Well Being

Everyone has ups and downs in life and these can be even harder to cope with when you are a teenager.

This is natural though as you are going through many changes in your body, your emotions and how you are thinking about life in general.

It is also an exciting time. You probably have more freedom and have more involvement in decisions about your life than you did when you were younger. You are moving towards adulthood, when you will be making more important decisions independently. In the meantime you will have many questions about yourself and the world around you as you grow and develop.

You may be going through some difficult issues or you may just find that sometimes, everyday life can be a bit tricky. Hopefully this website will give you some of the information that you might be looking for. If you need more information, check out the Finding Help section, with names and contact details of useful organisations, websites and helplines for young people.

Teen Life and Issues

It is important for all of us to keep an eye on how we are feeling in general so we can make changes if things start to get on top of us. Life can be pretty stressful at times so you need to make sure you look after your overall well-being.

Well-being relates to all aspects of your life. It can include the thoughts in your head and how your body feels, as well as how you feel at home, at school and when with friends or other young people. Here are some things that are important for your overall well-being:

  • Eating properly and getting regular exercise.
  • Getting enough sleep (about 8 or 9 hours a night).
  • Finding a balance between study time, sports or other commitments and time to relax and unwind.
  • Being safe in your surroundings. This means living free from abuse, bullying and violence, including watching someone else, like a friend or family member, suffer from violence or abuse.
  • Having a family or guardians that support and guide you and give you important life skills.
  • Having responsibilities and independence that are appropriate for your age.
  • Praise and encouragement.
  • Receiving extra support with difficult issues such as illness, bullying, loss of a loved one, or any form of abuse.
  • Freedom to express your culture and ethnic background.
  • Opportunities to explore and develop your varied interests and talents.
  • Opportunities to reach your potential at school, college or work.
  • Opportunities to explore moral, religious and philosophical matters.
  • Having someone who cares about you and is there for you when you need them.
  • Having an adult who can be a mentor or role model in your life.

Just Remember

  • Teenagers have rights, just like everyone else.
  • Teenagers experience many physical and emotional changes in their lives.
  • Well-being means looking after yourself and having opportunities to grow and develop.
  • There are useful tips below to help with the stresses of teenage life.
  • There are useful websites and organisations to support teenagers.

The Rights of Children and Young People

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland signed up to in 1992) provides many rights to all children and young people in order to protect them, promote their well-being and help them to develop their unique potential. These include the right:

  • To be safe.
  • To be protected and live free from violence, abuse or harm (this includes witnessing violence and abuse).
  • To be brought up by their parents in a family, unless it is not in their interests.
  • To express their views and to have them taken into account in matters that affect them.
  • To have decisions that will affect them made in their best interests.
  • To be treated with dignity, respect and fairness.
  • To be free from discrimination, bullying and harassment of any kind.

Understanding changes

  • Q: I have acne and I'm not as big as the other boys in my class. I'm embarrassed, especially when we have PE or swimming. What can I do?

    A: Teenagers go through a lot of changes in their bodies while they are growing up. This can feel uncomfortable for a while but it will pass. Changes include things like developing body hair and sexual organs, increased appetite, periods for girls and voice changes for boys. Some teenagers grow faster than others, that's just because we are all different and not because there is anything wrong with you or you will not grow and develop.

    It's normal for teenagers to get acne and is a sign that you are growing and maturing. It can be embarrassing but there are probably many other boys and girls in your group who have spots too, so you are not alone. In fact, approximately 80% of young people will experience having spots at some point in their development. Take a shower every day and stick to normal good hygiene practices. Eat a healthy diet, avoid greasy food and have plenty of sleep. It may be helpful to get advice from your doctor if you are really worried and stressed out with them, but most spots clear up by themselves.

  • Q: My parents want me to go to a party where I won't know anyone. I can't even wear the clothes I want! It's embarrassing being around people I don't know. I hate when people are looking at me. What can I do?

    A: It is very normal at your age to feel a bit self conscious and awkward around people you don't know very well. You would probably prefer to be with your close friends. It's also normal to have different opinions than your parents. It just means that you are becoming a bit more independent and developing your own style and sense of who you are.

    Yet it is great at your age to be able chat to parents about things, they still love you as much as ever, even when you don't always agree. You might have to compromise a bit regarding the clothes and work out what you all feel comfortable with. Your parents might remember how they felt at your age and this might help. Why not ask them about that?

