Adolescence is often a difficult—and emotional— time in life. Physical and hormonal changes transform young people’s bodies, and as early as age 11, these physiological changes then trigger intellectual, psychological and social changes. Adolescents’ natural and increasing desire for independence, coupled with the challenges of coming to grips with so many changes that are out of their control, often lead to heightened emotions. More pronounced emotional responses are often a particularly difficult area for teens and parents to navigate. Parents and teens might ask themselves, “Are these feelings a normal part of the changes and new experiences of being a teen?” Or, “How do I know when something is wrong and I need to seek help?”
Normal emotional symptoms of adolescence include increased sadness, anger, mood swings, sleep and body changes and decreased self-esteem. A teen may feel sad more often and may sometimes be unable to fully explain the sadness. Increased anger may occur and present itself as frustration, irritability or even decreased patience with activities or situations that didn’t use to register an emotional response. Mood swings are another common experience. A teen may feel almost elated one day and then extremely sad or disappointed the next. Teens may have an increased or decreased need for sleep as their body goes through puberty, and they may gain or sometimes lose weight with these changes. Struggles with self-esteem are common during this season of life-change while teens work to figure out who they are amidst the change. These symptoms are all considered normal responses to new experiences, increased independence and new social situations.
With the increasing emotions of this phase of life, teens and parents may find it difficult to determine what emotional symptoms indicate a need for help. Suicidal feelings, the desire to hurt oneself or others, the inability to function, extreme weight or sleep changes, extreme sadness or tearfulness and extreme irritability or rage, are a few examples of when it might be time to seek the help of a parent, trusted adult or professional. Although it might be normal to have some changes in interests during adolescence, not having any enjoyment in activities a teen previously enjoyed might be a symptom of depression and reason to ask for help. In addition, any teens who have gone through a significant life event—such as a move, a divorce, abuse or the death of a close friend or family member—may want to seek counseling to assist them in getting through this adjustment.
If you are a teen who is unsure about whether or not you need to seek help, it might be a good time to check in with your parent, guidance counselor or other trusted adult. Talking to a supportive person can give teens the validation and hope they need to get through the many changes adolescence brings. It can also offer teens coping skills that will help them manage the emotions that go along with these changes.