they might react.
  • If you want additional support for yourself or think your child needs support, seek advice from a professional, even if it’s just to eliminate anything more serious. Your GP is a good place to start.

Sometimes, arming yourself with knowledge and understanding about your pre-teen/teen’s developmental stage can make all the difference and getting support for yourself can play a huge part in supporting your child.

Sign up for more details about our parenting workshops.

Contact us to discuss providing a workshop in your school.

For helplines and support see: Getting Help

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