If you have spent any amount of time around teenagers you know eye rolling, sarcasm, and distance are a part of the package deal. Many of these signs are very common; however, with the recent tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School and the national attention on mental health, people are becoming more aware now than ever before. Many parents are concerned and questioning when does isolation become a warning sign that greater issues may be on the horizon, and when is the appropriate time to reach out to a professional.
To understand adolescence fully we need to take a trip back a couple thousands of years to the prehistoric era. Adolescence historically was a necessary part of survival. Lifespans were much quicker, puberty brought the ability for women to reproduce, and the important task for men to learn how to hunt and feed their families. Early civilization encouraged distance from the family system to increase social interaction with other humans their age to learn important survival techniques.
Fast forward a couple thousand years to 2018. Teenagers are growing up in a completely different world than our prehistoric ancestors. Technology, social media, and instant gratification rule the minds of our teens. Adolescents are distancing themselves quicker and quicker from family. So how can we truly know if this distance is normal or something to question? As a parent, it’s important to put some precautionary measures in place so that early intervention can happen if necessary.
Encourage Consistent Communication with Your Teen
This may be the most important step to make sure the distance does not turn into isolation. Distance is normal; however, consistent isolation can be a warning sign that there are deeper concerns happening with your teenager. As a family, it is important to have time scheduled where family engagement is required. Make a weekly date to put the phones, TV’s computers, and emails aside and talk to your children. Not only does this increase positive social skills, but it provides an opportunity for the family to discuss thoughts, emotions, and bring up concerns. As a teenage parent, you want to encourage your teen to be as open as possible with you. You may be thinking, “But I don’t WANT to know everything that is happening inside the mind of my teenager”. While this may be true, it is important that they have an opportunity to share with you. If your teenager is not sharing their feelings with you, they are sharing with someone else, and that someone else may be someone dangerous! Set a weekly day that family engagement is required. Keep your child accountable. If your child cannot attend, they need to inform the family in the same manner they would calling out sick from their job or a prior commitment. This will encourage social skills, responsibility, and give an opportunity for your child to know it is a safe place to share inside the family.
Monitor Your Child’s Electronics
Many children being born today will be more technologically advanced than we can even imagine. From the beginning of the lifespan, we are utilizing electronics now than ever before. It is common to see 7 even 8 year olds with their own cell phone, iPad, Snap Chat, and Instagram. Technology is not a bad thing, but it is a very powerful thing. A piece of technology in your child’s hands means your child has access to limitless information which may be dangerous. Since you know your child better than anyone, you have to assess when you feel your child is mature enough to handle this enormous responsibility. It may be that one sibling is more equip to handle the responsibility than another. You as the parent have the power! Don’t give in to pressure because all their friends have a device. If you are concerned about the safety of your child not having a device but feel they are not ready for a smartphone, purchase a flip phone without internet and wifi to call and text one number only. Prior to purchasing a device for your teen, have a sit down conversation about the rules and guidelines that come along with the device. Monitor your child’s device usage, go through your child’s phone with their consent and create a consistent time to do so. Discuss the benefits and concerns with the use of technology, and encourage your teen to continue to talk to you if they see concerning or questionable things on their device.
Make sure that you allow opportunities for your teen to gain more and more freedom with their device as they consistently demonstrate responsible technology usage. For instance, maybe for the first 6 months of having the device they are only allowed 2 social media apps and the phone has to be turned in at 9PM each evening. After 6 months, sit down and provide evaluation on how well your child did with the guidelines, than provide opportunity negotiate a little more freedom such as adding a new app or increasing usage time by 1 hour.
Reach Out to a Professional
You may follow all the guidelines provided and still find your teen distant and defiant. If so, this is OK. Do not stress, simply begin by stating that you are aware of your child’s behavior and you would like to provide a solution for them to connect with someone trustworthy. Utilize your insurance, recommendations from friends and family, and set up an appointment for your teen to talk to a mental health professional. Your teen will have the safety of confidentiality, but due to their age you will also be notified regarding any suicidal or homicidal ideations, danger concerns, and can request treatment updates from the therapist.
If you or someone you love could utilize a consultation for therapeutic services in the Palm Beach area contact Michelle Smith at 405-323-1786