Worrying signs in teenager’s behaviour. What should parents do?

Adolescence is one of the most complicated periods in child development. Specialists designate it as an age crisis because it is the hard time for both parents and adolescents.  The most important psychological characteristic of this period is the emerging feeling of adulthood.

Adolescents’ ambition forecast their future status, which they have not reached yet, and exceeds their capabilities. It is expressed in their prominent striving to stand for their independence and rights still waiting for positive attitude, help, protection and support from the adults.  

Разговаривайте с ребёнком, интересуйтесь его жизнью, потребностями
Talk to your child, be interested in his life, needs

The following characteristics of adolescence may be specified: 

-  demonstrativeness in everything (behaviour, personal appearance);  

- mood swing (impulsivity, mood change, increased vulnerability, resentfulness);

- fast growth, development and changes of the body, irregularity of physical development;

- over-sensitivity to the opinions of the others; 

- need for being accepted by peers;

- eagerness to oppose to adults, to stand for own independence and rights;  

- decrease of parental authority; 

- rebellion against control from adults and, at the same time, need for guidance and anticipation of support;

- dependence of self-assessment on the style of mutual relations with peers and adults. 

It is very important for an adolescent that parents recognise his/her rights as equal to those of the adults. If not everything is right among parents and a teenager, if there are difficulties in their relations, it is never too late to change the situation. However the older is the child, the more efforts adults will have to apply.  Still there are no hopeless situations and it is important to stay patient and not to give up halfway.

Adolescent’s behaviour to be paid special attention:

  • often low spirits, feeling of loneliness, worthlessness;
  • aiming for risky actions, self-defeating and reckless actions, denial of problems;
  • direct statements such as "I can’t stand it,” “I am tired of this life,” “I won’t be a problem for anyone any longer,” “Living doesn’t make sense anymore,” “Everything will be over soon;”
  • behaviour, which is unusual for this teenager: decrease of social activities of previously sociable children or, vice versa, increased sociability of timid children, uncharacteristic desire of seclusion, preference of mourning or sorrowful music, sudden interest in poisonous agents expressed directly or indirectly, giving away personal properties, loss of interest to favourite amusements;
  • talking about the absence of value of life;
  • statements such as “It's OK, you will soon rest from me,” “He (she) will soon be sorry for turning me down,” “It’s OK, it will soon be over for me.” Of course, context of utterance should be considered.
  • unrequited love. Adults often think that love of adolescents is not serious.  With unsuccessful ‘love’ experience children may think that they are unfortunate and are wanted by no one in this world; 
  • problems in relations with peers. A child may feel like a white crow, a misfit, who nobody wants to talk to.

How to hold a conversation with a teenager?

  1. Don’t panic! Emotional stability of an adult helps a teenager come down. It is important to keep a kindly and calm attitude.  Don’t try to smooth conflicts provoked by a child.  Let his/her aggression come out and listen to him/her in order to learn what the reason of the outrage was.
  2. Listen.  If a teenager tries to demonstrate something to you by any way, it means that he/she trusts you and believes that you are able to hear. First of all, listen to the child without judging and, if his/her words frighten you, say it openly.  A child needs help, not the assurance that everything is all right.
  3. Be attentive. Be attentive to everything said by a teenager, even if the problems seem insignificant. A child may not openly express his/her feelings and still experiences the strongest emotional upheaval.  
  4. Respect emotions. Don’t depreciate child’s feelings. Don’t stop tears if there are any. In many cases there is emotional pain behind such a reaction.  Pain needs a way out.  A child who cries needs support.  Reveal child’s feelings - tell him/her that you can see the pain and ask how you can help. For a teenager experiencing love, betrayal and loneliness are the strongest feelings. Your child will trust you more if you don’t say “You will have millions of such Marias (or Alexes).” If your teenager sees that you understand and accept his/her pain and sympathize with their feelings, then the trust between you will grow.
  5. Bring hope. Tell him/her about your (possibly similar) feelings, share your experience of overcoming such a situation, and tell him/her how and in what circumstances you coped with it. Remember those difficult situations, which your child managed to overcome. Make it clear that any crisis situation is not insurmountable. 
  6. Look for a way out of trouble. Stop imposing your opinion.  Offer help and cooperation in finding a solution for a crisis situation. Convince the child that he/she has an opportunity to ask for assistance and you will be there to help. 

Talk to the child, be interested in his/her life and needs: what is going on, what is good and what is not, what help he/she needs, what his/her vision of your relations is, what should be changed. Such dialogues are important and you should find time for them outside of context of criticism or discussion of his/her academic performance. For a teenager it is important to have an adult nearby who is supportive and understanding, and such communication may become essential for building of skills of resilience and development of psychological immunity to unfavourable impacts from outside.  

Media Contacts
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Children’s Fund