I picked my daughter up from school the other day, and it was immediately apparent she was in a “mood.”
You know what I’m talking about. That dreaded combination of silent and sullen, mixed with a side of sassy. All the teenage signs and symptoms that scream: “I’m having a no good very bad day and please leave me alone because no matter what you do I’m going to be annoyed with you.”
I dared to ask her if she was okay.
She simply replied, “I’m tired.”
I almost might have preferred if she’d bitten my head off, but her lack of snipe set off my mama’s worry bells. It was more than just a temporary bad mood.
I knew my daughter was overwhelmed. She missed school the week prior due to a terrible stomach virus that took her down. There was tons of makeup work for those missed days, and she had little time to complete it. She was still recovering from a weekend swimming competition and was anxiously anticipating the biggest meet of the season in a few days. The pressure to swim her best time was already weighing on her.
She was exhausted and stressed out, so it wasn’t surprising she had fallen into a funk.
It’s hard to know what to do when your teen won’t talk to you.
My heart hurt for my girl.
I hated that she felt this way and was struggling with the fact that she had so much on her plate. I wondered if she was pushing herself too hard. I wanted to help, make her heavy load a little lighter, and encourage her in some way.
I asked her more questions trying to better understand what was going on in that head of hers, but it was clear there would be no “good talks” this particular day. We just sat silently in the car for the rest of the drive home.
It seemed there was nothing I could say to make things any better.
But I broke the silence every now and then, still trying to encourage her and tell her what a great job she was doing with everything. She just nodded in response to my attempts, almost annoyed with my urgency to help.
I knew how she was feeling. Haven’t we all been there? That awful place where there’s simply nothing anyone can say or do to clear away those dark clouds hanging over us?
The signs of a teen funk
Feeling like you’re in a funk is a common experience, especially among teens who are experiencing massive brain development, hormonal changes, social pressures, and physical changes. That being said, it can happen to anyone occasionally and usually is not cause for alarm.
A “funk” typically refers to a state of low energy, motivation, or mood. Here are some signs that you might be in a funk:
- Lack of Motivation: your teen may find it challenging to do basic tasks or chores, or even things they typically enjoy.
- Exhaustion or changes in sleep patterns: a teen may feel fatigued causing them to oversleep, or could have problems falling or staying asleep.
- Irritability: While some moodiness and teenage angst are typical, your child may be in a funk if they suddenly become annoyed or frustrated over small things or at family members that wouldn’t usually bother them.
- Withdrawal: spending more time in their room or avoiding social situations.
- Difficulty Concentrating: struggling to focus or stay on-task.
- Changes in Appetite: sudden changes in eating habits.a
- Procrastination: putting off tasks that normally are not an issue.
- Feeling Stuck: feeling like you are not making progress towards goals
(Note: Parents should stay alert to sudden changes in behavior that could be signs of depression or anxiety. If a “funk” goes on for more than just a few days, seek out professional help from a medical provider or licensed therapist. If your teenager expresses thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, seek immediate help.)
What to do if your teen is in a funk
I recognized the signs all too well, and my sweet-natured, usually positive girl was down deep.
So, as we pulled into the driveway, it hit me. I could ask her how I could help, what could I do for her during this difficult time.
She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know, mom.”
I quickly thought through everything going on in her life, searching for something tangible I could do to alleviate her stress, and then I suddenly knew!
I pictured her disastrous room. There were piles and piles of clean laundry stacked on her floor that I wanted her to put away, but she just hadn’t been able to get to it. I thought about all the papers, hair accessories, and random things strewn haphazardly about the room. I knew in the last few weeks, she barely had time to catch up on her schoolwork and make it to practice, let alone dive into the mess that had taken over her room.
The space that is usually her comfort zone, her healing haven, her private place of respite and recovery looked like a war zone. I was sure it only added to this funk that had settled over her.
Parents can offer their teens a lifeline during a funk.
“Would you like me to put your laundry away?”
