One of the defining characteristics of adolescents is their tendency to be emotional, impulsive, and creative. They tend to lack the ability to respond logically and rationally to situations. Instead, they tend to be passionate, reactive, and sometimes overly dramatic and emotional. For instance, they might experience a breakup with a boyfriend and feel that their entire world is going to end. Or they might not have made try-outs of the football team and feel that their life is over.
Although you might have learned to accept your teen for their impulsivity and emotional reactions, there are actually active steps you can take to support adolescent emotional health. And actually teaching your teen to manage their emotions is one of the most critical skills they can take with them into adulthood. In fact, knowing how to manage emotions is one of the cornerstones to psychological health and well being.
Talk to Your Teen about Emotional Health
Emotional health is sort of a fuzzy topic. When you think of physical health, the point is clear. But emotional health is a topic that your teen might not be aware of or really understand.
Emotional Health includes being resilient, confident, aware of oneself, and happy. It’s the ability to use coping tools to get back to a place of calm when life gets stressful. Typically, those who are emotionally healthy are those who know how to recover and cope with life’s challenges. Those who are emotionally healthy are generally happy and enjoy their lives.
Boosting Adolescent Emotional Health
If you already know that emotional health is not the general state of your teen, you might also let your teen know that there are ways to boost adolescent emotional health. In fact, if you feel your teen is not emotionally healthy, then consider the suggestions below.
- Let your teen know you love them. One of the primary ways children and teens decide how to feel about themselves is in large part how their parents respond to them, including whether or not parents are communicating their love and acceptance of their teen. It’s essential for a teen’s emotional well being and self-esteem.
- Encourage your teen to become aware of their emotions. Activities such as journaling, meditation, exercise, and healthy communication can help develop awareness of how one is feeling and when. You can encourage your teen to participate in one or more of these activities by doing them together, and you can model these activities yourself.
- Teach your teen healthy coping tools for more challenging emotions. We all experience difficult feelings from time to time. Yet, coping tools facilitate having a healthy relationship with feelings, even if they are challenging. Coping tools include exercise, deep breathing, journaling, and talking to someone you trust. You can again model these tools as well as encourage your teen to use them when feelings become overwhelming.
- Consider your teen’s emotional age. Although your teen might be 16 or 17 they might behave as though they are 12 or 13. There’s a difference between a person’s chronological and emotional age. When you consider your teen’s emotional age, you might gain insight into your teen’s emotional needs, behavior, and choices.
- Teach your teen how to regulate their emotions. Once your teen has coping tools, the next step is providing them with an understanding of how to regulate or manage their emotions. This skill is going to be necessary when your teen needs to remain emotionally balanced, such as when they are in a professional environment or in college. Being emotionally regulated means being emotionally calm and centered. Of course, there are times when we might feel a wave of anger or sadness while in an environment in which you cannot express emotions fully. However, if a teen knows how to stay regulated, this skill will come in handy when they are an adult.
- Model emotional health. When you are feeling frustrated, angry, or confused how do you respond? If you’re yelling, turning to alcohol, or getting into arguments, your teen is likely to follow your lead. If you want to support your teen’s psychological well being, be a model for healthy emotional expression and communication.
- Provide a safe and loving home environment. Along with letting your teen know you love them, you can create an atmosphere of trust, respect, and honesty in your relationship with them. You might encourage a relationship in which your teen feels safe enough to come to you to talk you when they are upset. Along these lines, you can support your teen’s confidence and resilience by allowing them certain degrees of independence, where it’s appropriate.
- Look for the good in your teen. Just as when a teen gains positive self esteem through the love and acceptance of their parents, so do teens gain confidence and competence through the praise and positivity of their parents. Parents can so easily notice the negative and what’s going wrong. Instead, do your best to look for what is positive and going well in your teen’s life. In fact, you might need to point it out to your teen from time to time.
Signs of Poor Emotional Health
It’s going to be natural for your teen to experiment with a variety of things during adolescence – groups of friends, music, hairstyle, dress, and behavior. However, if a teen is becoming destructive to themselves or others, then it’s a sign that your teen may need support. Typically, teens who have experienced trauma, loss of a loved one, or family trouble may exhibit poor emotional habits. Here is a list of signs that indicate poor adolescent emotional health:
- drop in grades
- sudden weight gain or loss
- persistent restlessness, agitation, or irritability
- persistent feelings of sadness or depression
- experiencing lack of motivation or energy
- trouble with sleeping (too much or too little)
- engaging in behavior that breaks the law
- consistently getting into trouble
- low self-esteem
- self-harming behavior
- not caring about people, pets, or things
- having trouble concentrating
- frequently feeling guilty
- loss of interest in activities
- inability to feel happy or joyful
- isolation from friends and family
- experiencing suicidal thoughts
- frequently feeling tired
- often experiencing indecision
What To Do If You’re Concerned
Boosting adolescent emotional health can be done with the eight suggestions mentioned earlier. However, if your teen is exhibiting any of the signs just listed, you might have some concerns about your teen’s emotional and mental health. Depending upon the needs of your teen, you might consider the following:
- Make sure your teen stays active. Physical activity can do wonders for adolescent emotional health, especially for teens who tend to struggle with depression and loneliness.
- Talk to your teen about spending time with others who are happy. When your teen has face to face time with friends and family members who are generally happy, they are likely to be influenced positivity by those interactions. Positive social interaction can be the most effective way to calm a teen’s nervous system and help them stay emotionally calm and balanced. This can also be a way to relieve stress.
- Change your teen’s diet. Certain foods can promote emotional instability. To best support your teen’s emotional balance, talk to a nutritionist about assessing the unique nutritional needs your teen has and how to create a healthy diet to meet those needs. Keep in mind that certain foods can support your teen’s emotional and mental health while other foods may undermine it.
- Make sure your teen is sleeping well. Sleep is an essential part of psychological and emotional health. If your teen is getting at least 9 hours of sleep at night, then they are likely going to feel more emotionally balanced then if they had skipped out on a few hours of sleep.
- Have your teen be involved in something that is meaningful. Having a purpose can contribute to enjoying life. If your teen is lacking meaning and purpose, it can add to their emotional instability.
Lastly, if your teen is meeting all of the above suggestions and still having trouble, it may be necessary to have them assessed by a mental health professional. In some cases, poor adolescent emotional health is a sign of mental illness. If you suspect mental illness in your teen, call for professional support today.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.