It’s normal for teenagers to worry about things. Some common teenage issues are schoolwork, stress, bullying and body image. If your child’s worry about teenage issues won’t go away, you can do lots of things to help.
What your child is worrying about: top teenage issues
The teenage years are a time of rapid growth and change – physically, mentally and socially. For some teenagers, change can be scary, while others take it in their stride.
Teenagers often have to make early decisions about school subjects, study, careers and work. In fact, many teenagers feel that their secondary school marks decide their whole future – that’s a lot of pressure.
If you add economic change, globalisation and the environment to the usual teenage issues, it isn’t surprising that your child sometimes feels quite worried.
The National Survey of Young Australians 2012 survey conducted by Mission Australia found that the top five teenage issues are:
Bring back the reality of year 12. Sure it’s a big year but it’s not the end of your life if things don’t go as planned, or if you don’t achieve what you might have.
– Young person, Mission Australia Youth Survey 2012
When you should worry about your child
It’s normal for teenagers to have worries and fears. Treating every worry as a big problem can do more harm than good. If you do, your child might start to see the world as unsafe and dangerous. Not all worries need professional help.
But when worries won’t go away, get worse or interfere with your child’s daily life, this could be a sign that your child is struggling with anxiety.
Here are some signs that your child might need some help with anxiety:
Worries that won’t go away: this is when your child is feeling ‘on edge’ or ‘wound up’ most of the time, is generally worried about a lot of things for no clear reason, or can’t relax.
Worries that get worse over time: this is when your child avoids situations or people, feels panicky in some situations, has bad thoughts that are hard to control, or has physical symptoms like increased sweating, fast heartbeat, headaches, stomach cramps, nausea, rapid breathing or diarrhoea.
Worries that interfere with daily life: this is when your child stops being able to do things that he used to do because of fear and anxiety, or you feel that your child’s reactions are stopping him from enjoying everyday things.
If your child feels angry, guilty, sad or cranky more than usual, or she feels like giving up, is having trouble sleeping, or she’s behaving in ways that aren’t like her – for example, getting into trouble, having trouble with schoolwork, isolating herself or fighting – and this goes on for most of the time or for more than two weeks, she could be suffering from depression.
Depression probably won’t go away by itself, and it’s a good idea to seek professional help. You and your child could start by talking to your GP.
How to help your child with teenage issues
Here are some ideas to help with your child’s worrying by boosting his feelings of being loved, safe and trusted.
Talking to your child about how she’s feeling can be a good place to start. Using ‘I’ statements is a good way to talk about your thoughts and feelings. For example, ‘I’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot on your mind lately. I’m happy to talk or listen and see if I can help’.
Staying connected to your child can help him feel safe and secure as he meets the challenges of adolescence. One way to do this is to have family meals together as often as you can. This type of family ritual creates routine and also gives you a way to keep up to date with what’s happening in your child’s life.
Showing that you trust and have confidence in your child can help her overcome her worries. You can show trust by praising her for trying to change thoughts and manage emotions, or by telling her that you believe she can cope with stressful situations, put plans into action and keep trying until things get better.
‘Positive messages’ from you can let your child know that you care for him and can help him feel secure and understood. You could try a warm hug, a smile, an arm over the shoulder, a light touch on the arm, a nod or a wink.
Try to avoid labelling your child as ‘a worrier’. It’s better to support her and praise any positive steps she’s taking to overcome her worries.
What you do and say can guide your child’s behaviour and thinking. You can try to be a good role model for your child by managing your own worry and stress in positive ways. Doing some exercise, taking time to rest and talking things over with your partner or a friend can all help if you’re feeling stressed.
Your child needs your support and encouragement for learning, but it probably won’t help if you put extra pressure on him to do well in his studies. Sharing his excitement when he masters something new – and being supportive when he doesn’t – will encourage him to keep trying.
Exercises and activities to help with teenage issues
Managing worrying thoughts is an important life skill. Here are some activities and exercises that your child can use now and in the future.
Changing worrying thoughts
This activity helps your child notice worrying thoughts and then change them to more helpful ones. But remember some worry and stress is normal and helps to keep us motivated:
- If a particular event is very worrying for your child, first get her to write down all her thoughts about the event. For example, ‘I’m going to fail the maths exam’, ‘I’m really bad at maths’.
- Talk together about whether the thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. For example, ‘How do you know you’re going to fail?’
- Work on finding some thoughts that are more helpful. For example, ‘You’ve done plenty of preparation for the exam. Now you can only do your best’.
- Here’s how you could summarise the changed thinking: ‘I’m worried about my maths exam because I find maths hard. Hey, I don’t really know if I’m going to fail or not. I might have trouble with the exam but I’ve studied and prepared, and now I can only do my best’.
The approach for this exercise needs to be gentle, thoughtful and warm, while you help your child challenge his thinking. This type of exercise also needs practice.
You can encourage your child to change her worrying thoughts by praising her for having a go.
If your child spends too much time thinking about negative events, it can lead to worry and stress. Positive thinking exercises can get your child in the habit of spending more time thinking about what has gone well and why.
Your child could write down three things that went well in his day and how he helped to bring them about. They don’t have to be big things. It might be hearing a bird sing outside, and he helped by letting himself notice it.
Parenting teenagers can be stressful. You’ll be in good shape to care for your teenage child if you look after yourself. Other parents can also be a great source of ideas and support. You can connect in our online forum for parents of pre-teens
and online forum for parents of teens
Where to go for help
Your child might need your help to contact a professional.
You could encourage your child to visit her GP, who might be able to refer her to an adolescent psychologist. Your child could also talk over her worries with the school counsellor – school counsellors have specialist training in child and adolescent mental health. Spiritual leaders or elders and youth workers (if your child goes to a local youth centre) can also help.
Teenage issues: facts and stats
The Mission Australia National Survey of Young Australians 2011 survey discovered that:
- teenagers’ concerns about stress go up as they enter Year 10 and Year 12 and leave school
- overall girls are more concerned about body image and stress than boys
- bullying is more worrying for children aged 11-14 years
- depression is more worrying for young people aged 15-19 years
- twice as many boys as girls are worried about alcohol and other drug use.
As teenagers mature they think more about social and political matters, such as the environment, the economy and financial issues.
Technology and media are becoming bigger teenage issues. Although technology brings many advantages, the pace of technological change has a big impact and affects teenagers’ sense of self-control.