When your teen needs counseling...

It’s hard for many parents to think about their teens struggling with mental health. After all, angst is just a part of growing up, right? While rapid developmental and hormonal changes definitely make the teenage years difficult, parents of this age group should be aware that 20% (one in five) of teenagers experience mental health challenges. And that’s okay! Counseling is a perfectly normal option for teens living with a variety of issues.

Think about the typical day in the life of a teen. They are navigating school, friendships, sexuality and romantic relationships, work and more. These things are new and can feel insurmountable. In addition to stress, teens have many expectations to meet. Some teens are responsible for watching younger siblings and handling household tasks. Many are expected to perform well in school, sports and other activities. It’s not easy to be a teen and counseling can be invaluable in this very difficult time.

Teen Counseling: Concerns a Therapist Will Address

When should you consider having your teenager see a counselor? Counselors can assist with a wide variety of matters. 

Trauma

Teens may be coming to terms with incidents from their past, often called trauma or adverse childhood experiences. These are situations that are “scary, dangerous, violent or life-threatening,” according to Northwestern University. As parents, it’s important to remember that children, even teens, can also develop trauma secondhand: by witnessing or learning of others’ traumatic experiences.

In addition to incidents parents think of immediately as trauma-inducing, like abuse (of any kind) or removal from the home, other situations are equally difficult for children and can affect teens. A student at school with a terminal illness, living through a catastrophic weather event, or losing a home to fire or other disaster are all trauma-inducing.

Talking about trauma, and working through it, require training and working with a counselor is the best option for your teen to make sure that they are able to navigate and grow. It can be scary to think about your child rehashing these incidents but they will come out of therapy with more resilience and confidence.

Mental Health Issues Teen Counseling Addresses

In addition to past traumas, therapy assist teens with issues they are facing in the moment.

Depression and Anxiety

Teens have a lot being thrown at them and, similar to younger children, they are new at this. It’s not uncommon for children to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety in their teen years and require help.

More teens than ever before are experiencing depression and anxiety and there is no shame in getting help. Try to think of it as going to the doctor for any other medical condition: the sooner you go, the sooner it’s understood and healing can begin.

The difference between common teenage moodiness and a more significant issue is often indicated by the length of time the child is experiencing symptoms. If a teen shows signs of depression and anxiety for two weeks, it may be time to think about counseling.

What are the symptoms of depression and anxiety in teens? Look for changes in:

  • Weight
  • Eating
  • Sleep
  • Friends, including ceasing social interactions
  • Hopelessness, talk of despair
  • Loss of interest in activities

If your child mentions harming themselves or others, or engages in self harming behaviors, seek medical attention immediately.

Home Life

Teens, while they may enjoy getting out of the house, still view home as an anchor and safe space. Disruptions to the hope life can be upsetting. This can include divorce, moving, loss of a home or a new resident.

Every teen is different and while some may be able to navigate changes in their home life easily, for others it can cause stress. If you notice your child worrying excessively about theses changes, speak to their doctor about whether meeting with a counselor may help.

Death, Dying and Grief

It’s hard for adults to navigate end-of-life, and teens can be hit especially hard. Dealing with mortality for the first time can cause worry. Children may worry about their own safety and the possibility of serious illness or, especially if an adult caretaker is very ill or dies, whether or not other adults in their life will also get sick and die. Teens may want independence, but it’s not the same as the idea of loss.

Relationships and Sexuality

Teens today are bombarded with messaging around relationships. Friendships can be volatile and ever-changing while grappling for a place in the social hierarchy. They are also unable to escape social pressures thanks to the 24/7 their phones and internet provide. Add to this anonymity and the level of bullying kids are prone to and it’s not easy.

In addition to friendships, many teenagers experience romantic relationships for the first time during this tumultuous age. Questions about their identity are common, along with anxieties connected to sex and physical intimacy. 

When to Consider Counseling for Your Teen

If you notice behavior changes lasting more than two weeks, your child may benefit from speaking with a professional. Changes in eating, sleeping and hygiene along with withdrawing and loss of interest are important to monitor.

Benefits of Teen Counseling

Therapy, especially when it comes to teens, isn’t just for major losses and changes. Working with a therapies gives your teen the skills they need to understand and manage their feelings, anticipate their reactions and live a more integrated and resilient life. Therapy can be pre-emptive, like when you know something big is coming up in your teen’s life, or started once you notice changes. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to mental-health care for your teenager.

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