Dear Lighthouse Arabia,
How can we tell what is usual teenage behaviour, and what is more concerning? My 15 year old daughter is very secretive, withdrawn and moody. She seems to disagree with everything I say, but don't all teenagers do that? Sometimes I think she is depressed, but maybe it's just typical teenage behaviour. It's so hard to tell. Help!
Worried Mum and Dad
Dear Worried Mum and Dad,
It’s normal for teens to get moody, frustrated, and irritable from time to time. Moodiness, secrecy and defiance are typically normal teen behaviour. They might overreact with anger or sadness when confronted with situations that would only mildly annoy or disappoint an adult. Most teens are at least somewhat secretive about what they are doing, they don’t want you involved in every decision. Wanting to go outside the norm, pushing back against household rules, periodically getting in trouble at school,” all of this can be pretty common for teens.
Remember, teenagers are not adults yet and their brains are not going to be fully developed until they are in their mid-20s in some cases. They are also dealing with hormonal surges and the frustration of not being able to do whatever they want. This is frustrating for parents, but it is very normal teen behaviour.
It is a cause for concern if and when your teen is violent or exceptionally angry much of the time. So is sadness or feelings of worthlessness that last longer than two weeks or that negatively affects their everyday lives. This warrants a screening for depression or other mental health issues. If the moodiness is constantly escalating, or if they seem unable to cope with normal situations without flying off the handle, or are isolating themselves a lot and especially if they’re responding with violence, these are red flags that shouldn’t be ignored.
Adolescence is a period of transition and teens have to work through new emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Being supportive and open to talking so they know you are there. If as a parent you are noticing some concerning signs, it’s a good idea to sit down with your teen and let them know that. Don’t accuse, and don’t use stigmatizing language like ‘you’re being bad,’ or ‘you’re doing poorly in school.” Instead, just let them know what you’ve noticed and tell them you’re concerned. Saying things like, ‘It seems like you’re not happy right now, how can I help you?’ or ‘Is there something you want to talk to me about?” shows your teen that you are concerned and want to help.
Preetha Madhavan is a Counselling Psychologist at the Lighthouse Arabia with over 9 years of experience in working with children and adolescents in the Middle East and Australia, both in schools and private practices. Preetha is a Master’s degree holder in Counselling Psychology from Monash University in Melbourne. Her work involves providing counselling support to children and their families as well as cognitive, educational, and developmental assessments of children and adolescents.