Adolescence and Teen Psychology

17th October 2023

Raising Teenagers and Youth Issues Today

Healthy personal relationships need to be cultivated to help stabilize teens and contribute to their good mental health. Parents and teens should be aware that adolescents who isolate themselves for one reason or the other could be at risk.

This page has been professionally reviewed and edited by a practicing mental health professional associated with the AYCNP who holds a PsyD in psychology.

What a young person takes into his or her mind, his childhood experiences, as well as his lifestyle, social relationships, and family life can have an effect on his or her mental health. Children need love and attention, and youths also need to feel needed, have a need for approval, and a need for someone mature to talk to, to receive guidance, discipline, and clear boundaries.

Teenagers need limits and a certain amount of parental control, which will slowly decrease as he or she matures. If a child has no clear boundaries, this can lead to instability.

For success in raising teenagers, young people also need stability in their home; a secure, orderly, and clean place to live in so that they can thrive emotionally and psychologically.

Adolescence Psychology: How the Media Can and Does Affect the Psychology and Mental Health of Teenagers

Movies, TV, video games, music, the Internet, along with social networking, have an influence on the mental health of today's youths. Sexuality also has a bearing on the mental health of a youth, as can drug and alcohol use, promiscuity, and abortion.

About 20% of youths will experience some form of diagnosable mental disorder during their teenage years (NAMI). ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders common to adults are being diagnosed with youths and children at a steadily rising rate, which some professionals such as Sharna Olfman, Ph.D., professor of Psychology at Point Park University, PA, feel is alarming and have described as an "epidemic" (See Keisha Hill, MA school psychology page).

Video games, the amount and types of films, television, and music an adolescent watches or listens to, the quality of his family life, pornography, excessive amount of time on the Internet in isolation, as well as the sexual life of a youth, can have a bearing on his or her mental health. According to conclusions from an Ohio State University study, adolescent sex can be related to "mood troubles" (Ohio State University Research News. 2014, November 11). Sexually active youth, then, can be more prone to mood changes than those who are not.

Having an abortion with or without the parent's knowledge can also have a bearing on the mental health of a young person (35 states require parental consent to a teen’s abortion. Some teens cross state lines for a legal abortion without parental involvement).

Alcohol and drug use, smoking, prescription drug use, as well as a youth's diet (Parenting Teens. 2013, April 6), can affect his or her mental health as well. Chronic drug and alcohol abuse can be treated in a specialized drug rehab center for teens.

Youth Issues Today: Nutrition and Breakfast

Children and adolescents have a need to eat three nutritious meals a day. Breakfast is an important part of the physical requirements of a young person's physical development as well as his or her mental state.

Some children and young people might skip breakfast regularly, and sometimes lunch as well, unbeknownst to the parents (or the child study team if a special education school team is involved)*, who might assume that he (usually she) is eating at school when in fact they are not. This can affect the mood and mental state of the young person. There are, sadly, many girls who skip breakfast when it is served at school, and there are some whose first meal is at 7:00 PM when their parents return home from work.

This can have a strong influence on the mental health of an adolescent or child, and has been observed in the public school setting with children from fourth grade to middle school years, and is probably true of some high school students as well.

*Special Education News accurately describes the Child Study Team (CST) as a multidisciplinary group of professionals to provide parents and teachers with a variety of education related services. These services include consultative, evaluative and prescriptive services for students who are experiencing academic difficulties. A typical CST consists of a psychologist, a learning disabilities consultant, social worker and oftentimes, a speech/language therapist alongside the student's parents.

Raising Teenagers: Parental Role in Adolescence/Teen Psychology
-------Keep Communication Lines Open

Parents have a large role in contributing to the emotional, spiritual, and physical health of a child and adolescent, as well as a responsibility to provide direction, guidance, firmness, and proper boundaries in family life (appropriate and reasonable limits).

