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When Is It Time to Connect Your Teen To A Therapist?

The teenage years, though not monolithic, tend to be complex, grandiose, and intense.

Being a teen often means to feel like a full-blown adult, with the restrictions and confines of the authority figures like school and parents. Teens are creative and abstract thinkers. They also think in terms of absolutes. Their world lacks grey area, and they often stumble into beliefs of “everybody hates me… everybody is watching me… my life is over.” Seeing the nuance is oftentimes a challenge. Teens experience their emotions in a very intense way – this intensity is valid and real.

Their world view is related to the ways they interact with their peers. Their peers have sweeping influence over what they do and how they think. Teens encapsulate all of these vast feelings, without the self-awareness of how exactly to express them or depict them.

For all of these reasons, I LOVE working with teens. They are sassy and smart and fun and funny… and oftentimes dismissed. Our relationship feels healing to them because I am an adult figure that trusts them, listens to what they have to say, and laughs at their ridiculous jokes without correcting them or yelling at them for cursing.

As a parent, it can be extremely challenging to know the inner workings of your teen. Perhaps you have been on the receiving end of physical and emotional distance between you and your teen as they strive to navigate this world on their own. It can feel like a battle to connect with your teen. You might feel at a loss for how to communicate with your teen to learn about some of their experiences.

So, you wonder, should I take them to therapy?

Here are three suggestions of appropriate timing to reach out for help.

1. Seek therapy for your teen preventatively:

As a therapist, I like to take a preventative approach to mental health, rather than retroactive. If you have an inkling that your teen might be suffering, or even just benefit from talking to someone, offering therapy to them might be a great first step.

2. Seek therapy for your teen if you notice a shift in their “baseline:”

You know your teen better than anyone else! A shift in any realm of their life might be a sign that they are struggling. Here are a few “shifts” to look out for that may be demonstrative that it is time to seek support:

  • Shift in grades

  • Shift in school attendance

  • Shift in social engagements (i.e., isolating, rejecting plans, spending more time alone in room than typical)

  • Shift in relationship with food or eating behaviors

  • Shift in motivation and energy levels

  • Shift in overall mood

  • Shift in ability to function in day to day commitments (i.e., school, after school activities, relationships at home, etc.)

3. Seek therapy for your teen if you notice the way they are handling their distress is costly or risky.

Teenagers respond to situations with intensity and emotionality. It is not the “distress” that is worrisome, but the way they respond and adapt to that distress. If you notice your child is engaging in behaviors like…

  • Self-harm

  • Isolation

  • Using substances

  • Or any other “risky” or “costly” behavior…

... it may be time reach out for support.

Therapy can be extremely effective in helping a teen feel seen and heard. The act of sharing their experiences with someone can allow the teen to feel validated in their immense and sometimes overwhelming emotions.

It is not your responsibility as a parent to “pull them out” of their distress and discomfort, nor is it to “fix” the discomfort itself. Your job is to ensure that they have a secure and consistent person that can sit with them in that discomfort… that is exactly what therapy provides!

If you are worried about your teen, or want to offer them therapy as a supportive gesture, reach out today!

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