Emotional Wellbeing


Mental Health


Mandy Kloppers

How to help an unhappy teenager

Do you know an unhappy teenager?

It’s a well known fact that being a teenager is quite a challenge. Being around teenagers can be quite a challenge too! A teenager is not yet an adult but neither are they a child. Their hormones are racing around uncontrollably which results in many teenagers being moody and irritable. Half the time they don’t even know themselves and find that their likes, dislikes and general attitudes are extremely changeable.

As a counsellor, I have noticed how many parents and teenagers can feel very isolated in what they are going through. For some reason, many parents keep their struggles to themselves with some not even realising that their home life is abnormal. So how do you tell the difference between normal and abnormal teen behaviour and what can you do about it?

Typical Teen Behaviour

  1. Withdrawing from parents, spending more time in their rooms and confiding in friends more than their parents
  2. Becoming more aware of their appearance, their hairstyle and what they wear
  3. Pushing the boundaries – increased arguments and rebellious behaviour, This is normal as all teenagers begin to experiment and learn more about life. They are finding their own voice and forming opinions about the world.
  4. Mood swings – it’s quite normal for your teenagers to be quite fickle a times and change their minds regularly. Conversation can become reduced to a minimum.

Untypical Teen Behaviour

  1. Too much time alone, lying and/or being unreasonable with basic boundaries (such as coming home at a reasonable time) can hint at underlying trouble
  2. Extreme weight loss or self harm suggests issues that need to be addressed
  3. Swearing and being abusive to others and parents is not a good sign especially is this occurs on a regular basis. getting into fights and skipping school are two more obvious indicators of trouble that needs to be dealt with.
  4. Sudden problems at school, being bullied or school performance that deteriorates are all signs that there are issues with a teenagers development. Something is troubling them.

A teenager’s brain is still actively developing and processing information differently than that of a mature adult’s brain. The frontal cortex, the part of the brain used to manage emotions, make decisions, reason, and control inhibitions is restructured during the teenage years, forming new synapses at an incredible rate, while the whole brain does not reach full maturity until about the mid-20’s.

Your teen may be taller than you and seem mature in some respects, but often he or she is simply unable to think things through at an adult level. Hormones produced during the physical changes of adolescence can further complicate things. These biological differences don’t excuse teenagers’s poor behaviour or absolve them from accountability for their actions, but they may help explain why teens behave so impulsively or frustrate parents and teachers with their poor decisions, social anxiety, and rebelliousness. Understanding adolescent development can help you find ways to stay connected to your teen and overcome problems together.

How to deal with angry teenagers

Anger can be a difficult emotion for many teenagers to deal with as it often masks other underlying emotions such as frustration, embarrassment, sadness, hurt, fear, shame, or vulnerability. When teens can’t cope with these feelings, they may lash out. In their teens, many boys have difficulty recognizing their feelings, let alone being able to express them or ask for help.

The challenge for parents is to help your teen cope with emotions and deal with anger in a more constructive way:

  • Establish rules and consequences. At a time when both you and your teen are calm, explain that there’s nothing wrong with feeling anger, but there are unacceptable ways of expressing it. If your teen lashes out, for example, he or she will have to face the consequences of loss of privileges or even police involvement. Teens need rules, now more than ever.
  • Find out the underlying reason for their anger. Is your child sad or depressed? For example, does your teen have feelings of inadequacy because his or her peers have things that your child doesn’t? Does your teen just need someone to listen to him or her without judgment?
  • Be aware of anger warning signs and triggers. Does your teen get headaches or start to pace before exploding with rage? Or does a certain class at school always trigger anger? When teens can identify the warning signs that their temper is starting to boil, it allows them to take steps to defuse the anger before it gets out of control.
  • Help your teen find healthy ways to relieve anger. Exercise, team sports, even simply hitting a punching bag or a pillow can help relieve tension and anger. Many teens also use art or writing to creatively express their anger. Dancing or playing along to loud, angry music can also provide relief.
  • Give your teen space to retreat. When your teen is angry, allow him or her to retreat to a place where it’s safe to cool off. Don’t follow your teen and demand apologies or explanations while he or she is still raging; this will only prolong or escalate the anger, or even provoke a physical response.
  • Manage your own anger. You can’t help your teen if you lose your temper as well. As difficult as it sounds, you have to remain calm and balanced no matter how much your child provokes you. If you or other members of your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, your teen will naturally assume that these are appropriate ways to express his or her anger as well. Your children learn from your behaviour constantly so make sure to be a good role model.

Improving your relationship with your teenager

Watch your own attitudes here. Often, parents become defensive in dealing with their teens as they somehow feel responsible and try to get their teens to behave appropriately by forcing them rather than trying to understand them first.

Be non-judgmental – instead of comments such as “I told you so” or “why the hell did you do that?”, try to see the perspective of your teen. The more you judge the more they will shut down. Ask what lead them to do whatever they did and how it makes them feel. Ask about the consequences – show them how to work through a problem rationally rather than acting out.

Offer unconditional support – let your teen know that you are always there and willing to listen. A teen who has a solid loving background will fare a lot better than a teen that feels he may be rejected by parents for not measuring up somehow.

Find common ground – instead of being the boss, try to relate to your teen on their level. Ask about their interests, listen to the music they like, spend a bit of time with them. It means a lot to a confused teen. Don’t be upset if you are rejected though – this is part of a normal teen’s repertoire. They will be fine an hour later!

Whatever is happening at home, know that it won’t last forever. Be a constant source of inspiration for your teen and show them how to deal with life. It’s okay for them to see you upset now and then – this is how they learn to deal with emotion. Show your human side, apologise when necessary. They will learn from your behaviour. Make allowances for teenagers to a certain degree, they need space and time to discover who they are and what they want.

Mandy X







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