Raising a teen and mental health (ages 12 to 18)

The years from 12 to 18 can be a confusing time. It can be exciting – and a little scary.

Your child might be a young teen just starting to establish their autonomy. They might be older and exploring who they are independently from you.

As a parent you want to keep them safe from risky behaviour.

This might feel overwhelming when so much of what they experience seems out of your hands. It’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

Looking after your own mental health and wellbeing is important. It can help you better support your teen, especially through turbulent times. 
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Supporting your teen’s independence

Your young teen (12, 13 and 14) might only just have started puberty. Older teens (from ages 15 to 18) are on the way to maturing physically.

Alongside this physical growth come changes to how they think and feel.

When you encourage your teenager to build a strong sense of identity, it helps them become more confident.

It also supports their independence and protects their mental health and wellbeing.

Brain development in teenagers

The teenage years are a time of enormous change inside the brain.  

These changes can affect your teen’s behaviour and the way they express and manage their emotions.  

You can encourage behaviour that strengthens positive connections in your child’s brain. 

Watch this video on the Spark their Future website to learn what’s going on in the teen brain

Visit the Raising Children Network website to understand teenage brain development and find behaviour strategies.

Sense of self 

A sense of self is about self-identity.  

It relates to our perceptions of who we are and how we fit into the world based on our experiences and beliefs about ourselves. 

Teenagers who have a strong sense of identity are better equipped to navigate school life, deal with peer pressure and face adversity. 

You can foster your teen’s self-identity by reinforcing their positive qualities and strengths.  

Read this article by Monash University to find out more about self-identity

Gender identity

Gender identity is a part of a person’s sense of self.

Some people don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth (for example, ‘male’ or ‘female’). They might choose to identify as:
  • transgender
  • gender diverse
  • non-binary.  
This is a natural part of human diversity.

In their teens, your child might start to reflect on how they identify.

It’s important to listen and provide support to any child or young person who might not identify with their assigned gender. This significantly protects their mental health and wellbeing.

Visit the headspace website to understand your role in supporting gender diverse young people.

Download a guide to supporting your trans.

Sex and sexuality

The teenage years are when young people start figuring out who they’re attracted to.

Many young people will experiment with sexual behaviour.

Talking about sex and sexuality with your child is a crucial step in helping them:
Young people who identify as LGBTIQ+ often face discrimination, exclusion and prejudice. Sharing this part of themselves can be a stressful and uncertain time for young LGBTIQ+ people.

A supportive and inclusive environment at home, school and in the community is important to protect your teen’s mental health.

Visit the Raising Children Network website to find more information on understanding sexual development.

Go to the headspace website to understand your role in supporting young LGBTIQ+ people.


It can be difficult for a teenager to ask for help because they are trying to prove their independence.

Part of helping your teenager develop into an independent adult is respecting their choices.

This means the way you communicate together might have to change.

Here are some top tips for communicating with your teen.
  • Make talking part of your routine. Try to start conversations with them at times when they appear most open to chatting. Accept that there will be many times when your teen won’t feel like talking. 
  • Be a good listener. As a general guide, listen twice as much as you speak.  
  • Ask open and curious questions. Examples are: “How did that make you feel?” or “What ideas do you have for what to do next?” 
  • Ask for their ideas or solutions to a problem first. This shows you respect their opinion. It also helps meet their need for autonomy.
  • Show respect for their opinions, even if you disagree with them. 
  • Try to notice and be responsive to their attempts to include you in their decision-making. 
  • Show respect for their opinions, even if you disagree with them. 

Starting a difficult conversation

It’s common for young people to close off from their loved ones when things get difficult. It’s important to keep reinforcing that you’re there for them. Let your young person know you’re concerned and want to help. Create an environment where they can open up, and make sure you give them space to talk.

Find more tips for talking to a young person you're concerned about.

Managing emotions

Your teen is still figuring out how to manage and express emotions in a more controlled way.

You might notice your teenager is:
  • going through more emotional ups and downs 
  • experiencing unpredictable moods 
  • showing strong reactions and feelings.
Teenagers can often become overwhelmed by strong emotions.

Teaching your teenager to notice, label and calm their own strong emotions is crucial for their emotional development.

Visit the the Raising Children Network website to find strategies to help teens calm down from strong emotions.

Learn the signs of anxiety and depression in young people.


Ongoing stress can contribute to poor mental health.

Use these strategies to help your teen when you see their stress levels are rising.
  • Encourage your young person to talk about problems when they happen. 
  • Help them find ways to relax that work for them. 
  • Suggest they try meditation or mindfulness. 
  • Offer to help them plan how they might address what’s causing the stress. 
  • Support them to leave any big decisions until they feel less stressed. 
Learn more about stress and mental health.

