Do you feel like your teen’s mood or behavior is affecting the entire house? Have there been behavior and/or academic changes? Are there changes in friend groups or is your son or daughter showing increased isolation? Is there drug or alcohol use? Cutting or self-harm? Is there suspicion or evidence of bullying? These are all issues that are likely keeping you up at night with worry over your teenager. You may feel like you’ve lost some connection with your teenage son or daughter and fear the disconnection may be too much. Don’t fret, there is help!
At this point in development teens are migrating away from relying on parents for emotional support and transitioning to their friends and peer group, which is often scary for parents. While this is very natural, it can be complicated by worrisome behaviors that your adolescent is showing.
Throughout your search I’m sure you’ve already found that many therapists do not work with teens. Unlike most adults who come to therapy, teens are either being forced to come by parents or they are just apprehensive talking to anybody who is not a friend. It takes more work and relationship building on the part of the therapist. I have worked with teens for over a decade and actually look forward to working with teens because I know how difficult this stage of development is. These trying times for teens also have a strong impact on the family system.
Issues your teens are facing:
Whether in secret or in the open, being bullied can cause a great deal of emotional distress and feelings of powerlessness. With all of the (much needed) attention given to bullying, parents often fear the worst. In therapy, we work on processing all the feelings that come along with feeling targeted and rejected as well as look for strategies to get support from school, family, and peer group.
Teens constantly compare themselves to others on a daily basis, sometimes minute by minute. They measure their own worth by their peer groups and popularity as well as all of the trends of the day. This leads to constant insecurity shown by irritability, anxiety, self-hatred, and depression. Measuring up to others and seeking to gain control over their emotions may also lead to eating disorders and body dysmorphia (distorted self view of the body). Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are increasingly showing up in boys as well as girls.
Relationships at this age are becoming more complex. The importance of status and the peer group are of utmost priority. Adolescents are becoming more reliant on peers and less reliant on parents. Teenagers use the word “friend” to describe anybody from acquaintances to besties. Dating relationships lasting for very short periods can have deep emotional impact on teens. In therapy, we typically work on social conflict in peer groups, volatile dating relationships, poor emotional boundaries, and reckless behavior.
Teenagers face academic challenges regularly that can lead to anxiety, stress, moodiness, depression, pressure to perform, lack of concentration, and loss of motivation. The pressure to succeed can be enormous. Completing all assignments and projects, balancing extra curriculars, time-management, and preparing for college can be a lot for the teenage brain to manage. Pressure comes from all angles including school, perceived (or real) pressure from parents, and self-imposed pressure. Counseling offers a way for teens to vent, process their stress, and brainstorm ways to manage time and find solutions to achieve their academic goals.
Many kids will experiment with alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. Some are on the road to developing habit and addiction based on other underlying factors going on their lives. Many times this leads to relationship, health, and legal problems. The most important part of treatment for substance abuse is exploring and finding out what the underlying causes are to this problem behavior. Whether there are family problems, self-esteem issues, academic issues, social issues, depression, anxiety, rejection, etc., something is driving substance abuse. In counseling, we look directly at substance abuse and its underlying issues to develop the best treatment plan for your teenager.
Most teens are perceptive and know when a divorce is coming. Adolescents can experience increased anxiety, depression, feelings of insecurity, as well as disdain for one or both parents. Because experiencing a divorce can be emotionally draining for them, teenagers can often lose focus in school, sports, and activities and become apathetic. Whether parents are fighting, in the process of separation or divorce, or post-divorce teens need support outside of friends and family. Through the counseling process, teenagers are able to share their feelings about divorce and about their parents without fear that it will get back to their parents. They can have a safe place to sort through these problems and learn coping strategies to get through it.
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding self harm as it is more prevalent now than previous generations. These are the top 3 myths about self-harm:
- “Adolescents self-harm for attention.” FACT: Teens who self-harm typically hide their cuts and scars. They usually wear a lot of bracelets, long sleeve shirts, or cut in places that are not visible (thigh, upper arm, etc.). Teens who cut are not on Instagram or Snapchat putting their scars on display, instead they are cutting or self-harming in private, to deal with whatever pain is going on in their lives.
- “If my child is self-harming then they must be suicidal.” FACT: While many gestures of self-harm resemble suicidal gestures they are not the same. People who self-harm often do it in ways that may be dangerous or painful, but not lethal. When a teen is self-harming they are attempting to deal with some kind of pain. They are either introducing new pain (cutting) as a way to distract from emotional pain or they are introducing new pain to numb themselves from all pain in their lives. Kids who self harm often report feeling better after harming and barely noticing their cuts; this is short lived and thus creates an addictive/habitual pattern. Regardless, if your teen is self-harming they should be assessed anyway for suicidal thinking.
- “Only girls self-harm.” FACT: An increasing number of teenage boys are self-harming through cutting or other methods. Emotional instability and dysfunctional coping mechanisms do not know gender. Males and females have the same propensity to try things that feel good or numb the pain that they are feeling. It may be less common than with girls, but it is still happening.
Unfortunately, adolescents can experience many forms of trauma including abuse, sexual assault, auto accidents, death of family member(s), witnessing domestic violence, and loss of a friend or peer to suicide. Depending on the severity, a traumatic event can leave feelings such as:
- Nightmares and flashbacks
- Loss of interest or pleasure
- Development of phobias
- Substance abuse
- Concentration problems
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Ease your worry today and call or email to help your teenage son or daughter find the support they need!