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Is your teen driving you crazy with their attitude and angry responses? –or– Are you worried your teen is unhappy and withdrawing from life?
The adolescent years are especially challenging for both teens and their parents. Hormones kick-in, contributing to unexpected behaviors and mood swings. The teenage brain is itself developing, but does not reach its adult state for several years after adolescence. (For a great Frontline documentary on the mysteries of the teenage mind, watch "Inside the Teenage Brain").
Psychologically, teens are challenged against the pull back to childhood attitudes, and the push toward an adult frame they are not yet able to meet. This can bewilder parents who may long for the simple affection and esteem they enjoyed from their younger child, but who now seems to disdain their very existence!
Of course, sometimes the opposite problem is in play: a teen who seems to want to remain an obedient and clinging child- which can lead to "re-nesting" for decades to come. It may be more peaceful in the house now, but is perhaps a worse problem for the teen in that they don't become independent or individuated.
Losses Teens feel losses very deeply. Often, they are feeling all of life as intensely as perhaps they ever will, since its all so new, and so much challenging growth is going on physically, psychologically, and emotionally. So when a first love affair ends it can be devastating, and the loss of a beloved grandparent, or worse, a parent can have lasting effects if not worked through. With no tools or experience in dealing with strong feelings, a teen may turn to drugs (see below) or make other poor choices to try to deal with their pain.
Drugs Many adolescents turn to drugs to deal with emotions that are too strong, or are dealing with depression or anxiety that leaves them feeling worthless or hopeless. These underlying problems are the real issue, but of course getting off the drug quick-fix comes first. Often teens feel completely confident that "their" drug is the solution, and not part of the problem. Counseling may be needed to help them see the deeper problem and start the movement away from drug abuse or dependance. Parents can't always deal with drug issues directly, as the teen may also be using drugs as a way to rebel or become "independent" from the parent. On the other hand, the best tactic may include parents or other family members, and should be customized for your particular teen and family.
What is a parent to do with these problems? I spent eight years working as a therapist exclusively with teens, both individually and in groups. I've gained a lot of insight into how teens see life and deal with the many challenges they face. I connect well with them, and they seem to trust me. I've learned a lot and came to appreciate my position as the outsider a teen can open up to, when they are so conflicted inside or in emotional pain. Teenagers find it easy to talk to me, and really appreciate having an adult to confide in, in complete confidence.
The need for confidentiality with teens is sometimes vitally important to them.
Note for parents of minors: As parents or guardians, you have the right to ask and know what goes on in therapy. However, I always ask that parents/guardians respect the privacy of the therapy (except for safety issues like those listed in FAQ) and realize that trust can be particularly difficult with teens, so the treatment should remain private. I also ask parents to discuss treatment with the child/teen present, so the communication is transparent to the teen. Usually parents will go along with this request.
If your teen seems to be making poor choices, is depressed or impulsive and aggressive- consider giving him or her the chance to work through some of these issues with an experienced teen therapist.
The information offered on this website is to be used for educational purposes only and not as a substitute for psychotherapy. Please consult a mental health professional to address your specific needs. If you are experiencing an emergency, call the San Diego Crisis & Access Line at 1-800-479-3339.