Pressure and expectations

Young people are often still learning how to cope with the weight of expectations. From the people around them and from themselves.

Some of the ways your teen can feel pressure include:
  • worrying about what their friends and peers think of them (peer pressure) 
  • concerns about school performance and future work (exam pressure) 
  • high expectations related to lifestyle or body image from social media. 
To protect your teen’s mental health and wellbeing you can help them develop positive coping skills. This also builds their resilience.

Visit the ReachOut website to learn more about helping your teen develop resilience and positive coping skills.


What you can do to help

Here are some things you can do to support your teen.
  • Reassure your teen that you’re in this together. 
  • Encourage them to talk openly about what’s happening and how it is making them feel.  
  • Come up with some practical steps and strategies together. For example, what they can do when they are experiencing bullying. 
  • Talk to the school to manage bullying together if it originates from school. 
  • Discuss additional support that might be helpful, such as talking to a counsellor or other health professional. 

If your teen is bullying others

Are you worried that your teenager might be bullying others?

Bullying needs to be taken seriously. There are steps you can take to find out what’s going on and help your teen make things better.

Find strategies from the Australian Institute of Family Studies to help your teen stop bullying behaviour

Staying safe online

Teens are digital natives. Most have grown up with the internet as part of their everyday life.

While it’s straightforward to stay in touch with what your younger teen is doing online, older teens might prefer not to be monitored.

You can promote safe online behaviour by talking openly with your teen about online risks such as:
  • sites that contain explicit information
  • misinformation, fake news and information overload
  • pornography and sexually explicit content 
  • sites that contain explicit information on self-harm, body image or suicide. 

Illustration of girl listening to music in her bed

Drug and alcohol use

As part of their developing sense of identity, teens tend to take risks. They might also be trying to gain the approval of their peers. 

Using alcohol and other drugs is common among young people.  

This doesn’t mean all teens are drinking excessively or using drugs regularly. There are big differences between experimenting and a substance use disorder.

Mental health impacts

It’s hard to predict how drugs and alcohol will affect someone, particularly their mental health.

Drug and alcohol use can:
  • increase the risk of developing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression 
  • trigger psychosis for some young people. 
  • worsen the symptoms of someone who already has a mental health condition, while also interfering with their recovery. 

Supporting healthy behaviour 

It’s important to start talking to your child from their early teens about alcohol and drugs. 

It can be helpful to explain to your child what a drug is and why people might use them.  

You can also share your values and role model the behaviour you’d like to see when it comes to alcohol and other drugs. 

Read this guide from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation to find out how to talk about alcohol and other drugs with your teen


Self-harm refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies. It’s usually done in secret and on parts of the body that may not usually be seen by others.  

Self-harm can be something that a person tries once, or it can become a habit. 

Many young people describe self-harm as a way of coping with intense pain, distress or unbearable negative feelings, thoughts or memories. 

For most young people self-harm is a coping mechanism, not a suicide attempt.  

However, young people who self-harm repeatedly may also begin to feel as though they can’t stop. This may lead to feeling trapped, hopeless and suicidal. 

If you suspect your teen is self-harming encourage them to talk about what’s happening to you or a health professional. They should also see a GP to look after their injuries and avoid infection. 

In an emergency call 000. 

Learn about self-harm and self-injury

Visit the Orygen website to download the guide for parents on coping with self-harm.

Seeking support for your teen

You might find it hard to work out what is a ‘normal’ reaction by a teenager having a difficult experience. When is sadness ‘normal’ sadness? When should you begin to worry? 

What you can do

Here are some practical steps to take if you’ve noticed your teen is struggling.
  • Speak with their teacher or school counsellor to share information, gain insights and discover strategies to support them 
If your teen’s change of behaviour lasts for more than a couple of weeks and is interfering with their daily life, speak to a health professional such as a GP.

Mental health services to support your teen

These organisations provide mental health support to young people.

Get urgent support

If you’re worried that your child is showing warning signs of suicide, get help as soon as possible.
Call Lifeline (13 11 14)
Call 000 in an emergency. 

Looking after your mental health and wellbeing

It’s important to look after your own mental health and wellbeing when caring for your teen. Especially if your teen is unsettled or struggling.

Take the anxiety and depression (K10) test

Look after your wellbeing with our Wellbeing and Action tool.

Get mental health support

Supporting someone else

If you’re worried about someone caring for a teen, it can help to ask how they’re doing. 

Use these tips to talk to someone you’re concerned about

Further resources

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