Confidence and self esteem

Life pressures and stress

Talking to your parents

  • Q: I am a 14-year-old boy. I don't know why, but my parents and I argue a lot, especially about my curfew. It seems they are constantly on my case and it's driving me crazy.

    A: It is normal to feel irritable sometimes at your age. This is because a lot of changes are happening to you such as:

    • Physical - Your body is growing and changing.
    • Emotional - Hormones, which are necessary for your growth and maturity, but can make you feel a bit irritable and moody sometimes.
    • Social - You want to see more of your friends and less of the family. You also want more freedom and independence. This can be hard for parents, who worry about your safety and well-being.

    If there is an argument with your parents about your curfew, try to stay calm. Avoid shouting back. Try to agree on a time that is reasonable for you to come home. Parents worry less if they know where you are and when you will be back home.

    If you keep to the curfew your parents are more likely to trust you in the future.

  • Q: I am in second year and I hate maths. The problem is my dad is a maths teacher and he is always at me and we end up arguing. What can I do? I dread the thoughts of four more years of this.

    A: It is easy to see that your dad has a great love of maths and wants to share this with you. You, on the other hand, might enjoy other things more. It doesn't mean that you are bad at maths but you could think about the following suggestions:

    • Your dad wants the best for you and if you stay calm, tell him how you feel and then listen to what he has to say you have a better chance of finding a solution.
    • Perhaps accept some help with maths from your dad.
    • If you don't want help from your dad, you could compromise by agreeing to accept help from someone else.
    • If that fails ask someone else to talk to him, like your mum, older sister /brother or anyone in the family or friends.
    • You could talk to your maths teacher in school.
    • Let your dad know how much you enjoy other subjects and in this way he will get to know you better as a person. Tell him about your dreams for the future where maths may not be such a big deal.

School, college & the future

  • Q: I finished my Junior Cert and I want to leave school. My parents are very upset with me. They want me to stay on and finish my Leaving Cert.

    A: Some young people drop out of school at your age and it can work out for them if they have clear plans for the future. For others, things do not work out so well. This is something you'll need to think seriously about before making a decision.

    Here are some things to consider:

    • Is this something you can take time to think about?
    • What is it about school that is making you feel this way?
    • What are the advantages and what are the disadvantages if you leave?
    • Talk to others who have left school early.
    • If you stayed and completed the Leaving Cert, what options will this give you?
    • Thinking things through and staying calm will help you and your parents to make the best decision. Agree a time and place to talk, preferably free from other distractions. Say as clearly as possible what you want to say. Let your parents talk too so you can understand their perspective. Your parents want the best for you. It will help them to understand your views and wishes about the situation too.
    • Ask someone else, such as a close relative or another person you trust, to come on board if you and your parents cannot resolve the situation together. Agree with your parents whom this person should be. Having a third party involved might help to keep things calm so that you can all come up with a solution.
    • Ask for advice from another adult you trust outside the family such as a friend's parent, a teacher or school guidance counsellor, a youth worker.
  • Q: I am nearly 17 and doing the Leaving Cert in a few months. I hope to move away to work or college but I'm worried about all the changes ahead. Have you any advice?

    A: It's completely normal to worry about the future sometimes, particularly when it involves making dramatic changes in your life and leaving your ‘comfort zone'. The following tips might be of help:

    • List the things on your mind.
    • Talk to your parents about whatever concerns you. They will understand your worries and maybe they even felt the same at your age.
    • See if anyone in your class is going to the same college as you are, or a college in the same city or town.
    • Consider how you might respond to peers assertively and develop strategies to deal with peer pressure.
    • Consider safety issues like avoiding risky behaviour, not travelling alone at night or having money on reserve for a taxi.
    • College is something to look forward to. Changes, like going to college, are part of life. It might be strange at first, but you will make new friends and settle in. Getting involved in sports and other activities at college is a good way to get to know other students and make friends. Just give yourself time.

Friends & relationships

Sexuality & pregnancy

Eating disorders & self harm

  • Q: A girl in my class hardly eats anything, is always exercising and thinks she is fat even though she is only a size 8. I think she has an eating disorder but I'm not sure. What exactly is an eating disorder?

    A: It's possible that this young girl may have an eating disorder and yes, if left untreated, this can have lifelong consequences. People with eating disorders can be very resistant when it comes to talking about it, so you may have to be firm but sensitive in your approach to this girl. If possible, try talking to her. If not, ask advice from a teacher you trust or the school guidance counsellor.

