As parents, we would like to think that we are able to help our teens with whatever problems they face in their world. We wipe noses when they are little, adhere band-aids to owies and help build their 5th-grade school science projects. But as they grow, sometimes we are unable to meet all of the needs of our teens. Sometimes the world comes crashing in, situations change and our teens need a kind of help that we are unable to give. It is at those times that our teens need professional help and we need to use our parenting skills to find it for them.
The first step in making the decision to seek help for your teen is taking a look inside and acknowledging that it is very hard to do. Perhaps you feel you've made mistakes along the way that didn't help the situation or in hindsight you understand more now and wish you hadn't reacted the way you did when your teen was acting out. These are all very normal feelings! But unless you have a crystal ball in your home that you forgot to gaze into, you are not at fault for what is going on. Don't blame yourself because blame will not help your teen. You are making a decision that will help them. It's a new goal - leave that other 'stuff' behind while you work on this decision.
How do you know if your teen needs professional help?
There are signs that will tell you if your teen needs professional help. They start by recognizing if your teen is striving or not. Are their grades good? Do they have friends and get along with peers? Can you talk to your teen on a regular basis? If you've said 'no' to any of these questions you need to look at the reasons why.
Is this a normal phase that an everyday responsibility and discipline check would help your teen or is it something more that you can't quite put your finger on? If you are unsure, you should start with family counseling to help you make the decision. Often parents who take this route feel relief as the pressure of puzzling out what is going on is taken away from them, but the parent is still in charge. A counselor will give the options of what they see is going on and you, as the parent, will still have the responsibility of making the decision of what help your teen should get, if needed.
If you go this route, I urge you to give the counselors time to do their job. This is a stressful situation for parents, all that 'stuff' comes along to the sessions. It's not fun. But it will work for you, your teen and the rest of your family.
There are warning signs of troubled teen behavior that should make parents aware that their teens need help immediately - no puzzling needed. These signs are different, they are more like big red flags. It is common that these signs are ignored at first by parents. Then, they get bigger and bigger and cause other problems in the teen's life. That is the time most parents get involved and wonder if they should seek outside help. The answer is Yes! If your teen is exhibiting these signs, seek professional help right away:
- Signs of depression
- Running away
- Participating in illegal activities
- Drug use
- Failing school - If this is the only problem, tutoring is a start but talk to the guidance office as well. If there are other problems and this is just a symptom, seek counseling for your teen.
- Sexual acting out
- Changes in friends or activities - especially if the friends are into drugs or other illicit activities.
- Eating problems - have you noticed your teen not eating, over eating or have they shown signs of purging after a meal?
- Inappropriate anger - aiming angry feelings towards you or exhibiting violent behavior is cause for great concern.
- Increasing defiance
- Significant changes in mood or behavior
Seek professional help for your teen by calling local mental health agencies and making an appointment. If you are unsure of which agency to call, try your doctor's office for a referral. Here are some resources that will help:
- Programs for Troubled Teens
- Family Therapy for Troubled Teens: Getting Started
- 10 Reasons Not to Give Up On a Troubled Teen
- Ways to Get a Troubled Teen to Try Therapy
- Transporting Troubled Teens Into a Treatment Program