Do you notice how your teenagers respond to stress? Everyone has different ways of dealing with negative emotions. Some dine out with friends to vent; others read books to get their minds off things. Indulging in sweets is a popular choice, followed by hours of watching movies while their phones are turned off. These are normal and relatively harmless responses, but what do you do when they become excessive?
Parents should be the first to notice and find ways to help their children change the way they handle their stress. This starts by communicating with them. Once they’re aware of their behavior and are willing to accept help, you can take further action.
Food—particularly sweets—is naturally comforting. They induce hormones that make you feel better, and this pleasant association with food drives you to keep consuming just a little bit more every time you’re upset. This is called binge eating, and everyone does it from time to time. When this borders on the obsessive, however, it may become a disorder.
While your teenagers are still in your house, you have the opportunity to influence what they eat. Start by storing your pantry cabinets and refrigerator with healthy alternatives. Having less junk food and sugary treats within reach can discourage the behavior. Make it comfortable for them to communicate when they’re feeling like binge eating so you can prepare a savory snack for them like a fruit shake or homemade vegan ice cream. Help them make the transition slowly but surely increase the likelihood that they’ll commit to it in the long run.
Treating a disorder is more complex, though. It’s best to acquire professional help and receive a binge eating recovery plan to get you started. Dealing with a severe case of binge eating on your own is not recommended, as it may only worsen the case.
Withdrawing from Everyone
Again, withdrawing from everyone is a normal initial response to stress, especially when the people around them cause it. Prolonged withdrawal is what should raise concerns. If your teenager deactivated all their social media, misses schools and social events, and even ignores their friends, it’s time to intervene.
Social withdrawal is often a symptom of depression. Understand that at that moment, they could be feeling hopeless, irritable, and worthless. Forcing them to return to their usual selves will only amplify these negative emotions.
One of the most important things you can do for them is to make yourself available for conversation. Help them meet their basic needs like eating three times a day, getting enough exercise, and sleeping just enough hours to re-energize their minds and bodies. If they’re not telling you anything, consider coordinating with their school about any possible issues they’re facing, like bullying. If their symptoms escalate, look for treatment options at once.
Screaming, throwing things, and hurting other people is often a learned stress response. Is there anybody in the family or their immediate environment who do the same things? Are they usually silent and inexpressive, and then suddenly burst out with their emotions? When they’re in one of these episodes, don’t do anything to aggravate the situation further. You should talk to them only about these things when they’re calm and, therefore, receptive.
Teenagers can bottle things up and lose control when they reach their tipping point. Help them develop healthy means of venting daily. Exercising, art projects, or extracurricular activities that make them feel better are some of your best options. If they don’t feel they can talk to you, then sign them up for therapy. People don’t need to have mental disorders to go to one, after all.
As always, anything more severe warrants professional help.
Vigilance is Key
You need vigilance to see the red flags in your teenagers’ behavior as soon as they appear. Parents should understand that these are difficult times for them because so many changes are happening to their bodies, minds, and emotions. As long as they know they have you to depend on when things get tough, they’re more likely to recover from these stress responses.