    There are three main types of eating disorders: 

    • Anorexia nervosa
      When a person starves themselves to the point when their organs might stop working and, if untreated, they might die.
    • Bulimia
      This is harder to spot because while the person eats too much at one go, they then make themselves vomit and their weight stays the same. They might have enough calories to keep them going but they don't have enough vitamins in their diet. Of course all this bingeing (eating too much) and vomiting causes problems in the digestive tract, and the acid can damage the mouth and teeth.
    • Binge eating
      This happens when someone eats excessively and can become obese, which in turn can cause diabetes and heart problems.

    There are a number of signs you could pick up at school that could suggest someone has an eating disorder. It doesn't mean that they have, but that they might have:

    • They seem obsessed with food and weight, calorie counting and/or their appearance.
    • A significant noticeable drop or increase in weight.
    • Persistently going to the toilet during or after eating.
    • They do lots of exercise to the extent that they may even feel faint.
    • They are reluctant to eat with others.
    • They seem depressed, anxious or sad.

    Fortunately there is specialised counselling available to treat eating disorders. A representative from the school or the family's GP will be able to put the family in touch with these services. This girl may not be too happy with you now, but in the future she will thank you for looking out for her. Check out Bodywhys for further information.

  • Q; My sister seems to have cuts on her wrists lately. When I asked her about it she said she it was an accident but not to tell anyone. I'm really worried about her, could she be cutting herself?

    A: It does sound worrying and yes she may be self harming. Self harming is a way to relieve extreme stress. There are no typical people who self harm.

    Read through the following list of signs and symptoms and if any of these apply to your sister, tell your parents or a trusted adult. It doesn't mean that your sister is definitely self harming, but she might be.

    • Having cuts and bruises that can't be explained.
    • Covering arms and legs at all times, even in hot weather.
    • Having medical equipment/sharp objects hidden in drawers.
    • Being withdrawn from family, friends or social activities.
    • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
    • Drop in school grades.

    If some or all of these signs apply to your sister, think about possible reasons she may have started to self harm:

    • Has she been bullied?
    • Is she having exam, relationship or other problems?
    • Did anyone ever harm her, physically, sexually or emotionally?
    • Does anyone else in the family self harm or have any mental health problems?

    Stay calm. Tell your sister that you can't keep this a secret even if she says she is very embarrassed about it or annoyed at you. Talk to your parents or another adult that you trust. Your family doctor will be a good source of advice and help.

Depression & suicide

  • Q: I stay in bed a lot and feel that there isn't a lot to get up for. My mum says I'm depressed and wants me to see the doctor. What could he do anyway?

    A: It sounds like your mum is concerned about you, and if you are feeling like there isn't a lot to get up for in your life at the moment, it might be a good idea to see a doctor to find out why. Many people get fed up and upset after getting a shock or bad news, but it is not depression. A person who is depressed has such a low mood that they find no joy in life and often don't seem to want to do anything. Teenagers as well as adults can get depressed.

    Depression might have some or all of the following symptoms:

    • Feeling very tired but can't sleep or sleeping for long periods.
    • Feeling worried and anxious all the time.
    • Stopping doing or enjoying things they liked before.
    • Having a drop in school grades.
    • Avoiding friends, family, school or social activities
    • Having no appetite or can't stop eating.
    • Seeing only a bleak future, wanting to give up and feeling life isn't worth living.
    • Not washing or caring about appearance.
    • Feeling sick, such as headaches or stomach aches.

    It's ok to ask for help if you need it. Your GP will have met other teenagers who have felt like this before and will ask you about these symptoms and will try to see what triggered them. You will need to be honest about your feelings and about what you do all day. Some young people can feel so overwhelmed by life that they withdraw and feel like they don't want to take part in anything. Sometimes just talking about how you feel to someone you trust can really help, and may make you start to feel better. Having depression can be difficult, but you can get help straight away.

    A GP might help by:

    • Talking with you and/or suggesting that you talk with a counsellor in order to help you with your feelings.
    • Making suggestions about ways you can take care of yourself. This might include a healthy life-style plan, such as exercise, balanced diet, rest, spending time with friends and doing things you enjoy.
    • Prescribing anti-depressants (tablets), which will help the symptoms. This usually happens in addition to the first two options.
  • Q: I am 16 and hang around with a few of my friends at the weekend. One of them seems very down lately. I overheard him saying that he wants to die. Should I take this seriously and what can I do? The others thought he was joking.