And in that instant, her head lifted, and her face shifted, and her eyes opened wider as she looked at me for the first time during that dreadful drive. Her sunken demeanor changed drastically. It was as if the burden she had been carrying somehow eased up, if only a little bit. I could see both relief and gratitude in her gaze and I knew I had found one small thing I could do to make my girl’s life a little bit easier.
“Oh, yeah Mom, that would be great,” she replied with such heartfelt emotion.
After I got her to practice, I came home and got to work. I cleaned up everything, everywhere, and her sanctuary was restored.
It didn’t fix everything, but at least she had one place with some order when every other part of her life felt out of control. It was one area where I could step in and be her mom, to show her someone cared and she wasn’t in it alone.
Yes, keeping her room clean should be her responsibility, but there are times when all of us find ourselves drowning in all our responsibilities.
And she’s a teenager in a world that is asking more and more of our young people. They get so much flak for being lazy and entitled, but I know she juggles so much more than I ever did at her age.
She’s still my child, and I’m always working to move her towards independence, teaching life skills, and holding her accountable.
But sometimes she just needs me to be her mom.
Strategies to get your teen out of a funk
Helping lighten the load is a great way to help your teen get out of a funk, but there are other strategies that work. Some other options include:
- Exercise: movement, whether walking the dog, using an app to exercise at home, or playing a sport, is a great way to boost serotonin and lift your mood. (Here are the The Best Apps For Teens to Exercise At Home)
- Mindfulness exercises: Mindfulness is a potent tool in helping teens cope with the challenges they face and manage mental health issues. Research shows that teens who consistently practice mindfulness experience lower rates of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness also leads to better sleep, stronger relationships, and increased self-awareness, which all benefit a teen’s overall health and happiness. (Check out Six Of The Best Mindfulness Apps For Teens To Help Them Manage Life)
- Setting small goals. Sometimes we need to feel like we accomplished something to lift our mood. The simple act of crossing off an item on your to-do list can help.
- Take a social media hiatus. It’s no surprise that the constant barrage of curated posts are teens see from Instagram, SnapChat, and other sites can ruin our teen’s mood and put them in a funk. Encourage your teen to take a short break from scrolling and focus on something more positive. Better yet, consider doing it with them. (See: The Benefits of a Family Digital Detox And How To Do It)
- Use your support system. Reach out to family and friends for a quick get together or phone call. Spending some time with a loved one can help your teen have a more positive outlook.
Helping teens get out of a funk is important
Teens need to understand that funks are normal, and they can get through them–even if they need a little help.
My daughter needed me to see when she was struggling and be there for her in whatever way I could.
It’s not fun when we know our kids are sinking further into a funk. And they can be pretty awful to us during this time.
It can be so easy to react negatively to what may seem like our kids being rude or dismissive or disrespectful. And no, their funk shouldn’t justify bad behavior, but it might be masking something deeper. And these are the moments when we have the chance to either build up our relationships with our teens or break them down.
So, before you respond with the urge to judge, discipline, or tell them they better change their attitude STAT, you might want to consider what’s going on in their lives, their minds, and their hearts, because oftentimes, something’s up and they don’t have the ability or desire to talk about it. Sometimes finding out the why behind their behavior is more important in correcting the behavior.
They may be frustrated that they can’t figure it all out independently and probably have no idea what could help them feel better.
But if we simply ask “What can I do for you?”
If we look for ways to show them our support, offer grace, and provide them with that unconditional love that comes with being their mom, that just might be exactly what they need to start climbing out of that funk.
Our kids have so much pressure to perform in their teenage worlds, and when they come home from having a no-good very bad day or week, they need to *finally* allow themselves to unravel.
These teen years are rough, and our kids need us to be in their corner even when, no, especially when, they fall into the infamous teen funk.
So, next time you notice your teen in a funk, try asking them that simple question or offer to do something for them that you know they would appreciate.
Because sometimes this might be the best way we can love them when they’re in that funky place.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting Teens and Tweens is Tough, Want A Little More Support?
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