Knowing When Teens Need Support & How You Can Support Them

Webinar Series – Topic Teen Support

On March 29, 2018, Sarah Geser, LCSW, Director of Clinical Operations of Carrier Clinic’s East Mountain Youth Lodge, hosted a webinar on the topic of teen support. This post provides a breakdown of the information discussed during the webinar. Skip down to read that information. We are also sharing the video and that you may watch/download below if interested.

May Webinar
Our next webinar on “How to Recognize a Mental Health Crisis and Intervene” will be held on May 31 2:00 – 2:45 PM EDT.

Knowing When Teens Need Support & How You Can Support Them

What is Adolescence?

Merriam Webster defines adolescence as:

  • the period of life when a child develops into an adult: the
  • period from puberty to maturity terminating legally at the
  • age of majority.
  • the state or process of growing up.

Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders defines adolescence as:

  • a distinct developmental period characterized by significant changes in hormones, brain and physical development, emotions, cognition, behavior, and interpersonal relationships.

Adolescence has also been defined as beginning with the onset of sexual maturation (puberty) and ending with the achievement of adult roles and responsibilities.

The range for adolescence is broadly inclusive roughly 10 to 22 years of age. This range is only a guide.

There are wide individual differences in development. The onset of puberty occurs significantly earlier for some youth than for others. Different facets of adolescent development are on a different time course. Different developmental trajectories have been found for different cognitive and emotional processes and in developed countries such as the US, the onset of puberty is at an earlier average age than seen previously.

At the other end, cultural changes, such as expanding enrollment in postgraduate education, have kept young people from assuming adult roles until well into their late 20’s, thus the typical age range has been redefined over and there are differences in age range between cultures and countries.

Additional Stressors for Teens
The following is a list of stressors young adults face, many of them especially prevalent during the high school years but can also problematic for college students as well.

  • School pressure
  • Social/peer pressure
  • Social media and electronics
  • Bullying
  • Violence
  • Drug/alcohol abuse (personal and family)
  • Mental illness/mental health issues (personal and family) such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.
  • Political climate
  • Socioeconomic climate
  • Disenfranchisement

Helping Teens Increase Resiliency

“The field of positive youth development recognizes the good in young people, focusing on each and every child’s unique talents, strengths, interests, and future potential.”
–Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders, Edited By Dwight L. Evans, Edna B. Foa, Raquel E. Gur, Herbert Hendin, Charles P. O’Brien, Martin E. P. Seligman, and B. Timothy Walsh

Resources are often dedicated to remediating problems as opposed to increasing strengths. ALL people have strengths, and should not be identified based on a “problem area.”

One idea emerging from a more positive vision of youth is that…

“children can overcome adversity and thrive. Many by nature are hardy, not delicate. The term RESILIENCY is used to describe the quality that enables young people to thrive even in the face of adversity. Associated with resiliency are persistence, hardiness, goal-directedness, an orientation to success, achievement motivation, educational aspirations, a belief in the future, a sense of anticipation, a sense of purpose, and a sense of coherence.”


“…the assets of youth that protect against problems and allow young people to do well include not only individual psychological characteristics such as talent, energies, strengths, and constructive interests but also characteristics of their social settings such as family support, parental involvement in schooling, adult role models outside the family, high expectations within the community, and the availability of creative activities. The agenda of positive youth development is to maximize the potential of young people by encouraging both personal and environmental assets.”
–Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders

Tips to Build Resilience
The following tips from the American Psychological Association are healthy ways of managing the challenges you may face in the teen years to become more resilient.

  • Get together
  • Cut yourself some slack
  • Create a hassle-free zone
  • Stick to the Program
  • Take Care of Yourself
  • Take Control
  • Express Yourself
  • Help Somebody
  • Put things in perspective
  • Turn it off

Another concept to nurture is “help-seeking.” Encourage your teen to ask for help when needed so they have practice for times when life’s stressors would be best met with additional support.

