Have you been asking yourself the question, “Does my teenager need counselling?” Teenage-hood can be a really tricky time for everyone involved. It’s a time of transition and loss. Saying goodbye to childhood and entering an unknown space which isn’t adult but isn’t child. Being a teenager is a vulnerable time and life events can combine to make things tricky. This article aims to discuss what is to be expected and what is cause for concern.
This list is a non-exhaustive list of what can be part and parcel of the teenage experience;
- Changes in mood
- Loss of interest in some previously enjoyable activities
- Social anxiety
- Some issues with sleep – either doing a lot of it or not enough.
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Occasional suicidal thought, without intent
The following list describes some not uncommon life events, that can work against an already vulnerable teen and can provide a bit of a warning flag that things could become more troublesome.
- Parental conflicts
- Social rejection
- Death of a loved one
- Changing schools or locations
- Illness or injury
- Experiencing a trauma
How do we know if they are moving from ‘normal’ to something we should be more concerned about?
If your teen is experiencing increased rage, lots of anger outbursts, panic attacks, isolation, depression, irritation, compulsive behaviours and so on, getting them some appropriate professional help is a good idea. If your teen is into the idea then that’s great. But if they are resistant, it becomes harder for you. Despite this, it is still definitely worth pursuing.
Having a chat with a few different therapists or services to find what could be a good fit is a worthy investment if your time. Speak to the school, to other parents, and even have a few conversations with therapists. Talk to me. But don’t try and battle on without support. Even if your teen is extremely resistant, getting help for yourself is a great idea.
Blame, and how it impacts all parties
Typically when a teen is really struggling, parents and families either go into one of two responses. The first is a paralysing shame spiral of self-blame which renders us useless to do the parenting needed. ‘Oh, I should never have let him play so much Tour of Duty; it’s all my fault!’, or ‘Oh, if I’d have chosen her father better she wouldn’t be going out with that criminal now’, are common self-blaming responses.
When we are stuck in guilt and self-blame we are unable to be present and seek support. We tend to try and compensate with gifts or approaches that do not encourage the teenager to take responsibility for their emotional wellbeing. Unwillingly, we can make the problem worse and this approach certainly has a negative impact on our wellbeing.
Scapegoating is blame, too.
The other common reaction is to blame and scapegoat the teenager. We get caught up in all that they have done wrong. The teenager becomes demonised and the cause of all problems for the whole family. ‘We just can’t relax when she is around; her anger is out of control!’, and ‘He used to be such a nice kid, but he’s gone so far off track I just don’t think we can get him back. To be honest we are all happier when he isn’t around’, are common types of blaming responses. This type of approach just perpetuates the teenager’s self-hatred and can lead parents to check out or give up.
Both responses are totally understandable but neither are really helpful. Working with a counsellor can help you work on your response to your teen and is a very helpful adjunct to your teen getting help themselves.
Don’t ignore what’s happening.
If your teenager is experiencing any of the following, please do take action. Don’t ignore it and hope it will get better. These are strong cries for help that need to be attended to;
- They are self-harming – sadly this is very common and most teenagers will know someone who is doing this. Self-harm is a maladaptive coping strategy; a way to try and manage feelings. It is not an indication that the self-harmer wants to die, but a clear indication that they are being flooded with feelings and thoughts and need some new strategies to deal with these.
- They have made an attempt on their own life or have frequent suicidal thoughts- do not ignore this.
- They are developing a problematic substance abuse issue – this is not about getting drunk once or twice at a party, even if their age worries you. This is about it becoming habitual; your child regularly coming home drunk, stoned or under the influence of other drugs.
Please don’t ignore the above signs. And please don’t listen to anyone or yourself who may say ‘they are just attention seeking’. If you ever hear or think this phrase, please remove the ‘just’ from the equation. They are seeking attention because they need attention. They are struggling and need some extra support. But don’t panic. Do the next best thing. Put the effort in to finding a person that your teen may connect with, and keep on loving them.
Here are some things you may or may not have considered about your teenager:
- Although they will rage against it, they still need your help to set limits – unlimited access to technology is not helpful.
- While it may seem completely impossible to believe, they do want to spend time with you. They don’t want to fight, or be criticised, or nagged but they do want to hang occasionally.
- They want to be independent – soothing guilt with gifts or letting them off chores doesn’t really help them. Again, they will rage against doing their fair share but it’s an important part of the process of them becoming more grown up.
If you’ve been wondering, “Does my teenager need counselling?”, I hope this has helped. If you think your teenager might be struggling and you would like to explore the idea of seeking counselling for them, please feel free to get in touch. We can talk about whether counselling might be a good fit for them and we can put a plan in place to ensure the process is as seamless as possible.