Supporting teenagers and their mental health

Supporting teenagers and their mental health

21 April 2022

While teenagers go through a wide range of typical changes mentally (and physically) as they move through adolescence, teens of Defence families may face their own unique series of challenges.

Teenagers go through a lot of changes. From biological factors (hormonal changes resulting from puberty) to psychological factors (being expected to act more like young adults rather than older children), to social influences (peers becoming a bigger influence often than parents), the changes that occur in adolescence should not be underestimated.

Teens within Defence families

From the age of 13, teenagers may start to develop rough ideas about the person they want to become, this might include ideas about their future occupation, their relationships, and who they feel they are morally.

These key life changes mixed with the challenging aspects of military life, such as deployments and relocations, can have a unique impact on teenagers, and this may include impacts on their mental health.

Added pressures to their mental health may include:

  • Changes and stressors taking place within the family increasing the teenager's feelings of vulnerability.
  • Too much structure or regimentation leading to rebellious behaviour in an attempt to feel more in control.
  • Parental absence due to deployments resulting in difficulties in communication or feeling that significant others are not available for them to talk to
  • Moving between different schools resulting in a lack of social development and challenges in making friends or managing conflict.

It’s important to note that when faced with these challenges, teenagers of Defence families may also grow in resilience and confidence and develop positive coping strategies. It is important that they are provided with the appropriate support to assist in development of these helpful outcomes.

Warning signs for parents

Some common signs for parents when it comes to a decline in their teenager’s mental health may include changes like social withdrawal, issues with sleeping and eating, angry outbursts, or extreme mood swings.

A useful way to consider whether these changes are within the typical range for your teenager is to think about how different their current behaviour is from previous ways of behaving. For example, a normally sociable girl suddenly becoming unconfident, teary, and reporting issues with friendships, and noticing these changes over a period of time, might be an indicator of a decline in their mental health or wellbeing.

Building good mental health in teenagers

It may seem simple but check-in regularly with your teenager, even if their behaviour or response makes this seem difficult. It can be particularly challenging to receive one-word answers from your teen, but it is important that they feel that they have an opportunity to communicate with you and may be doing their best to do so with the communication skills they have available to them.

A good place to do this may be on car journeys as your teenager may find it easier to talk when the focus isn’t completely on them.

Other tips for managing your teenager's mental health include:

  • Consider what is appropriate and normal at this age. It’s important to understand that in the wider context of growing, a teenager's issues could be seen as a transition or opportunity to grow, rather than exclusively as a problem.
  • Get support. While seeking support in managing your own mental health is encouraged, it can also be helpful to get some support and advice about your children’s health and wellbeing. Whether this be talking to friends, family members, or a professional, it can be better to get a different perspective from someone not so close to the situation.
  • Make sure you are looking after yourself. Taking the time to look after yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally may help give you some valuable perspective on the situation with your teenager. It can also set a positive example of the importance of self-care for your child that may help them grow and thrive in the future.

Teenagers (and young children) of current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel who have been impacted by service are welcome to access Mates4Mates services.

This includes appointments with our psychologists and exercise physiologists as well as joining in on our social connection activities that are suitable for young children and teenagers.

Please call 1300 462 837 (1300 4 MATES) to book an appointment or to find out more.


Written by Marc MacDonald, Mates4Mates Psychologist

  • Mental health
  • Partners and families

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