parents and teenagers

How Can I Understand My Teen Better?

I hear parents of teens tell me “it’s like one day they went to bed and the next day woke up an entirely different person”.  Their once cute, sweet, easy-going kid who loved hugs or being walked to the school gate is now grumpy, rude and messy.  This can really stress parents out.   So if this sounds like your teen, firstly I want to say ‘don’t panic!’

While it can feel like you’re riding a rickety old roller coaster, most of this behaviour is totally normal.

I often see in my practice that families struggle to understand each other.  We all have come from different generations, have had different upbringings, have seen varying changes in technology, have different expectations, have different levels of education, and have the full-on media around us all the time, which doesn’t always help always when different generations try to work together.

We can often notice the physical changes in children as they grow and develop. They may grow taller, their body shape changes, they may get acne, facial hair –  the list of physical changes are extensive!  While this is all happening on the outside, there is so much happening in the brain. As children move into adolescence their brains are continuing to grow and change. The changes affect their thinking and behaviour. Understanding these changes can help you understand your teenager.

When does it all start?

There’s no agreed-upon definition on the length of adolescence, however, it’s typically viewed as occurring with the first signs of puberty which usually start around 9 to 12 years old

Adolescence is a time where your teens are trying to work out who they are and where they fit into the world.


What to expect.

  • They may begin to stop listening and refuse to comply with a simple request
  • They may be moody and grumpy
  • They may focus more on their friendships and peers
  • They may focus more /or less on their appearance
  • They may become less interested in school
  • They’re likely to start taking exploring their gender and sexuality
  • They may even begin to dabble in risk-taking behaviour such as experimentation with alcohol etc.

Remember most of this is normal and it’s not a reflection on you as a parent. Adolescence is a time where your teen is trying to figure out who they are and they’re starting to express themselves as an independent person. It’s normal that they are pushing boundaries and wanting to try out new and different things.


What can I do?

  • Be patient – this is a tough time for them, there are so many changes happening at once, biological, emotionally physically and socially.
  • Reassure them and acknowledge how difficult this time is for them.
  • Try and understand what they’re going through.
  • Negotiate boundaries ‘with’ them, as opposed to ‘telling’ them what to do. Teens tend to be much more responsive to discussions including them, rather than rules that dictate to them.
  • Allow them to take some risks, this is an important part of their development and don’t restrict their freedom too much. They need to learn lessons for themselves and learn how to handle things when they go wrong.
  • Talk about sex – Yes, it’s awkward and difficult, but it’s so important they know how to keep themselves safe and where to get support.  Talk about consent and relationships too.
  • Keep communication open with them – they may not want to talk right now but if you let them know you are open to talking when they are ready, they often will.
  • Listen wholeheartedly to them, don’t interrupt or interject and offer ideas or solutions.  Just sit there, listen, and be supportive.


When should I worry/ seek support?

Noticing real signs of trouble is important, and they can be harder to spot during this time.  While you’re trying to balance giving them more freedom and accepting they’ll take some risks, there are some things that require intervention.

These include:

  • Using/threatening violence
  • Breaking the law and committing legal offences
  • Regular truancy from school


What about their mental health?

Some moodiness, sleepiness, and being generally a bit grumpy can be normal during this developmental stage.  However, if you notice major changes in your teens’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviour and that lasts more than a few weeks and interferes with your teens day to day life your teen may benefit from seeing a mental health professional (for example – if they’re not going to school, work, or doing their usual hobbies/sport, or stop hanging out with their good friends).

About the author

Marie Vakakis

Marie Vakakis is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, podcaster counselor, and family therapist
She supports individuals and families to improve their healthy connections to promote good mental health.

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5 rounds of

  • 5 inch worms
  • 10 push ups
  • 10 squats
  • 30s – 1min plank
  • 30s – 1min bridge