IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Preventing teenage crisis

Compromise, communication and commitment are watchwords for families trying to survive these difficult, transitional years intact. Here is a list of tips and resources:

The Jed Foundation: A highly recognized group dealing with the issue of college suicide

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Morton Silverman
Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Tips for parents and teenagers

Before college

Do’s for parents
Be firm and consistent with age appropriate limits. Disciplining a teen is different than disciplining a toddler, although at times both may seem equally exasperating, as power struggles are typical at both ages. Parents need to adjust their ideas about what is an appropriate limit  for curfew, for grades, for dating, etc. It helps to give teens choices and include them in decisions about rules and punishment, within reason. Although teens may protest otherwise, they need to know the correct boundaries for behavior even if they press the limits at times. Being clear rather than vague increases the value of the limit and teaches teens there are consequences, both risks and rewards, in life.

Expect and accept their independence. At this difficult transition point in their lives, teens need the security of home base but also need the opportunity to become independent. This means they will undoubtedly make mistakes, this is a necessary aspect of their development. Parents can help teen's problem solve and give them tools to make decisions but they should no longer make every decision for them.

Keep the door open even when it seems closed. Being available, ready and willing to discuss the easy and tough aspects of teen life are important. Research continues to show that even teens want and need to stay connected to their parents and value their opinions. Looking for teachable moments is useful; driving in the car on the way to school, sitting down to watch one of their favorite tv shows.

Stay involved. It is as important (if not more) for parents to stay a part of their child's life even in the teen years. But at this age it becomes more difficult and the strategies are different. Knowing a teens friends, letting kids hang out at the teen's house, going to the football game, having a connection to a teacher/counselor/coach at the school keeps parents aware and show the teen parents care.

Respect the teen. Getting what one wants often happens by giving it. Respecting  teens as evolving adults, listening to their opinions, understanding their feelings, even if a parents does not agree with them encourages teens to respect themselves and others.

Don'ts for parents
Don't criticize too much. Often forgotten at this age amidst all the tension is a teen's need to be praised. The teen years are exciting for the teen but also tumultuous. Amidst the instability they feel physically, socially, emotionally, and academically, they benefit from hearing when they do things right.

Don't threaten. One way to avoid power struggles and further acting out is to avoid threats. Threats often occur when parents are at their wits' end or they are responding in anger. Threats are unproductive because they are often a dramatic over reaction and can not be carried out. Preventing them usually means taking time to cool off and thinking through the real cause and effect of a problem. Using words rather than behavior is also preferable on both sides.

Don't micromanage. Especially in the teen years parents must prioritize what is most important to encourage in their teen and pick their battles. Poor grades should be different in the hierarchy of life than a messy room.

Don't overprotect. Teens need to develop confidence in their abilities. Trying to prevent or always save teens from disaster can lead to the teen feeling inadequate and/or angry. The value of parents at this age is that parents can be a comforting presence and provide a secure haven when the wrong choices were made. Although tough to watch from afar, many of the teen's lessons and skills are learned best through trial and error.

Don't lecture. Lectures usually feel like criticism, Discussion, listening to different sides of a story will go farther towards understanding.

Do’s for teens
Respect parents. Parents will find it easier to respect a teen that respects them. It can seem like a chicken and egg problem  "no, they should go first"- but that doesn't usually lead anywhere productive. Better to bait with mature behavior to increase the chance of being treated like a mature adult.

Ask parents for advice. Parents do have a teen's best interest at heart. They also have experiences and expertise that can be a wonderful resource. Teens don't have to abide by or agree with their recommendations but just hearing their opinions can be helpful and shows a teen cares.

Ask for help. Waiting to see if a problem gets better, or thinking it can be handled alone is tempting. But getting help early is a healthier choice.

Take responsibility. It is difficult but mature to admit and apologize for mistakes. Parents usually feel that lying or showing no remorse is often worse than any misconduct.

Contribute to the family. A little goes a long way. Driving a younger sibling to baseball practice, stopping to pick up groceries, going to a grandparents birthday party are points worth scoring.

Warning signs
The following general signs suggest possible psychiatric, learning, or substance abuse problems or indicate that a teen may be headed down the wrong path and needs help.
Withdrawal, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Change in eating, sleeping, appearance, energy level
Decline in academic performance
Secretive behavior
Dramatic change in friends