What to Consider When Seeking Therapy for your Teen
It has to be hard to be a teenager these days. While we all were teenagers at one point in our lives, it is most likely that we remember all of the good times. We remember prom, barbeques with our friends, late study nights at the library, and graduation, among many other things. We probably don’t remember needing or participating in therapy. Honestly, it’s possible that we have forgotten all of the changes we faced as adolescents because we have matured and are now faced with much bigger challenges than we were all those years ago.
Sadly, however, our experiences as teenagers were probably far different than the experiences of our teens today. Sure, there are bound to be similarities around all of those coming of age activities, getting through schools, finding a path after high school, etc. However, teens today face new pressures and challenges that we could have never imagined when we were their age. More and more teens are finding extracurricular activities that can help set them apart from other teens that might be vying for the same part-time jobs, scholarships, and college acceptance.
The top ten issues facing teens today
While many of the issues listed below are similar to what today’s parents experienced growing up, they are compounded for teens today based on the presence of social media and the immediate availability of news and information.
- Negative body image – Gone are the days when curvy women back in the 1950s were considered beautiful. While some would argue that in recent years, there have been fewer pressures to stay slim and sleek, the constant introduction of more and more wellness apps, and sites like Instagram which boast images of beautiful people clad in beautiful clothing can create serious stress and negative perceptions for a teen about their own body.
- Longing for acceptance – While most people want to be accepted by others, teens are still trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. They are pressured to make decisions for their future that they might not be ready to make. Through all of this, they want to know they are normal, or better than normal, and with the hustle and bustle of daily life, sometimes this message either isn’t conveyed, or it gets lost along the way.
- Pressures to meet expectations – As indicated before, teens today are faced with more competition than what their parents faced when growing up. This is largely due to the prevalence of social media and the internet which includes far more information than we know what to do with.
- Struggles with time management – Tied to these societal pressures, teens are distracted by social media and smartphone text exchanges with friends, but still need to manage to get to school or work on time, complete assignments on time, and be wherever else it is that they are supposed to be.
- Lack of role models – With so many teens focused on their mobile devices, they tend to participate in less live communication. And, they often don’t get out into social situations or know how to approach adults as so many of us take for granted. When teens feel looked down upon by adults, or don’t know how to behave appropriately in their presence, they are far likely to strike up a conversation and seek out learning and mentorship opportunities.
- Violence surrounds us – Gone are the days when we had to turn to the newspaper for the news which happened the day before if it even made it to print at all. Today, news hits the social channels and news feed pretty much the moment it starts. 56% of children age eight to 12 have cell phones, and 95% of Americans have a smartphone, it is simply par for the course that there is a mobile phone user at the site of any disaster or an emergency situation, that will grab their phone and start capturing footage for the media.
- Pressures to consume alcohol or experiment with drugs – It is believed that one-third of teens have drunk alcohol within the last month, and close to 10% of teens have experimented with marijuana at some point in their life to date. Drug and alcohol use can have serious and sometimes debilitating consequences of brain development.
- Cyberbullying – Instances of cyberbullying appear to be on the rise. The Cyberbullying Research Center has indicated that 10% of students included in their survey have claimed to be a victim of cyberbullying in the last 30 days. Further, 16% of those surveys feel they have subjected someone else to cyberbullying.
- Sexual activity and experimentation – According to Teen Vogue, the average age that an American male loses his virginity is 16.9 years old, and for American females, the age is 17.2 years old. The number of Americans who have yet to have sex is predictably higher for young women than adolescent men between ages 15-18. Additionally, and interesting to note is that at age 19 when many teens have headed off for college, there is a higher percentage of male virgins than female.
- Mental and physical health issues – As with anyone, a lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and depression or anxiety can have serious consequences on your overall well-being. For teens, in particular, they often need more sleep than children just a few years younger and require about nine hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, most teens report that they get less than seven hours per night. As teens become more and more independent, their eating habits also suffer. They may either be consuming too few calories (associated with body image concerns) or eating unhealthy and fatty foods that they pick up on their way to or from somewhere. And, for teens between the age of 12 and 17, clinical depression and anxiety are on the rise.
Signs that your teen needs help and could benefit from therapy
Parents need to be diligent in maintaining a presence in front of their teens. While teens will push to demonstrate their independence, in most situations, they need the influence of their parents more than ever. It is important that parents monitor the activities of their teens, at least from a distance, to ensure that they are well balanced and functioning through life in a positive manner. That said, there are a variety of signs to look for. These signs could indicate trouble is surfacing and your teen could benefit from therapy or professional assistance.