Additionally, successful parents keep the communication lines with their adolescents open. They are reasonable and loving in dealing with the mistakes and failures of their children. If they learn not to overreact when their teenagers "mess up," even if it is as serious as a pregnancy or getting suspended for cutting, drug use, or some other serious reason, then the teenager will be less likely to lie, less likely to have an abortion without the parents’ knowledge, and more likely to talk to the parent about their problems. By the time an adolescent reaches 15 to 18 years, they are already establishing patterns of self-determination, that is, they are learning to make their own decisions.

The role of the parent during these years is delicate. Firmness is necessary to protect the teen from unwholesome influences, but at the same time, that firmness can't be taken to the point of being oppressive or overbearing.

Additionally, parents should be aware that drugs are a real part of teen sub-culture; 40% to 50% of teenagers have tried marijuana by the time they are 18, and approximately 20% may be regular users (at least once a month), while 6.5% of high school seniors use marijuana daily (National Institutes of Health. 2012). Students who smoke marijuana are 60% less likely to graduate high school, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide, according to an Australian study published in The Lancet Psychiatry (Silins, E., PhD, et al. 2014, September).

Parents should realize that teenagers at teen dance club use drugs like Ecstasy (the club Abyss in Sayerville, NJ, is one example of a teen dance club where teens reported that many took drugs such as Ecstasy before entering) (Samuels, J. 2009).

Some adolescents who have anger management issues, or who are violent or unstable may be using marijuana fairly regularly unbeknownst to their parents or to the child’s study team who may be involved. All of this ties into the subject of adolescent psychology, and even child study teams need to be more aware of the destabilizing influence that covert use of drugs, such as marijuana and Ecstasy, can have on adolescents even if not used daily or weekly.

Pot smoking may leave mark on teen brains. CNN. August 27, 2012.

Raising Teenagers: Providing Wholesome Recreation and Hobbies for Teenagers is Essential

If a parent establishes certain house rules which might place some serious restrictions on the teen (such as, no video games during the school year, or encouraging teens to listen to less music during the day, such as on the way to and from school or in school; for some teens, excessively indulging in passive music during the day can contribute to depression), then the parent needs to think about what they can do to replace the thing that the teen has been asked to give up something positive that the teen will appreciate as well as benefit from. If a teenager is listening to too much music, for example, the parents might consider providing music lessons for the musically inclined child or teen so that he or she can develop their talent in a positive and directed or focused way.

If the issue is the Internet in the bedroom, curfew, or not "hanging out" with certain people, are the parents providing other forms of wholesome recreation, hobbies, or lessons for the child or teen that will take the place of the thing that is being restricted? This is essential for the teenager not to feel oppressed or restricted. There are plenty of wholesome activities and supervised recreation programs that parents can take advantage of to help the teen or child develop their interests and talents and to keep them busy in worthwhile pursuits.

In Newark, NJ, as an example, the Newark Museum has a wonderful arts and crafts program. For only $50 for an eight-week program, children or teens can learn to paint, design, do portraits, or other arts and crafts with some of the best teachers in the area. Teens both enjoy and have the opportunity to interact with other teens and teachers in an informal but supervised setting, conducive to emotional and psychological growth. Note, though, that it does require some effort on the part of parents.

Parents who spend their evenings watching television while their children hang out on the streets are setting themselves up for failure. This is true not only in the inner cities, but in the suburbs as well. Parents need to be diligent, and realize that they need to be very active in ensuring the success of their adolescent.

Youth of the 21st Century face challenges that are somewhat unique to this generation. 

Parents should be aware of what and how much music their children are listening to, and to guide the child or teen in this area. Most parents have little idea what their teens are indulging in in the way of music, and might be surprised if they took the time to really listen.

Additionally, music videos on the Internet, on cable and satellite music television such as MTV, BET, and a host of others, can have a profound effect on a teenager’s personality, mental, and emotional development and values. One special education teacher said, "five minutes watching MTV can undo everything [in the way of values and character education] that we have taught these young people in class." (Samuels, J. 2010). Some teachers, programs, and schools place emphasis on character education, and many of the music videos, as well as the music itself, are teaching exactly the opposite message.

