In the wake of world events, many typical issues faced by teens have become exacerbated. Their “normal” or routine has been redefined, and their usual coping strategies are not available. This has created additional stress in their lives. Not only are they working to keep up with the changing pace of school and life events, but many have had to do so while adjusting to unexpected changes and transitions. This major shift in the pattern of their lives has contributed to new, or exacerbated existing stressors faced by teens.
The teen years are often typically associated with change or transitions. Transitions in their physical and cognitive growth, as well as transitions in their roles as individuals (from child to young adult) and the role expectations that come along with those changes. Teens are spending more time with peers because of the need to develop self-identity outside of their parents and families, and to seek independence from their parents. They generally prefer to spend more time with friends and in social groups, and social engagement and social trends become important to their experimentation with different roles in the pursuit of their own personal sense of self. With the increasing use of the internet and social media, teens are facing a different type of stress as compared to the teens of previous generations. The influence of peer pressure and social media in addition to the pressures of self-discovery have increased the stress of teens exponentially.
Teens today also have bigger workloads at school, are involved in more extracurricular activities, and many also hold part time jobs. Although most of these stresses are normal and a part of life, it is important to understand that even though teenagers are becoming adults, their brains are still developing. Therefore, often they find it challenging to deal with all the increasing challenges they encounter. Along with this, they are also struggling with hormonal and physical changes in their bodies. The combination of all this can easily cause some teens to struggle to cope and navigate through their lives. Many times, they need help, and many generally prefer help outside of the family or home.
Many parents consider counseling when they notice that their teen is having difficulty in school or acting out behaviorally. It is necessary to understand that bad grades or social misbehavior almost always occur within the context of a bigger precipitating issue. Thus, when parents consider counseling for their teens, they not only give them a chance to work out their present difficulties but also allow them to uncover and work through past struggles that might be continuing to disturb them.
Counseling can help teens cope with school, family, or social stress. Research has shown that 2 out of 3 teenagers greatly benefit from counseling and talk therapy. Specific issues for which teens may seek counseling include anxiety, depression, academic challenges, problems dealing with different relationships (such as with their parents or friends), substance use, traumatic incidents, and depression.
Signs that a teen could benefit from counseling include:
- Frequent sad or depressed mood
- Running away
- Sexual acting out
- Drug use
- Self-harming behaviors
- Inappropriate anger
- Increasing defiance
- Irritability or frequent anger
- Sudden changes in mood or behavior
Preparing Your Teen For Counseling
A teen may be resistant to the idea of counseling when parents first introduce it to them. This is a normal reaction and parents should not worry or force them. Instead, they should try to talk to their teen and show them love and support to help them eventually be more receptive to the idea of counseling. Parents can try the following methods to help their teenagers choose counseling:
Allow them to lead
Typically, teenagers do not like it when someone else makes decisions for them. So instead of telling them to go for counseling or therapy, parents should inform them about the procedure and the benefits of therapy and ask them if they think it would help them. Make sure that they know that you are there to support them throughout the journey, no matter what happens. They are more likely to follow through and accept counseling if they decide on it themselves.
Alternatively, if your teen approaches you and asks to go to counseling, be as supportive as possible. Your child wanting to seek therapy does not automatically mean that you have not been a good parent, or that they do not feel comfortable confiding in you, it simply means that they want to seek help, and want your support in that process. Let your teen know that you are proud of them for being opening with you about their desire for counseling and offer whatever help they may need in finding them a counselor that would be right for them.
Include Them in the Process
Even though their brains are still developing, teens are on the path of becoming adults and do not want to be treated like children. Instead of choosing a therapist and making an appointment for them, parents should involve the teen in the process and let them call the shots so that they do not feel like they are being forced. Allow them to research why therapy is a good option and how it will benefit them. If they feel your love and support, they will be more likely to take your suggestions regarding counseling. Ask your teen what they want in a counselor, whether there is an age, gender, religious affiliation, or racial preference, if your teen feels comfortable around their counselor from the beginning based on these categories, starting therapy may be easier for them.
Types of teen counseling
Three main types of counseling that may be appropriate for your teen: individual, group, and family counseling. These are now also available as online sessions that can be taken easily from home. Some people also go for a combination of therapy which includes 2 or more types. The type of therapy required will depend on the individual concerns of the teen.
Individual counseling involves meeting with a therapist alone to discuss problems. Each session usually lasts for about an hour. The therapist may ask the clients to discuss their problems and feelings and might also give them homework. Everything that is discussed during the session is generally confidential, and the therapist will not divulge the information shared in the session unless they suspect that the teen is a danger to themselves or others, or in danger. Often, the therapist might ask for assistance from the parents or a school counselor to work through an issue.
This type of counseling may allow the client to see and learn from other teens of similar age dealing similar issues. It is frequently reassuring to teens to know that other teens are experiencing similar issues, and that resolution is possible. Group therapy may seem daunting to some who are shy, but after a couple of sessions, the teen will feel more comfortable. Each group usually consists of 5 or 6 individuals with 1 or 2 leaders who take facilitate discussions. The teens are free to ask questions and speak openly.
In these sessions the teen comes along with their parent(s), or sometimes even sibling(s), to participate in counseling together. These sessions are especially useful when the teen is going through problems related to the family. The therapist will allow each member time to discuss their concerns and will help everyone by guiding them towards solutions. The counselor will remain an unbiased observer and can help to point out patterns in family dynamics and communication that may not be obvious to family members.
Teen Counseling Expectations For Parents
There are a few things that a parent should expect when their teen is going for counseling.
Confidentiality In counseling
Some parents may oppose the idea that their teenager’s therapist will not reveal what they discuss with them. However, this confidentiality is important as it allows the teen to develop trust, be open and express their concerns without fear. Confidentiality is a core tenet of counseling, as it allows for freedom of expression and the building of a trusting relationship between the client and counselor.
What counselors report
Although therapists maintain client client-therapist confidentiality, there are exceptions that therapists are required to report. These include expressed intent to hurt others or themselves, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or suicidal thoughts. This is comforting for the parents as their teens will receive the help they need if they have any of these thoughts or inclinations. Therapists at their discretion may also discuss other issues of harm or concern with parents
The counseling may seem off-topic
The type of counseling required depends upon the problem. Even if the initial problem may be a failure of the teen to thrive academically, their therapist may delve into deeper and older issues. This is done to establish rapport with and get to know the client and to explore the possibility that the current problem is related to a previously overlooked problem. Therefore, it is essential to trust the process.