The teenage years are an intense time for children and parents. The developmental push for independence and creation of a personal identity is the foundation of adolescent life and often results in a tense ridden time for teens and their parents. As an outsider, what can seem trivial in a teenager's life-clothing, friends, music, school, sports, for example, all play into a larger goal. To discover oneself, to fit in with peers and to develop personal identity and values.
In the twenty years of being a therapist and treating adolescents and their families, parents consistently report feeling like a "failure" if their child needs therapy. We need to shift this way of thinking. Therapy is as much about support and prevention as it is managing and dealing with a crisis, life stressors, and acute problems. The therapy hour is about creating a space to talk about whatever is on your mind, what you need support with, including setting goals for behavior change and understanding yourself in the context of the world.
Therapy is powerful stuff.
And it's not just because I am a clinician in the field, it's because I see changes in individuals improving their lives, and that's a wonderful thing.
Not every teenager will need counseling, but many will. The reasons for seeking counseling range from pursuing self-growth and understanding to managing a crisis or acute stress.
If you observe any of the following behaviors with your teenager, talk with them, find out what is going on. And if the behaviors are ongoing versus a one-time episode, consider counseling.
Here are some reasons teenagers and their parents seek professional support:
1. If your teen is becoming more isolating and is withdrawing from family and friends.
2. Over time, your teen has given up or lost interest in activities he/she once enjoyed.
3. Your teen repeatedly engages in risk-taking behaviors regardless of negative consequences: smoking pot, drinking alcohol, excessive speeding, breaking curfews, promiscuity and destruction of property.
5. Over a short period, you notice changes in appetite as well as weight loss or weight gain.
6. If you notice your teen is being bullied at school or your child is bullying someone else.
7. The presence of academic problems; declining school performance, truancy, dropping grades, problems getting along with teachers and peers.
8. Excessive sleeping, lethargy, and changes in energy.
If your teenager is engaged in self-harming behaviors such as cutting, scratching or burning one's body, most often on stomach, arms, and thighs or making statements about wanting to harm oneself through killing oneself, wishing they were dead, as well as feeling hopeless about living and wishing life would just end, please reach out to a medical professional and/or mental health professional. Your child must be evaluated and receive proper medical and mental health support.
Adolescence is a wonderful time of growth and discovery. For parents, it's a time of letting go as your child creates personal goals, self-identity, and independence. Your teenager may not want to share every detail of their life with you, and while it can feel like rejection, it likely has nothing to do with you. Teens are in a time of self-discovery. Often they need to work through their thoughts and feelings alone or with friends before they share it with family.
If your teenager is interested in therapy for support or because of a specific issue or crisis, I encourage you to find a therapist in your community. Go with your teen to the appointment. Be open to sitting in on a session to support your child, learn about their world, and hear feedback about what you can do to connect with one another. Therapy is also a great place for parents and families to work on improving communication and increasing harmony within family relationships.
You have not failed as a parent if your teenager goes to therapy. I believe the opposite is true. By being open to therapy and supporting your teenager to seek help, you are showing the importance of therapy as one self-care skill to improve overall well-being.