Recognizing Risk Factors and Warning Signs that a Teen Might Be in Trouble

It is important to know and recognize the warning signs that your teen might be struggling with something difficult so that you can support them in the best way possible. Here are the most common warning signs:

  • loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • isolating or withdrawing from family and friends
  • decreased motivation to participate in activities or hobbies, team sports
  • declining school performance
  • truancy or missing days of school
  • sleeping more or less than usual (teens do require a lot of sleep), trouble falling or staying asleep, bad dreams
  • difficulty focusing on tasks or school work
  • seems more worried or preoccupied than usual over time
  • continued mood swings/changes that are unexplained
  • low self-esteem/self-worth
  • anger management issues
  • eating less and/or weight loss or over-indulging without signs of weight game, obsession with body image
  • self-harm like cutting, burning themselves, purposeful hair pulling
  • suicidal thoughts, pre-occupation with death or dying, loss of interest in life, suicidal actions
  • smoking, drinking, taking drugs
  • high-risk behavior

Developing Strong Relationships with Teens
“The Zen of Listening” by Rebecca Z. Shafir defines listening as “the willingness to see a situation through the eyes of the speaker.”

The book defines very clearly barriers to listening that can help you become a better listener. If a teen truly believes you are interested and want to hear what they have to say, this is a great gateway to a stronger relationship.

Seek first to understand, THEN to be understood.

Listen first, THEN give your input.

How to Really Listen

Use the following format to assist you in listening:

You feel ________ because _______.

Show true interest and curiosity and ask follow up questions to fully understand the big picture–your teen’s ideas, beliefs, and position. (Yes, BEFORE you give your input! ☺)

Remember, really listening does NOT mean you AGREE.

    (Use the emotional bank account to keep track of your balance.)
  • Use humor when appropriate.
  • Apologize if you make a mistake or when you are wrong.
  • Print a feeling face sheet off the internet and teach and model a “feeling word” language. This leads to more clear expression and understanding.
  • Try not to lecture.
  • Use I-messages:
    • I feel [feeling word] when [behaviorally specific action] because [how this impacts you].
  • Notice signs of distress and ASK (don’t be stopped by a fear of what you find out and make sure you have time to listen when you ask). Use an I-message and take a guess at the feeling.

Handling Tough Conversations

  • Pick your battles. Decide on the top 3 “difficult issues or conversations” that you must address.
  • Develop a personal plan to manage these conversations.
    • What typically happens?
    • How do you typically respond?
    • What feelings typically emerge for you? Develop a plan to be prepared for this and how you can manage.
    • What is the main point you are trying to make for each “issue” and how can you stay focused?
    • How would you like to respond?

Become an expert at disengaging from power struggles. Teens challenge adults authority because they are trying to figure out how much authority they have. Eliciting a “reaction” from an adult shows some degree of authority.

  • Be clear about limits, consequences, and when to disengage.
  • Give information.
  • Do not go back and forth.
  • Politely state that you are ending the conversation.
  • Be aware of the feelings and be prepared:
    • Take a break.
    • Call a friend.
    • Drink some water.

Practice the skill of disengaging from most if not all power struggles that are NOT the top three issues you’ve already defined. Notice the “invitation” your teen puts out into “power struggles” and practice becoming an expert at disengaging.

What to Do

  • Express your concerns to your teen and invite your teen to discuss.
  • If needed, agree on a specific time to discuss so your teen can be prepared.
  • Enlist a trusted family member, friend, support person to assist in talking to your teen.
  • Talk to a school counselor, teacher, primary physician, or a therapist about what is happening, even if your teen will not participate; professional guidance for parents can be extremely helpful.
  • Ask for referrals to a mental health professional for you and/or your teen.
  • Work with support systems (any of those previously mentioned) if your teen is resistant to participate.
  • Some services and people that can help are: school counselors, special education schools, teen support groups, community-based experienced therapists, mental health clinics that may provide individual therapy, clinical psychologists, group therapy, and more intensive adolescent programs that meet multiple times a week according to need, psychiatrists who can oversee medication, addiction services, hospital emergency room for psychiatric crisis or danger, inpatient programs and residential treatment centers.

For Immediate Help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and in need help, call 911, go to the closest emergency room, or call Carrier Clinic’s 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week Access Center at 1-800-933-3579.

You can also contact us through our website.