8 Things Parents Should Pay Attention to When It Comes to Their Teen’s Mental Health

By Melissa Santos, PhD, Tim LaVigne, PhD, and Michael Reiss, PsyD

Parenting teenagers can be hard, especially as they become more independent (or as they like to call it: I can’t wait to live on my own!). Teenage years are also the time when many children first experience mental health struggles. Research from the CDC indicates that ADHD, behavior problems, depression, and anxiety are the most frequently diagnosed mental health issues children face. Additionally, anxiety and depression tend to increase with age. Here are 8 things parents may want to watch for when it comes to their teen’s mental health.

1. Too much screen time

We are all guilty of this but we want to make sure that our screens don’t replace being around other people. Teens (and adults) should be spending less than 2 hours a day on screens for leisure activity. If your teen’s screen time exceeds that, it’s time to set rules for everyone in the house to watch how much they are looking at their screens.

2. Too much alone time

Is your child spending a lot of time alone, when you know that they usually enjoy being with others?  Share your concern with your teen and if need be, talk to your teen’s doctor. Too much alone time can be a sign that tough emotions, like worry or sadness, are making it difficult to enjoy the activities they usually love to do. The good news is that your doctor can help if you share your concerns.

3. Poor sleep schedule

If your teen is having difficulties sleeping—whether it is falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling not rested—bring it up with their doctor. Remember, your teen’s brain is developing and sleep is key. It also helps if teens (and adults) put their screens away when trying to fall asleep.

4. Perfectionism getting in the way

Is your teen the type of person who stresses over completing schoolwork perfectly? Does this get in the way of sleeping at night, spending time with friends, or being physically active? If so, consider implementing a time to end work each night and begin other activities.

5. Probing questions about drugs and alcohol

If your teen starts asking questions about drugs or alcohol out of the blue, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are using (or considering using) these substances. But take it as an opportunity to have a talk about this really important topic. Don’t be scared to answer those questions honestly, and if you aren’t sure how to talk to your child about those issues, ask their doctor for advice.

6. Trouble following directions

Is your teen having problems paying attention at school, beginning activities at home, or do they keep forgetting to hand in assignments/bring home books? As your teen gets older, so do the difficulties of school. Have a conversation with their teacher/guidance counselor to better understand what is going on and how to support your teenager.

7. Worrying all the time

It’s normal to worry about things from time to time, but being plagued by worry all the time can be a sign of a bigger mental health issue. If you find this constant worrying stops your teen from doing everyday activities, consider talking to their doctor.

8. Constant fighting

Some fights or rule bending is normal. But if fights happen a lot, rules are broken often, or your teen is engaging in dangerous behavior, it may be helpful to speak with a doctor.

If your child does exhibit some of these signs, it does not necessarily mean they have a mental health issue but it could be cause for concern. If you have more questions about any of the topics above, it might be helpful to speak with a psychologist. Reach out to your doctor or insurance provider for a list of referrals.

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