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Teenagers

Typical development

Social

  • Friends are of primary importance. Teens generally spend more time with friends than with family. “Best” friends may change, but generally the teen has a core group of friends.
  • Peer issues, such as teasing, bullying or rejection are common.
  • Teens can take on more responsibility at home and require less parenting for routine tasks.
  • Interest in sexuality increases.
  • Teens may be self-conscious, worrying what others think about them.
  • The risk of drinking or other substance abuse increases.
  • The risk of sexual activity increases.

Emotional

  • Teens may experience frequent mood swings and be irritable or moody.
  • Teens need more privacy and independence.
  • The physical relationship between parents and teens changes. Teens may be less likely to hug or show affection.

Cognitive

  • Advanced reasoning, logic and abstract thinking skills develop. These can lead to arguments about right and wrong.

Physical

  • Height and weight can increase dramatically. Teens may be concerned because they are not physically developing at the same rate as their peers.
  • With the onset of puberty comes the appearance of secondary sex characteristics, including:
    • pubic hair
    • menarche (first menstrual period)
    • penis growth
    • voice changes (for boys)
    • underarm hair
    • facial hair growth (for boys)
    • beginning of acne

Common post-deployment reactions

  • The teen may have specific worries about the war and about a parent being re-deployed.
  • The teen’s behavior around the returning parent may change:
    • He/she may be withdrawn or slow to warm
    • He/she may be overly clingy.
    • He/she may be critical, negative or angry.
  • The teen’s behavior around the parent who remained home during the deployment may change:
    • He/she may be dismissive.
    • He/she may be overly clingy.
  • The teen may be angry with the returning parent for leaving or with the remaining parent for choices made during the deployment.
  • Rebellion and challenges to parental authority may occur.
  • Mood swings or irritability may be observed, as well as mild to moderate changes in behavior including:
    • Increased activity levels
    • Decreased concentration and/or attention
    • Attempts to withdraw from the family
    • Increased attention-seeking behavior

Strategies for parents

  • Work with your partner to agree on household routines, rules, and discipline. Present a united front on these issues.
  • Continue family traditions, discipline, and structure.
  • Share information with teens about the returning parent’s experiences in a way they can understand.
  • Encourage your teen to talk with you openly about any worries, feelings, or questions they might have.
  • Answer questions honestly, monitoring the amount of details you share.
  • Make an effort to spend one-on-one time to reconnect.
  • Encourage your teen’s involvement in social, sporting, and school-based activities, and try to attend these activities yourself.
  • Be aware of who your teens’ friends are and what they are doing.

Red flags

The following behaviors are above and beyond what would typically be expected in teens post-deployment and should be taken very seriously by parents. Identifying and intervening with teens in these situations is imperative.

  • High risk behaviors, such as drug or alcohol use, sexual acting out or problems with the law
  • Frequent outbursts of aggression or violence against people or property
  • Repeatedly missing curfew
  • Marked withdrawal from family and friends
  • Depressive symptoms, including prolonged periods of sadness or crying, prolonged negative moods, changes in appetite or sleep, thoughts of death or withdrawal from desired activities and friends
  • Marked changes in school performance
  • Excessive tardiness or absenteeism at school
  • Significant changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Frequent physical complaints
  • Threats of self-harm or harm to others
  • Self-injury or self-destructive behavior, such as cutting on arms or legs
  • Threats of running away
  • Strange or unusual thoughts, beliefs, feelings or behaviors

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