Parenting a Struggling Teen: The Importance of Self-Care This Emotional Life - PBS

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Adolescence / Blog

 Frederic Reamer Ph.D.

Frederic Reamer Ph.D.'s Bio

Dr. Reamer is a professor in the Graduate Social Work Program at Rhode Island College.

Parenting a Struggling Teen: The Importance of Self-Care


Parents of struggling teens need to take care of themselves. A solo pilot flying through extremely turbulent weather is in a risky predicament; the pilot must be vigilant and alert, or the plane will crash.  When exhaustion sets in, disaster is more likely.  Living with intense stress without support or relief can seriously erode one’s health and ability to cope with the next crisis.

Parents of struggling teens may show signs of severe stress, including the following typical symptoms:*

  • Difficulty communicating thoughts
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Limited attention span
  • Poor work performance
  • Headaches or stomach problems
  • Tunnel vision
  • Colds or flu-like symptoms
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reluctance to leave home
  • Depression or sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Mood swings
  • Crying easily
  • Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt
  • Fear of crowds, strangers, or being along.
  • Increased use of drugs and alcohol

What can parents of a struggling teen do to care for themselves as they wend their way through their family crisis?  Mental health professionals recommend a number of ways to ease stress:

  • Talk with someone about your feelings – resentment, sorrow, and other emotions – even though it may be difficult.  It is important to express your intense feelings so they do not eat away at you.
  • Do not hold yourself solely responsible for your situation or berate yourself because you cannot fix the problem.  Parents of struggling teens cannot perform miracles.  All they can do is put one foot in front of the other as they go through the slow process of responding to crises, assessing risks, contacting professionals, and arranging services and interventions.
  • Eat healthfully.  Exercise daily.  Get a full night’s sleep.  Try to relax.  Find time for spiritual rejuvenation and reflection.  This healthful lifestyle can help sustain you.  Getting stressed out and run down will not improve the situation.  Your teenager’s life may be spinning out of control, but you do not have to go down, too.
  • Limit unnecessary demands and responsibilities on yourself and your family.  Maintain a normal daily routine; your hands are full enough.  Routine can help you avoid getting lost in the chaos that surrounds many struggling teens.
  • Spend time with supportive family and friends.  Emotional support is healing and critical during stressful times.  Do your best to maintain a healthy social life to avoid isolation.