Behaviour changes in your teen – what you can do to help

teenage girl and father talking (1)

By Elana Benjamin (author not pictured)

‘Is he really worth it?’ my mother asked, as I sat sobbing on my bedroom floor after my boyfriend broke up with me. Some 30 years later, I can say with certainty that my then-boyfriend certainly wasn’t worth all my tears. But at the time, it felt like my world was ending, and my broken heart soon developed into a depressive episode – a depression that my Indian-born, Jewish parents couldn’t understand.

My dad’s father had died when Dad was only 12 years old. My mum moved to Australia, where she had no family or friends, to marry my father. My parents had both left their countries of birth – and here I was, falling apart over some silly boy? I had opportunities and such a bright future ahead of me. What did I have to be so upset about?

My parents may not have understood my emotional pain, but they supported me to get professional help. I can’t imagine how I would’ve made it through that dark period otherwise.

Why young people might not want to ask for help

ReachOut interviewed some culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) young people to find out more about their wellbeing, and what they would do if they weren’t feeling their best. The interviews found that CALD teens and young people can be reluctant to ask for help. Reasons for this include:

Your teen may not have experienced the same hardships that you did. But every generation has its own challenges. Your teen needs your help and support, even if it seems like they have it so much better than you did when you were their age. So, what can you do to help your teen?

What behaviour changes you can look out for

Even if your teen doesn’t come to you to talk about their issues, look out for any changes in their behaviour that could mean they need to talk to you, another adult or a doctor. For example:

  • Are they spending more time in their bedroom than usual?

  • Have their sleep patterns changed? They might be sleeping too much, or may be having trouble getting to or staying asleep.

  • Have their eating patterns changed?

  • Have they lost interest in their hobbies?

  • Have their school marks dropped?

  • Has the way they treat their siblings or other family members changed?

  • Have they stopped seeing friends?

It’s easy to assume, for example, that your child’s school marks are dropping because they’re just being lazy. But instead of scolding your child for their dropping grades, or insisting they study harder, it’s worth finding out if they might be having trouble in other areas of their life.

If you notice that your teen’s behaviour has changed, don’t brush it off as ‘just a stage’ or ‘something they’ll grow out of’. Your teen needs you – the adult – to take the first step.

What can you do next?

If your teen is having trouble, it’s important to take action sooner rather than later. When they’re not feeling well, the longer it goes on without addressing what’s really troubling them, the worse it’s likely to get. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Start a conversation with your teen. Ask them what’s going on and what you can do to help. Let your teen know that they have your support, even if you don’t understand exactly what they’re going through.

  • Let your teen know it’s okay to not always feel their best. However, if what’s happening is affecting their daily life, they may need some extra support. Let your teen know that you’re there for them.

If your teen wants to see a doctor

If your teen feels comfortable, make an appointment to see a doctor for a confidential chat. No one in your family or community needs to know, and it can be helpful if you can find a GP from a similar cultural background or who speaks your language.

If your teen wants to chat to a GP alone, try not to take it personally. There might be some things they don’t feel comfortable talking about with their parent in the room. Your teen is almost an adult, and if you let them choose what they want to do, you’re showing them that you trust them.

If your teen doesn’t want to see a doctor

Your teen might not want to talk about what’s going on or to see a doctor. If this is the case, you can support them in other ways by encouraging them to take care of their general wellbeing. You could:

  • suggest they talk to friends and other people their age – for example, at a youth group they belong to, or your place of worship, or a friend from a sports team or a club at school

  • encourage them to talk to another adult they trust, such as a teacher or community leader

  • offer to spend time with them doing activities they like – for example, cooking a meal or playing a game together.

Let your teen know that you’re there for them no matter what. When they’re ready, they’ll know that they can come to you.

Make sure to get support for yourself

Reach out for support for yourself. Seeing your child have trouble in life can be a scary and stressful time. Talking to another adult can help give you some perspective, or even give you tips on what you can do. You could talk to a community leader at your place of worship, a GP or a friend.

Here are some wellbeing support resources that are available in a variety of languages, including Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Farsi.

Parents have a vital role in supporting their children’s wellbeing. Even now, 30 years after I went through my own tough times, I’m still incredibly grateful for the support my parents gave me, and for the support they continue to give me now that I’m a parent of a teen myself.