The teenage years are known for being somewhat tumultuous so as a parent it can be tricky to determine what's a bad day or week and what qualifies at a cause for more concern. As you can guess, even the best parents can see behaviors in their youth that can leave them scratching their heads in amazement and concern. As a therapist who specializes in working with teens for over a decade, I hear these concerns from parents frequently and have developed some good markers for times when it might be helpful to reach out for extra support.
You have the sense that something is blocking open communication with your child.
As a parent of a young child, you could connect with your child easily. You knew who their friends were, what subjects at school were hard for them, and what emotions would typically follow a stressed day. Then enters the pre-teen and teenage years. Suddenly you are thinking "Who is this person living with me in this house and what are they thinking?"
Blocks in communication during the pre-teen and teenage years can occur for all sorts of reasons. Depression and anxiety can easily run so high during the teenage years that the teenage also has confusion about their inner world. If they can't understand it, they tend to struggle to communicate about it. Frustrations with you, other authority figures at school, on sports teams, and at their jobs can be so overwhelming and unhelpful that they begin to learn that talking things through doesn't work. To protect themselves and their relationships from this unhelpful communication cycle, they may stop communicating altogether and decide to hold their experiences instead. Parents often describe this as having a teenage that is shut down. Finally, you and the teen may be stuck in a negative cycle of communication. As much as you both want to communicate and understand each other, you struggle to connect. You feel sad about this and your teen most likely does too, even if they can't show it.
If you find that any of these blocks are currently occurring for your teen it might be time to seek outside support. Especially if you can't name another adult that you and your teen both trust that your teen opens up to, it might be time to seek support. Therapists are trained to develop a positive relationship with your teen and distinguish themselves from other authority figures in the youth's life. They often can open up blocked communication when others can't to allow space for your teen to navigate their stressors and inner world and hopefully improve their communication with you over time. Teens should have one healthy and appropriate adult outlet at all times and mental health counselors often step in for a short period of time to provide that for teens who are shut down, stressed, and struggling.
Your Teen Is Expressing That They Need Support Or That No One Understands Them
Although you are unsure if you can trust a dramatic comment from your teen they used to deflect responsibility in the middle of a conflict ("You don't even know what I need! No one does!"), sometimes there is some truth to things being said out loud by your teenager in the midst of conflict. Does your teen mention that they would like outside support? Are they constantly noting how no one understands them? What if you were able to take this comment seriously and work to provide a resource for feeling more understood and supported?
In the world of Tik Tok mental health influencers and social media reels that discuss ways to know if you have a mental health diagnosis, there has never been so much access to mental health education and content for your teenager. Your teen may even be able to name that they have issues with depression, anxiety, or ADHD and would be open to seeking extra support to cope with these diagnosis. Therapists are happy to meet your teen in that space and see what information they have already acquired that may be accurate or a good place to work from.
You may have heard therapists express the belief that all behavior makes sense in context. In that way, the counselor for your teen is a detective of sorts, helping them experience a non-judgmental space where your teen can explore their own behaviors when they have strong emotional experiences. When you are perplexed and confused about your teenagers behaviors, counselors can often help it make sense and give you a roadmap to providing support for your teen as you support them with improving their mental health.
Your teenager isn't asking for support with their mental health, but you are noticing behavior and mood changes across settings.
Safe parents tend to get the biggest behaviors from their teenagers. Slamming doors, rolling eyes, crying, isolating and yelling could be more about the current stress levels of your teen rather than a larger issue that needs support. If you have a way to repair these moments with your teen and set healthy boundaries with some receptivity from your teen it's usually a good sign you are providing adequate support to get your teenager through a tough time. If you hear rave reviews from others about your teen, it could also be a good sign as its possible you could just be the safe space for these difficult emotions to come out in the high stress world your teen navigates all day, but that's the extent of their emotional turmoil.
When these behaviors begin to trickle into other settings, however, your teen might be struggling with some more serious mental health concerns that need to be addressed. Behaviors being shown across two or more settings tend to be a bigger cause for concern because that means that your teen is probably unable to wait for safe people and settings to share their strong emotions and they are instead spilling out unexpectedly.
For example, let's say that your teen recently experience a shift in a major friendship they have relied on for many years. They said "It's fine" and "I don't care", but you also notice changes in their academic motivation levels, more isolation and irritability, concentration issues, and a reluctance to even engage with you and extended family like they previously did. They express that they don't want to engage in their sports team they are on like they used to and rarely want to go out with their other friends when invited. This is a great example of your teen struggling across multiple areas of their life and a time when we recommend following up with professional counseling services.
Trust your instincts, even if no one else recognizes or validates them.
Finally, if you're concerned about your child trust your instincts. It's okay if others don't see it. You know your child best and are one of their biggest allies. Find a provider that listens to you and who can talk you through any concerns that your have and work with you to develop a comprehensive plan. Some of the teens I have seen in my practice had one caregiver or guardian who knew they needed services, but another important person in their life who wasn't sure about initiating professional services. Although this can place you in a tricky spot, I've found that teens really appreciate someone caring enough to get them what they are too afraid to ask for. You normalizing your teen's need for extra support can go a long way in their comfort level with the counseling process also. You may find that you receiving your own counseling support during this time also sets a nice tone for your teen that it's not just them and everyone is willing to do counseling work to make things better in the family unit.
How counseling can help struggling teens.
Parents tend to put so much pressure on themselves to know all the answers for their kids. Having an outside source working alongside you to provide support for your teen can take a huge amount of pressure off of you as the parent. You don't have to have all the answers. You don't have to perform a miracle to get your struggling teen back on track. You just need to know who to enlist for support that can get you and your teen back on a healthy path.
Counseling can give teens a safe space and a caring adult who can provide a supportive, exploratory relationship with them. Counselors can help empower your teen to make decisions that are safe for them and help them navigate current stressors. If you worry that your teen may have a current mental health diagnosis or need a medication evaluation, counselors are equipped to help you and your teen be informed about the processes and obtain referrals.
Finally, by engaging in counseling, you might be preventing a crisis situation with your teen later on. Although counselors are equipped to walk families and teens through accessing inpatient treatment or intensive outpatient services, it's often most helpful to receive services as a point earlier in time to help you and your team obtain as much control over the process as possible.
Teen Counseling Offered at Becoming Counseling Services
At Becoming Counseling, we offer teen counseling from the comfort of your teen's home or safe, confidential space via virtual counseling services. Your teen will be empowered to create a plan for services with their counselor and your teen's counselor will spend time getting to know your teen and what issues are most important and bothersome to them in the first few appointments. Over time, the counselor will help you and your teen learn what skills are needed to successfully navigate life stressors and challenges.
Visit us at www.becomingcounselingtexas.com or call us at 254-545-1362 to meet our teen counselor, Mindy Bell, MS, LPC Associate (Supervised by Ashton Jimenez, MS, LPC-S) and find out if your teen will be a good fit. Mindy provides teen counseling in Waco and across Texas via Virtual Counseling Services.
Mindy Bell, MS, LPC Associate: Teen Counselor
Supervised by Ashton Jimenez, MS, LPC-S