Parents and Raising Teens: Homework and Structure

Homework is an essential part of any child or teenager's academic and mental development. Teens need structure, a set time daily, to be able to concentrate on their homework.

Teenagers and children who complete their homework every day will be much more likely to develop the cognitive skills necessary to succeed academically, and to be successful in the adult world when they are on their own, or when they have their own families. They learn good study habits, industriousness, and time management. Completing quality homework assignments daily, helps the teen develop his or her cognitive abilities.

Parents should be involved in establishing a homework routine for their teen. If a parent helps the teenager along with their assignments, even if it is as little as making sure they sit still for the 30 minutes to two-hours of homework a day, explaining difficult words to the teen, helping them choose a research report, or creating a design for a research project, this can help bond the teenager and the parent, and help them develop common interests. (Of course, the parent should never want to do the homework for the teen or child, but be there to help them, if needed).

If the child or teen has several days a week when they say that they have no homework, then it is time for the parent to get suspicious. Give the teacher or teachers a call and see why. Chances are there is.

This section on homework is a part of adolescent psychology because doing homework and a parent's involvement can establish structure in the adolescent's routine. Establishing structure and a regular schedule is stabilizing for all adolescents, but especially for those with ADHD, depression, or any other mental health or learning disability. Structure alone can help a child, and has been one factor in helping some teens with ADHD come off medication.

Romantic Relationships and Adolescence Psychology

One other area of adolescence psychology that should be discussed is that of teenagers and romantic relationships. Romantic relationships between teenagers, as we all know, is the order of the day in the high school hallway and lunchrooms, and parents may or may not be aware of their teenagers’ romantic relationships and liaisons. This is why good communication is important.

A fifteen or sixteen-year-old boy usually isn't interested in a serious and long-term commitment. He is just learning to deal with his own sexual feelings learning about sex himself through the media, from peers, and from education and learning to deal with new emotions. Additionally, many teenagers are making some sort of plans for their future on what they will do when they graduate high school and go to college. What a teenager will do after he or she graduates is one of the most serious and difficult decisions a teenager is asked to make.

After graduating high school, most high school romantic relationships are swapped for longer-term goals. Some girls easily get emotionally involved with their high school boyfriends, and the feelings they have in this type of relationship are sometimes more serious than what adolescent boys feel. If the bottom falls out on the relationship, it can result in some emotional turmoil for some, adolescent girls especially, and some young adults (in their older teens or 20s as well). One of the most common reasons for suicide attempts from adolescent girls is a romantic breakup or turmoil.

The fantasies of television and movie romances such as with Disney Princess movies, soap operas and novellas, romance movies and novels have taught girls from their earliest years that fairytales exist. But then the realities of boyfriends whose romantic interests quickly shift gears from female to female set in. This is only one common scenario of the teenage romantic high school scene, but not an uncommon one.

Girls with tearful eyes are not uncommon in high school, and the reason is often boyfriend issues. The emotional turmoil can be compounded when the teen has become sexually active, and the parents are not aware. Additionally, sexual activity even if it is not actual intercourse before an adolescent is prepared emotionally or otherwise, to handle it almost always sets up the teenager for new inner conflicts.

Sex and romance, then, are integral parts of the study of adolescence psychology. Again, parental guidance, instruction, support, and strong communication lines are essential.

Free Teens
Free Teens USA reaches more than 10,000 teens annually in urban and suburban areas of NY and NJ with messages of healthy relationships, self-leadership, and character development. Free Teens aims to help youth achieve their life dreams and goals, including that of preparing for a committed love relationship that can last a lifetime!

Adolescence Psychology: Teen Suicide Among Girls and the Media's Impact

According to an article by Eilene Zimmer in January/February 2009 Psychology Today, the suicide rate for girls ages 10 to 14 increased 76% in 2004, as seen from the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; while in teen girls 15 to 18 years old, the increase was more than 30%.

Steve Hinshaw is a cultural psychologist at Berkeley (California) who believes that there is a combination of cultural and parental pressures to blame (Hinshaw, S., Kranz, R. 2009).

