Parenting an adolescent is perhaps one of the most challenging periods of parenthood. The story in most families is the same. Almost overnight, your sweet, compliant child turns into someone you no longer recognise. He or she suddenly becomes stubborn, rude and even aggressive. It can come as a complete shock, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it’s not just challenging for you. It’s a difficult time for teenagers too.
Every generation has had its own difficulties in parenting teenagers, but evidence suggest that modern society and different parenting styles (mollycoddling or over pressurising) is causing unprecedented levels of depression, self-harm and anxiety amongst young people.
So, with communication at its worse between you and your teenager, how do you know if your child is in difficulty? And importantly, how do you know it’s time to seek professional help? We’ve put together a guide of some of the challenges facing teenagers today, the signs to look out for when things are going awry, and what to do if you think your teenager could do with some help. If communication between you has reached an all-time low, counselling could help your child to make sense of how they are feeling.
The challenges facing today’s teenagers
Teens today have a different set of issues to worry about than those of previous generations. These include:
- Social media pressures – everything is documented online – there’s no escape
- Cyber bullying – bullying no longer ends at the school gates – it’s 24/7
- Educational pressures
- Peer pressures – due to social media and constant connection with friends. But remember not all peer pressure is negative.
- Access to inappropriate video games, films and TV shows
- Family income – recent research suggests that family income is associated with high depressive symptoms in teenagers, with children from poor families suffering most
- Parental micromanaging (helicopter parenting) – rigidly structured childhood environments are creating anxiety and thwarting the development of independence in teenagers
Is it just normal teenager behaviour?
It’s quite normal for communication between you and your child to change during the course of adolescence. Your once chatty child, can become more secretive and less willing to open up. It’s a normal part of the adolescent development process – they are moving through a period of change, from a child to an adult, and they naturally begin a process of separation. That doesn’t mean they don’t need you. They need you more than ever.
During this period of change it’s not uncommon for parents to worry about their teenager’s behaviour. Due to hormonal and physical bodily changes, teenagers can be moody, withdrawn or short-tempered. As part of the natural process of separation it’s not uncommon for teenagers to spend increasing amounts of time alone in their room, or out with friends, and less time with family. This is perfectly normal teenage behaviour.
Signs your teenager may need counselling
Today’s teenagers are under a lot of stress. Counselling is one solution that may help your teenager to work through their difficulties and develop the skills to find solutions and gain independence. Here are some signs that may indicate your teenager needs some extra help:
- Not engaging in extra-curricular activities
- Not engaging with friends
- Chronically withdrawn
- Persistent extreme anger and/or sadness
- Significant decrease in performance at school
- Strong resistance to attending school, or truanting
- Substance abuse
- Dangerous or thrill-seeking behaviour
- Significant changes in sleeping, eating or energy
- High levels of aggression and disobedience
- Poor personal hygiene
What might teenagers need counselling for?
- Parent separation or divorce
- Sexual identity
- Depression, sadness, anxiety
- School failure
- Lack of meaningful relationships/struggles with peer relationships
- Teen pregnancy
- Self-harming behaviour
- Substance abuse and addiction
What to do if you feel your teenager needs counselling
It’s not going to be easy to convince your teenager that talking therapy with a complete stranger is what they need. But, being open, honest and non-judgemental with your teenager is key to facilitating a level of trust between you both. Talk to your teen about your concerns, and use specific examples to qualify your concerns. Don’t expect an immediate answer; give your teen time and space to respond. Let your teenager know there are people that can help other than you. If you are at all worried about your teenager, seek help from your family doctor.
How to nurture independence
- Do listen to your child – give advice when you are asked
- Do encourage your teenager to solve their own problems
- Do let go slowly and give your teen more opportunity for responsibility
- Do learn not to take what your teenager yells at you personally
- Do let your teenager learn from their own mistakes – you need to help them develop a ‘decision-making muscle’
- Do support your child’s teachers and encourage your teenager to respect the teacher’s opinions
- Don’t manage your child’s relationships or communications
- Don’t raise your child to expect treatment that is different or better than the treatment other children receive