    A: It sounds like your friend might be going through a difficult time. What he said has to be taken seriously as many young people take their lives every year. If they had received help on time, their deaths might have been prevented. Most people who feel suicidal don't really want to die, they just want to end their pain.

    Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone. Even those people who seem happy and carefree can have thoughts of suicide at some time in their lives. This might happen, for example, after an upset or disappointment, such as the ending of a relationship or family break-up, or following a trauma, such as a bereavement. Some drugs, including alcohol, can increase risk of suicidal thoughts. Some people who have mental health problems may sometimes think about suicide. 

    The following are some of the signs that may indicate that someone is having thoughts of suicide:

    • Sudden changes in mood and behaviour.
    • Drug and alcohol abuse.
    • Becoming isolated or withdrawn.
    • Engaging in deliberate self-harm and/or behaviour which puts them at risk of harm.
    • Talking about suicide.
    • Giving away some of their favourite possessions or making ‘final' arrangements.

    It is great that you are watching out for your friend because this kind of support is vital to him right now. Talk to him and offer support. Say something like: ‘I'm worried about you and I want to help.' Encourage him to get help from an adult he trusts, such as:

    • His parents or another member of his family.
    • A trusted adult such as a teacher, school guidance counsellor, youth worker, your parents or the parents of another friend.
    • The family doctor.

    There are a range of supports and services and supports that can help. The local GP or family doctor will be an important source of information and help. Others include:

    • Headstrong ‘Jigsaw' projects for young people (there are two services currently up and running in Galway and Ballymun, Dublin)
    • Pieta House service for young people (located in Limerick and Lucan, Dublin)

    For more details on where your friend can get help and support, check out the Finding Help section. 
    Get support for yourself too as it can be distressing to see your friend suffering like this.

    If you are concerned about suicide now:

    If someone you know is in a crisis now and you are worried about them, get help or encourage them to get help, for example by saying, ‘I will stay with you until you can get help.' Contact a trusted adult immediately.

    Servies that can help in a crisis include:

    • Contact the Samaritans, Tel 1850 609090
    • Contact your local doctor, listed under ‘General Practitioners' in the Golden Pages or visit www.icgp.ie
    • Go to, or contact, the Accident and Emergency Department of your nearest general hospital.

    (Based on guidelines from the National Office for Suicide Prevention website www.nosp.ie)

Drugs & alcohol

  • Q: Sometimes when I go out I get really drunk and can't remember most of the night. I do things I later regret and this is beginning to worry me.

    A: While alcohol is legally available to people over the age of 18, the reality is that many teenagers in Ireland younger than this drink alcohol. People choose to drink for a variety of reasons, it might be because they think it makes them more confident, believe it is a good way to relax or because they reckon everyone else is doing it. Everybody is different though and some people have less tolerance to alcohol than others.

    While you might think drinking alcohol is harmless, the truth is that it is bad for your health. Your body is still growing and developing and alcohol can damage you both mentally and physically. Many teenagers don't realise that alcohol is a depressant that works to slow down the body's central nervous system, which regulates body processes such as speaking, co-ordinating movements, body temperature, pulse and breathing.

    Drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time (e.g. binge drinking) can result in alcohol poisoning. When this happens your body's processes slow to such an extent that a person could die or choke on their own vomit.

    The following are some signs that might indicate someone has a problem with alcohol and should seek help:
    • If you suffer from memory loss after drinking alcohol (e.g. blackouts)
    • You regret things you have done or get into trouble when drunk, maybe having accidents, fighting or arguing.
    • Your friends tell you that you drink too much.
    • You binge drink. (that's 5 or more drinks in a row)  
    • You sometimes have to take time off work, school or college because you have a hangover.
    • You've started drinking in secret.
    • You often feel like you need a drink.

    It's important to think seriously about your drinking. It's possible you may have an alcohol problem or are at risk of developing a dependency on alcohol later in life. At the very least you are putting yourself in danger of harm. 
    Talk with an adult you trust for advice and support. Your local GP or family doctor will also be a useful source of information and help. For more information, check out the Finding Help section.

    In an ideal world, if you don't want to drink you should be able to just say no and not need to give an explanation but sometimes it's not that easy and friends just won't leave it alone. If that is the case it might help to have an excuse ready, like saying that you have sports or homework to do the next day or that you aren't feeling very well.

  • Q: Some of my friends smoke hash. They say it's a safe way to relax and laugh at me when I say it might be dangerous or lead to addiction.