Unrealistic expectations are fueled by the media, and female role models (Hannah Montana or Gabriella Montez of High School Musical "who is not only sexy, but a Broadway-caliber dancer and singer, soon-to-be freshman at Stanford") are daily companions to many teens, and the achievements of these celebrities often are impossible for the average teen to live up to.

"I want to be somebody," said one 12 year old. "Everyone is special but me," she cried out. Not many girls can realistically achieve the talent and success levels of these ideal ‘role models,’ and this can lead to a let-down in their own self-value and perception.

TV, movies, the Internet (social networking), texting, music videos and, video games can socially isolate girls.

When there is some emotional struggle, relationship, or failed relationship in a girl's life, it might soon be all over everyone's text messages, Instagram, and Facebook pages. This has led some girls to despair. Parents need to be aware of this and try to provide activities that are socially rewarding, and that also can enhance values and self-esteem.

Young people need to avoid social isolation and learn life skills, and to find joy and happiness in helping other people helping those who may be less fortunate than they are. Parents and even teachers can provide lessons in this. In the classroom, teachers can do this by encouraging those who excel academically to help those who are struggling.

Youth Issues Today and Teen Psychology: Teens and Depression

An active mind is a good preventive measure, and can be a part of therapy for depression. Studies have shown that time spent with television can be correlational to symptoms of ADHD, and can have a direct correlation with depression in teens, especially males.

Just 2 to 3 hours of TV per day resulted in a significantly greater rate of depression. For every hour of TV watched by a teen, there was a correspondingly eight-percent increase in teen depression, according to research conducted by Brian Primack, a pediatrician of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who studies how teenagers' use of media affects their health (Primack, et al. 2009, February 1).

U.S. News & World Report suggests that this may be because television is passive, or it may be psychological in that television portrays happy, successful, popular, and talented characters in both programming and advertising (advertising comprises 12% to 15% of television time), something that no teen can live up to (Shute, N. 2009, February 3); many teens may lack the social life experience necessary to decode the propaganda and entertainment from reality, and may have a lower evaluation of their own lives as a result.

Another hypothesis for the role of television viewing and depression is that the stimulation from television is an often fast-paced, artificial yet temporary stimulation. When that stimulation is later absent, it can result in a corresponding low in one's mood, which is thought to be a reflection of brain chemistry, making it difficult to overcome feelings of depression.

In that respect, watching TV or listening to music passively can become something like a drug. One youth with bipolar disorder reported that the only time he felt better with certain symptoms was when he watched television (Samuels, J. 2010). So, the TV may have calmed him while he was watching, but his symptoms returned more earnestly afterwards.

Encouragement here is given for teens to cut back on the time spent watching television. For some, this can mean doing without TV in the home, and certainly taking the television out of the bedroom. Parents should think seriously about providing their child or teen a television-free bedroom environment as a TV in the bedroom can be an open door for accentuated child and teen problems and issues.

Doctors Primack, Georgiopoulos, MD, Land, Ph.D., and others associated with the study conclude that "television exposure and total media exposure in adolescence are associated with increased odds of depressive symptoms in young adulthood, especially in young men."

Could excess time with pop music be linked to Major Depression in teens? 

Youth Issues Today and Adolescence Psychology: Antidepressants and Teenagers

Antidepressants provide a temporary stop-gap for depressive feelings; however, about 40% of teens who are treated with the first treatment course of antidepressants will have little or no response, “and clinicians have no solid guidelines on how to choose subsequent treatments for these patients,” concluded NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D (NIMH. 2008, February 26).

For those teens who have severe depression, high levels of suicidal thoughts, or who have had a history of abuse, resistance to antidepressant treatment was especially high. Interestingly, 30% of those treated with placebos for depression had a positive response.

While those who received CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) were much more likely to show a positive response when treated for depression. Talk therapy is also an especially effective professional therapy for teens. Self-help is also valuable and necessary method of treating depression for teens and adults.

