Does My Teen Need Therapy?

Teens are trying to discover who they are, while figuring out the world around them. This stage of life can pose a great deal of challenges for you and your teen. You wonder if it’s time to get your teen into therapy.

By Melody Smith, LAC

As your child grows and gains independence, you may question how to best help your budding teenager and may even blame yourself for your child’s struggles. Navigating through social problems and processing the emotions that life begins to throw can be difficult. Due to the rapid changes that often take place, teenagers are susceptible to psychological, physical and social challenges as their bodies and brains are still developing.

Common Teen Challenges

It is not unusual for teens to experience big emotions related to their social and romantic life, school performance, body changes and appearance, sexuality, and planning for the future. The stress of figuring out who they are and what they want makes teens vulnerable to pressure from peers and social media to appear and act a certain way. Many teens are dealing with:

  • Sexual exploration and curiosity
  • Bullying and/or cyberbullying
  • Witnessing on-screen violence
  • Expectations to excel academically
  • Pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol
  • Finding balance between working hard and resting when needed
  • Pressure to succeed in extracurricular activities (e.g., sports)
  • Discrimination related to sexual orientation, ethnicity, appearance, and other factors

Just like adults, teenagers can encounter social problems that may impact their emotional and physical health. These common yet overwhelming stressors lead to puzzling emotions and seemingly erratic behavior. You may find it difficult to differentiate between typical teen behavior and signs of mental health concerns, as this can be tough and confusing.

When is it time to seek teen therapy?

Although it is normal for your teen to experience moodiness and occasionally act out, recognizing warning signs are crucial for addressing mental health issues. Let’s take a look at some more specific indicators that can signal it’s time to seek a therapist:

  • Loss of their smile even around friends
  • Self-harm, cutting, or threats of self-harm
  • Excessive internet use leading to isolation
  • Talk of (or actually) running away from home
  • Loss of interest in activities they normally enjoy
  • Withdrawal from conversations with family and friends
  • Dropping plans with friends with little or no explanation
  • Changes in daily life such as eating, sleeping, and hygiene
  • Gaining a new friend group that results in changed behavior
  • Self-esteem concerns, or expressing shame or feelings of worthlessness
  • Persistent complaining of physical illness such as stomach upset or headaches
  • Significant life events (e.g., divorce, moving, new sibling, loss of a loved one)
  • Reckless behavior, including unprotected sex, careless driving, and binge drinking
  • Refusal to talk to you, even after attempts to create a safe space for open discussions

If you notice any of these signs present, it might be time to seek help from a teen therapist in New Jersey. Emotional ups and downs are expected, but you may want to contact a mental health provider if you notice any of these changes worsening over time. Although identifying what your child needs can be difficult, you know your teen best. Tune into what your gut is telling you and seek help if you’re not sure.

What can parents do to help?

If you want to get through to a teenager, you have to start by listening.

If you notice a sudden change in your teen’s emotions and behavior, you might wonder what you can do to support their mental health. While you may have their best interest in mind, connecting with your child as they develop into a young adult is challenging.

Here are some tips for supporting your teen’s mental health:

  1. Provide a judgment-free zone to conversate. Let them do the talking.
  2. Do an emotional check-up by asking “Is something on your mind?”
  3. Embrace silence. Teens will open up when they’re ready.
  4. Ask questions with curiosity rather than interrogation.
  5. Encourage your child to feel their emotions rather than stuff them in.
  6. Listen instead of lecture (even when you have good advice to give)
  7. Validate their feelings by saying “That must have been really difficult to say.”
  8. Most importantly, be present. Cheer them on.

How can teen therapy help?

With the variety of stressors and changes throughout adolescence, it’s important for teenagers to have a safe space to openly express themselves, verbalize their feelings, and work through big emotions. Only then will they be open to changing their mindset and behavior.

Mental health professionals can provide guidance for teens dealing with low self-esteem, sadness, worry, and trauma. Teens have the opportunity to see themselves and the world through a new lens. They can practice new coping strategies that help them manage life’s challenges.

Therapy for teens can also help you build better family relationships. As your teen’s therapist, I encourage conversations between you and your teen. We help teens and their families to learn to communicate with each other effectively and calmly.

References: Hellström, L., & Beckman, L. (2021). Life challenges and barriers to help seeking: Adolescents’ and young adults’ voices of mental health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(24), 13101.

Trying To Get Through To Your Teen? We’re here to help. Sessions for teens and parents are available both in person and via telehealth.

Our therapists support the mental health of kids, families, teens, couples, and adults of any age. To learn more about our services, contact us here.

To learn more about how to build trust with your teen, also check out this article from The Gottman Institute.

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