What to look out for and how to help your teen
By Poul Poulsen, MA, LPC
Teenage years are often an emotional time for many. With the difficult transition from childhood into adulthood, teens deal with emotional and physical changes while experiencing pressures and demands from friends, parents, and school.
Teens may also experience conflicting feelings and needs, including feeling dependent on their parents yet wanting their own independence at the same time. This transition and adjustment can be overwhelming and there are important signs and behaviors that indicate a teen may need help with coping during this period.
Teens that have low self-esteem, lack coping skills, and feel unsupported are often at higher risk for self destructive and negative behaviors. These behaviors include: using drugs and alcohol, having unprotected sex, feeling depressed and isolated, eating disorders and aggressive behaviors.
Teens may also engage in antisocial and illegal activities, often with peers deemed to be negative influences. Teens experiencing severe emotions and internal conflict have been known to try coping with tension and stress by cutting themselves with sharp objects and thereby feeling a sense of physical and emotional relief. At times, some teens may even question their life and future and have thoughts or even plans of ending their lives. These instances require immediate medical attention and professional help.
What can a parent do to help their teen? As a parent it is important to talk to your teen, ask them what is happening, and let them know, you are there to help and support them. Working together with your teen can be helpful to learn how to cope with future problems and stressors. Communication is crucial in learning about your teen's issues as well as responding to them in positive, supportive, and constructive ways.
Professional consultation can be helpful to work through problems and transitions, and might be essential if the issues persist. Professional help includes individual therapy, family therapy, and at times, a medication consultation with an MD.
Individual therapy can be helpful in working with a large variety of problems by helping the teen to organize their feelings, finding solutions, and expressing themselves verbally. Teens face problems such as:
- Feeling sad, depressed and having loss of interest.
- Anger issues and coping with frustration
- Parent’s divorce or other family changes
- Transitions in school and with peers
- Experiences related to past traumatic events
- Self-abusive behaviors such as cutting and self inflicted burns
- Eating disorders such as excess dieting, bulimia and overeating
- Trouble concentrating in school and learning disabilities
Family therapy can assist the teen and family in working on resolving problems, improving communication, and developing coping skills and strategies to change the underlying family issues. It can particularly help provide a sense of hope and support for the teen who is encountering multiple stressors and going through transition and adjustment.
Originally featured on the MySA.com Health Channel.