- Your teen seems to change friends frequently, avoids social functions, or doesn’t seem to have any friends at all.
- Your teen is moody and irritable more often than not and appears at risk of self-harm or harming someone else.
- Your teen has started exhibiting self-destructive behavior such as cutting, drinking, using drugs, or pursuing risky challenges and situations.
- Your teen seems to worry needlessly about everything, even minor situations that most wouldn’t think twice about.
- Your child has taken a newfound interest in death.
- Your teen’s sleeping habits have changed dramatically and they are either sleeping far more than normal (and more than nine or ten hours per day) or are sleeping far less than six or seven hours per night.
- Your teen’s grades at school have started to drop, they are getting into trouble in the community, or they are calling into work sick more often (or have recently been fired).
If your teen is showing the presence of one or more of the above behaviors, it is time to consult a professional therapist. A good place to start is with your teen’s pediatrician or general practitioner who may want to rule out other medical conditions, and can often provide a referral to a trained therapist that might be a good match for you and your teen.
What are the pros and cons of therapy groups vs. individualized therapy
Both approaches to therapy can be helpful settings for your teen. This list below provides the overall advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches.
· Easier to maintain confidentiality
· Your teen will receive one on one attention from the therapist
· Treatment can be more intense and more focused
· The therapist often becomes more trusted by the teen because of the personalized setting – they find the therapist to be a trusted confidante
· Your teen can better work around their schedule and other activities
· Your teen can improve their communication skills in a one on one environment
· More expensive than group therapy
· Your teen may feel isolated
· Your teen may not like being the center of attention and therefore shuts down and chooses not to engage with the therapist
· Less expensive than individual therapy
· Teens can take comfort in knowing that they are not unique in their struggles and may be more likely to share when they know they are not alone
· There is a larger support network from the therapist and other group members
· Group communication skills may be improved
· Your teen will have the opportunity to practice self-awareness, and learn how to express their constructive thoughts as well as how to listen to and accept criticism from others
· There is a larger safety net
· Your teen will not be the center of attention and will get less personalized attention
· Less (or no) confidentiality
· While rare as trained group therapists work to ensure all participants are actively involved, in some cases your teen may be a social loafer, which means that they may be able to avoid participation and become unnoticed
· Less scheduling flexibility as your teen (and you if you are the transportation) will need to meet at the assigned group times
It is important to partner with your child’s physician on the best therapy or group therapy approach for your teen. And, if your teen is struggling with substance abuse or self-harm, or bullying, it might be beneficial for your teen to receive an individualized approach to help.
What parents can expect out of the teen therapy process
Perhaps one of the biggest things that a parent should be prepared for during the therapy process is that after the first session, they will likely not be invited to attend, and may even be specifically asked to not attend. Additionally, due to HIPAA regulations, if your child is over the age of 18, parents may not be authorized to receive information about their child’s progress. The only exception is in cases where the teen invites them to a session or chooses to share. Only in certain situations can a therapist share information about progress and diagnosis with parents without the teen’s consent.
Not having immediate access to information from the therapist or group counselor can be very frustrating for parents who want to know if their child is getting better or worse. And teens themselves may prefer to hold that confidentiality with their counselor because they value their privacy or are ashamed of their situation and do not want to disappoint their parents.
Regardless of the amount of information that is shared with parents, it is important that parents understand that teen therapy is a process. Additionally, iin some cases, things might get worse before they get better. The best thing that parents can do is pave a clear path so that the teen can get to and from therapy, and to ensure the teen knows that the parents are ready and available, at any time, if the teen needs to share information with them or talk about their situation.
Remember too that your teen might not immediately embrace the concept of therapy, either individual or group therapy. It can sometimes take a few attempts to find the right fit, and this might even mean trying more than one counselor until the right connection is made. While your teen’s physician will provide their best recommendation, most physicians are not deeply trained in psychotherapy or counseling, and can only guide you on where to start.
In many cases, parents too may want to seek therapy or counseling themselves so that they can better support their teen. Parents often have feelings of failure or even exasperation, and those feelings can lead to anger issues, stress, anxiety, and even depression as well. Parents can best support their teens when they have the help they need to be available and supportive of their child.