    A: You are right to be concerned and wary of taking any kind of drugs. There are common myths that hash (dope, cannabis, marijuana) is harmless, but these are untrue. Smoking hash can lead to addiction, mental health problems and reduced school performance. It can also increase the risk of you moving onto other ‘harder' drugs. 

    While no one is suggesting that one puff will necessarily kill you, one can lead to many more, and that is when problems can arise.

    All drugs are harmful to your health as they contain substances that interfere with the way your body works. They alter your body's internal chemical processes, and can result in harmful results such as hallucinations, altered vision, co-ordination and speech, render you unconscious and can even kill you. 

    There are many drugs out there such as cocaine, speed, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, PCP and alcohol. People who are addicted will go to great lengths to feed their addiction, often becoming aggressive and breaking the law (e.g. by stealing), and often lose interest in all other aspects of their lives such as friends and work or school.

    Your friends have a future to look forward to and need to know the risks they are exposing themselves to.

    Signs that may indicate a teenager is experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol use include:
    • Dropping out of clubs and sports activities
    • Missing classes or leaving school early
    • Ignoring school work and failing exams
    • Erratic and/or aggressive behaviour
    • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • Stealing money or items to help fund their habits
    • Driving while under the influence
    • Becoming very private or secretive and hiding away from the world
    • Physical signs such as dilated pupils, slurred speech

    For more information, check out the Finding Help section. Useful websites include SpunOut.ieHeadstrong.ie, National Drugs & HIV Helpline (1800 459 459) and www.checkyourself.org [link broken]

    Talk to an adult you trust if you are worried about your friends. There may also be drug counselling/treatment services in your area where you can get information and advice.

Taking care of your well-being

  • Teenage years

    The teenage years are, on the one hand, very exciting but also at times can be a bit daunting. Some days you feel great and the next day you can feel less confident or in a bad mood. All this is normal but sometimes it is hard to deal with such changes. It's important to look after your mental and physical health. It's likely your friends feel the same sometimes too.

    You may also have to deal with difficult issues such as a loss when someone close to you dies, parents separating, moving house or you might be experiencing bullying. You need extra support with these and it helps to talk to someone you trust about it.

    Writing things down can help to work through your thoughts and feelings. You could keep a diary or create a blog for yourself .

    Your body is going through a lot of physical changes too and you need to take care of it. This means getting plenty of sleep, staying active and eating a healthy diet. The body and mind work together and looking after both of them is necessary in order to feel well. Having things to do socially, like sport or other hobbies help to keep you well and happy. Well-being is about making positive decisions for yourself so that you can grow and develop and achieve your potential.

    The most important friendship is the one you have with yourself. Give yourself the love and respect you deserve.

  • Ten Tips

    Ten tips for respecting who you are: 

    1. Be happy with who you are.
    2. Your actions are different to who you are. You can still like yourself even if you don't like some of the things you do.
    3. Don't measure yourself against others.
    4. Think about the things you want in your life and set goals to achieve them.
    5. Talk yourself up. Say nice things to yourself. You don't have to look outside yourself to feel good. You can feel good by saying and thinking positive things about yourself.
    6. If you are good at something, keep doing it. Develop your talents and share them with others.
    7. Keep a journal or diary. Writing down your thoughts can help you to think clearly, and work out what you want.
    8. Look after yourself: exercise, eat properly, rest and relax.
    9. Spend time doing things you enjoy and are good at.
    10. Spend time with people who treat you well and make you feel good about yourself.

    (Child Support Agency, Australian Government, 2007)

Your safety

  • You have the right to be safe all the time.

    Being safe means living free from abuse, bullying and violence. That includes watching someone else, like a friend or family member, suffer from violence and abuse. This can mean:

    • Physical - such as hitting, kicking, pushing.
    • Sexual - any sexual contact you don't want, verbal or physical.
    • Verbal - such as name calling, threats, stalking.

    Abuse and violence are against the law. You don't have to put up with it at home, school or in a public place. It's not your fault if people are hurting you. If you don't feel safe, talk with someone you trust, like a parent, friend, relative, teacher or school guidance counsellor, youth worker or another adult you trust. 

    You could also make contact with one of the following support services:

    • Childline - A confidential telephone service 1800 666 666 or text list to 50101
    • Cari - For concerns about sexual abuse 1890 924 567
    • HSE - Infoline 1890 24 1850 to find details of the social worker for your area
    • Samaritans - 1850 60 90 90
    • If you are ever in danger call the Guards on 999

    For more information on Domestic Abuse go to this section of the website. For more details on support services available for young people, check out the Finding Help section.