By teaching coping strategies to teens to help them sort through a wide range of problems and situations, teaching problem-solving, and helping teens improve their social functioning, many youths are helped with a wide range of alternative therapies. This suggests a need to "strengthen treatment strategies," according to the NAMI article "Getting closer to personalized treatment for teens with treatment-resistant depression." (NAMI-NYS News. 2009, Spring).

Beyond pharmaceutical treatment, parents and any professionals involved need to give attention to strategies that can help teenagers overcome depression. Try to get closer to addressing the roots of the depression rather than masking the symptoms with psychiatric, pharmaceutical analgesics.

Parents can work towards strengthening their supportive role of their depressed teen. Teens need to develop positive coping strategies and live a healthy lifestyle on a daily basis, one that is conducive to both good physical and mental health.

One basic philosophy behind this approach can be summed up with "teach skills not pills." This is true overall for good mental health, but is especially true for teens.

Interpersonal Therapy (which is simply talk therapy) has also been shown to help many teens who may be very depressed or suicidal, and can be an effective stop-gap for teens with suicidal thoughts.

There definitely needs to be more than simply prescribing antidepressants for teenagers to help them overcome depression. In fact, in young people and children age 25 and under, there is a higher rate of suicidal tendencies (from 2%-4%) with antidepressant treatment (FDA. 2007, May 2). Parents, educators, and professionals then need to work hard with teens on coping skills and positive changes in their lifestyles so as to facilitate better mental health.

Art, Art Therapy, and Teenagers

Art can be an excellent therapy, a preventive measure, and mind-strengthening activity for teens. Myra, 15, enjoys taking a break from her studies to color with fine-tipped brilliant color magic markers in highly detailed coloring books. It helps her to focus, captures her interest and attention, and helps her to develop her creativity. She doesn’t consider herself an artist, but is intuitively drawn to this non-passive activity.

Art and teens is a healthy combination.

Newark Museum program for teens and children
The Newark Museum, as an example and model features many stimulating afterschool and Saturday programs for children and teens in art, crafts, and graphics. The instructors are kind and patient, and often-times are school-teachers. If you live in or near Newark, NJ, consider signing your children up for the workshops. If you live out of the area, look into programs in a museum in your area. Art is an excellent skill for young people and children to develop. It helps them in many ways. They learn to focus better and for longer periods of time, (sustained concentration). Also, they learn skills that help them develop self-esteem.

Additionally, it helps children and teens get away from both violent and sexually oriented media, which can potentially have a bearing on their system and belief system, as well as their self-perception and mental health in the long-term and short-term.

Art is a good prevention and corrective measure for youths who drift into pornography. Pornography can affect the mental health and behavior of youth and even of children, and parents and mental health professionals in and out of the school systems should be aware that many young people, even children, can get involved in pornography early on. This can affect a teens behavior in school and his mental health in many ways.

Depression, and symptoms related to bipolar disorder, symptoms related to ADHD, OCD, and a host of other mental health issues can be the result of a teen’s involvement with pornography. Helping kids and teens get hooked on art is a great preventive effort.

Conclusion on Adolescence and Teen Psychology, Parenting, Raising Teenagers

Adolescents face special challenges in achieving good mental health during their teenage years. Their bodies and brains are rapidly growing, they are gradually gaining independence from their parents, and they are developing their own world-views, values, and philosophies in life. Teenagers are developing, and need to develop, their own sense of individual identity. In some cultures, especially in Western cultures, this translates to a sense of identity apart from that of their parents.

Adolescents can be susceptible to mood swings, depression, or serious mental health disorders. Parents need to provide support for their teens. Parents should be involved in the teen's life in pro-active ways that serve to minimize the negative effects specific to development issues concerning their children. They should provide a source of non-judgmental support for them, which necessitates approval of their good decisions and understanding of their mistakes.

Teenagers need to feel a sense of belonging to the family. They need general approval from their parent or caregiver, as well as approval from supportive adults, such as teachers and others who serve as role models. Teenagers should be encouraged to excel in some capacity in their lives. They need to be good at something, whether it be schoolwork, athletics, art, music, public speaking, music, or some other talent. This helps a teen gain self-respect, and he or she will be less easily swayed by negative peer-pressure.

