This Just Normal Teenage Behavior Or Does My Teen Need A Counselor?
With all the changes and intense emotions teenagers experience, even their normal behavior can be concerning. It’s often hard for parents to know when professional help is necessary. Although counseling can always be beneficial, sometimes it’s truly essential. Look for any of these ten signs your teen might need a counselor as the next right step.
Your teen has shown a change in their behavior or personality.
One of the most important red flags for parents of teens to pay attention to is changing patterns.
- Has your child always been interested in school but has recently had dropping grades?
- Has your child always loved soccer but recently stopped wanting to go to practice?
- Has your teen suddenly stopped showering or cleaning their room?
These are all changes that might warrant some discussion with your child. This may not always mean something is wrong, but it’s important to investigate if you notice a shift in your child’s behavior, and maybe get a counselor on the team.
Your teen has withdrawn socially.
If you notice that your teen has stopped asking to hang with friends and spends most of the day cooped up in their room, it might be time to think about a counselor. Withdrawing from friends and family can be an important sign that your child is going through something difficult. It may be circumstantial, but a discussion with your child may reveal something deeper is going on. Many adults exhibit the same isolating behaviors when they experience mental health challenges or difficult circumstances, but your child is lucky enough to have parents around to notice if this happens and get them to a professional who can help.
Your teen is sleeping too much or not enough.
Changing sleep patterns can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Sleeping more in adolescence is common as their bodies change and their busy routines tire them out, but if it’s out of the norm for your child or the change seems significant, it might be time to look deeper. Visit a doctor to rule out medical causes, and see if a counselor is the right next step.
Your teen shows appetite changes.
Keep an eye on any appetite changes in your teen. Eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and a variety of medical conditions can lead to increased or decreased appetite. Have a conversation with your teen and their doctor to find out more if this comes up.
Your teen is having panic attacks.
A panic attack is terrifying for the person experiencing it, and for the people around them. These episodes are characterized by an “abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes,” (DSM 5, pg 208) physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, shaking, nausea, and more. A helpful course of action for you to take if your teen is having a panic attack is to remain calm and offer to sit with them through the experience. You can take deep breaths yourself to bring calm energy into the space and remind your teen that they are safe. It will pass. After ruling out physical causes, a counselor can be the right next step in helping your teen learn to deal with anxiety and prevent future attacks.
Your teen has self-harmed.
Self-harm is something no parent wants their child to experiment with. This can include cutting, burning, hitting oneself, and other forms. If you notice deep scratches or burns on your child, it is important to identify where they came from. Teens are often afraid that if others find out about their self-harming behavior, they will be judged or punished. Because of this, they might resist admitting to it. Always approach these conversations with a calm and understanding attitude, and remind your teen they are loved; then take them to a mental health professional so that they can get the help they need.
Your teen thinks you’d be better off without them.
Language such as “You’d be better off without me,” “I wish I wasn’t here,” “I wish I was never born”, and “I’d be better off dead”, are all red flags for suicidal thoughts. It can be scary to hear statements like this from your teen, but it’s important to take it seriously. A mental health counselor is specially trained to assess and treat this type of thinking. If you believe your child is in immediate danger, take them to the emergency room for evaluation or call 9-1-1. This is one of the most serious signs your teen might need a counselor.
Your teen has started using drugs or alcohol.
Experimentation with drugs and alcohol is something every teen movie and TV drama explores. However, as a parent, it’s important to monitor this in your own child. Ensure your teen has accurate information about drugs and alcohol and their effect on the brain and body. Be open with them about your concerns, and if it becomes a pattern, it may be time to seek outside support with a mental health or addiction treatment professional.
Your teen’s doctor recommends it.
Many times, parents visit the pediatrician before they visit a counselor. This is a great first step to rule out medical conditions that can affect behavior and mood. Doctors often notice that some symptoms may be rooted in mental or emotional conditions and will recommend visiting a counselor. If your doctor recommends this, think of it as a prescription and take it seriously.
Your teen refuses to have these conversations with you.
If you are concerned about your teen, a first step is to try and discuss it with them. However, many parents run into a roadblock with this step: their teen doesn’t want to talk. If your teen is closed off and adamant that they do not want to discuss what’s going on with you, it may be helpful to offer another person for them to talk with. That person can be a counselor. A counselor is trained to be a neutral, non-judgemental third party who listens and offers support. This makes for a safe environment for clients (yes, even teen clients) to share openly and to find new solutions to their challenges. If your teen needs someone outside of friends and family to talk to, a counselor is a professional trained to assess for safety and to offer them constructive solutions. Reach out to a counselor today for more info.
The author, Reagan Palmer, RMHCI is a therapist at Living Well who specializes in counseling teenagers. She meets with clients both in the office at Neptune Beach, FL, and online.