The teenage years are challenging for teens and their parents. Teens face many new pressures and may not always react in the healthiest ways to the problems they encounter. In some cases, teens may need counseling to help them cope with their problems. Parents should be aware of the danger signs to look for and how to find a counselor if their teen needs one.
Some of the struggles teens face are a normal part of growing up, like dealing with peer groups, experimenting with new ideas, and going through changes in mood, identity, and interests. Parents can help their teens through some of these issues by talking to them, being patient with them, and creating an environment that is structured and supportive.
Problems that teens and their parents may need a teen counselor's help to handle include:
- Changes in family life, like moving, divorce, or a death or serious illness in the family
- The loss of a close friend or girl or boyfriend through death, a breakup of the relationship, or moving
- Developing an illness or disability
- Any kind of substance abuse or addiction
- Bullying or abuse
- Teen pregnancy
- Tragic events in the community or the world
While some teens can cope with these events better than others, almost all teens will benefit from talking to a counselor about them. Sometimes a teen's behavior will indicate that there is a serious problem that requires teen therapy. Some of these negative behaviors are:
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors. These may include talking, joking, drawing, or writing about suicide or death, giving away cherished possessions, or expressing feelings that they are worthless or that things would be better without them. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call 911 or a suicide hotline or get medical help immediately.
- Symptoms of depression, like being withdrawn, lack of appetite, sleeping very little or more than 9 hours per night, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, neglecting personal hygiene, or crying for no reason or seeming sad for longer than two weeks.
- Violent behavior, harming or threatening to harm themselves or others, including animals
- Suddenly gaining or losing a lot of weight, which could indicate a life-threatening eating disorder
- Extreme, rapid changes in moods or personality, or drastic changes that last more than six weeks
- Running away from home
- Illegal activities
- Behavior problems at school
- Using tobacco, drugs, or alcohol
- A sudden change in friends
- Risky sexual behavior or sexual promiscuity
- Other risky or dangerous behavior
- Noticeable changes in school performance or attendance
Teens who exhibit any of these signs should be taken to a doctor to check for medical conditions that may lead to negative behaviors. A stay in the hospital may be necessary for a teen who is suicidal or experiencing severe medical problems. Therapy and counseling is an important part of treating these problems. Individual or group therapy can help teens to:
- Understand why their behaviors are negative, and how to cope better
- Recognize and change negative thoughts that may cause or trigger their behaviors
- Find better ways to solve problems
- Learn better social skills