While parents want to encourage their teenager's independence slowly, they should also attempt to keep abreast of their teen's whereabouts, activities, and companions. Some experimentation with peers can be deadly. Parents need to provide guidance and direction to teens who are navigating the sometimes murky waters of today's teen culture.

Both parents and supportive professionals should note that even serious mental health conditions need do not need to be permanent in adolescents. With support, many teenagers can learn to cope with and overcome setbacks in terms of mental health difficulties. Success in this manner builds confidence in their perception of their own strengths and stamina.

Additionally, a healthy lifestyle and prevention are areas of consideration for teenagers. Parents should realize that what goes into a child or teen's body and mind can determine what that teenager will eventually become, think, and feel about the world and themselves.

Parents and role models should help teens choose positive, pro-social activities, as well as healthy mental and spiritual "food," steering their teens away from over-indulgence in physical and mental "junk food." Mental junk food can be, as stated in this discussion, too much TV, video games, pornography, and the consumption of many other types of unhealthy habits. These can be detrimental to the long-term mental health of anyone, but especially so with regard to teenagers who have yet to learn to analyze and decode the many messages they daily receive from many sources, including the media and entertainment world.

It is important that teenagers do not isolate themselves in their rooms or within the confines of their music and other sectors of the virtual world, but develop healthy relationships with others, including their friends, families, and positive role models. Overall, they need to develop a healthy relationship with the world around them, and a comfortable position as to who they are as a part of that world.

In a significant way, we should understand that adolescent mental health is not primarily a matter of chance, but a matter of informed choices and healthy practices, with love, a sense of belonging, along with guidance from parents and association with positive role models positively influencing the mental health of teens.

References for Adolescence and Teen Psychology: Raising Teenagers and Youth Issues Today

1. Adolescent Sex Linked to Adult Body, Mood Troubles, In Animal Study. (2011, November 14). Ohio State University Research News.

2. FDA Proposes New Warnings About Suicidal Thinking, Behavior in Young Adults Who Take Antidepressant Medications. (2007, May 2). FDA News Release.

3. Gardner, A. (2012, August 27). Pot smoking may leave mark on teen brains. CNN.

4. Getting closer to personalized treatment for teens with treatment-resistant depression. (2009, Spring). NAMI-NYS News.

5. How Your Teen’s Diet can & does Effect their Moods and Behavior. (2013, April 6). Parenting Teens.

6. Hinshaw, S., Kranz, R. (2009). The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today's Pressures. New York: Ballantine Books.

7. Mejia, P. (2014, September 10). Weed-smoking teens 60 percent less likely to finish high school, study says. Newsweek.

8. Mental Health Facts: CHILDREN & TEENS. NAMI. Retrieved from the Internet January 2, 2016.

9. Primack, B. Swanier, B. Georgiopoulos, A., Land, S., Fine, M. (2009, February 1). Association Between Media Use in Adolescence and Depression in Young Adulthood - A Longitudinal Study. JAMA. vol 66, no.2.

10. Regular marijuana use by teens continues to be a concern. (2012, December 19). National Institutes of Health.

11. Samuels, J. (2005-2015). Personal, educational, and psychological notes. AYCNP.

12. Shute, N. (2009, February 3). Television and Adolescent Depression. U.S. News & World Report.

13. Silins, E., Horwood, L.J., Patton, G., Fergusson, D., Olsson, C., Hutchinson, D., Spry, E., Toumbourou, J., Degenhardt, L., Swift, W., Coffey, C., Tait, R., Letcher, P. Copeland, J., Mattick, R. Young adult sequelae of adolescent cannabis use: an integrative analysis. (2014, September). The Lancet Psychiatry. Volume 1, No. 4, p.286–293.

14. Teens with Treatment-resistant Depression More Likely to Get Better with Switch to Combination Therapy. (2008, February 26). National Institute of Mental Health Press Release.

15. Zimmer, E. (2009, February 23). Teen Angst Turns Deadly: Why girls are killing themselves. Psychology Today.