Teenage years are often the hardest to get through -- not just for adolescents, but for their parents as well. The transitional years between ages 13 and 19 bring an onslaught of internal and external conflict -- ranging from pressure at school to hormonal changes. Young adults might shut down or even act out when they're trying to cope. Dr. Gregory L. Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, recently published "When Your Teenager Becomes the Stranger in Your House." We asked him to tell us more about what teenagers are going through, how parents can detect early warning signs and how to ease this difficult period for the whole family.
It seems like all teenagers are excessively moody -- why is that?
One of the things is the technology issue. We're finding an interesting trend with how young people are consumed with technology, as far as text messaging and screen time. There reaches a point where the brain is oversaturated and overstimulated, and we end up creating a depressed brain with overanxiousness. About 20 percent of our teenagers [in the U.S.] are clinically depressed. That's different than moodiness.
You talk about girls and boys separately -- how are their experiences different?
There are gender differences [as far as] what's going on in the brain. A boy handles depression and moodiness differently than females. Of course, testosterone is an aggression chemical, so boys may be acting out more in a physical sense. Girls who have unresolved depression ... the more the intensity, the more inward they become. And with girls, we're seeing this at earlier and earlier ages.
How can parents communicate when teens are working so hard to shut them out?
There are three things they need from us: They need to feel accepted, understood and affirmed by us. I think oftentimes we can get very judgmental -- and remember, they're hypersensitive to anything critical. [They need] to know they have value. This doesn't mean you agree with everything they say. Too often we want to fix things quickly, but we should be sure that we're listening first.
How much should parents feel responsible for what their teens are going through?
Let teens have their emotions, and don't rescue them. You're the parent, not the friend. If we're helicopter parents, they're not going to learn to deal with the three [adult] emotions of anger, fear and guilt.
What should parents do when it gets too extreme?
There's a point where we have to be step in and say, "We've got to get some outside help." The biggest regret [is] wishing we hadn't waited so long.
What are some of the warning signs parents should look for?
I always look for how long the symptoms are present. Has this been going on a couple of weeks, has it increased? Maybe they seem fatigued a lot, their motivation is gone? You'll see a lot of social isolation, where they will move away from family even more, and probably their friends. There's a normal [amount of] wanting to be your own person, but this is more of cutting off from others. There's more impulsive thinking, a lot of rash judgment and irresponsible behavior.