I used to think my parents were idiots, but now I think they are just anxious. I really like my talks with Dr. Nancy. —Jennifer, age 17
My daughter and I learned to talk together without screaming. —Jane, mother of a 15-year old
Teenage Social Anxiety and Depression
Feeling “not as good as” is something that troubles many of the teenagers I see. They wonder, ”Why can’t I be perfect like…. ?” If it persists, this sort of thinking can lead to depression. A drop in grades, lack of interest in activities or their appearance could signal the onset of teenage depression.
Sometimes social pressures (including bullying) can cause extreme anxiety. Your teenager may convince herself and you that she is too sick to attend school.
I find that teenagers live at the mercy of their emotions—and those emotions are big. Events and interactions affect them profoundly. They may not understand why they do the things they do.
In my approach to therapy for teens, I focus on helping teenagers acquire emotional language. Developing their ability to put feelings into words gives them some control over their emotions making it possible for them to think before they act.
Back Talk: Power Struggles With Your Teenager
Perhaps you’ve experienced this. A dramatic change takes place once your child is in middle school and the full fury of teenage attitude suddenly wipes away all traces of that agreeable pre-teen. Now they talk back—vigorously arguing every point with you. This is a normal part of growing up and identity formation. Infuriating? Yes indeed it is.
Many of my parents expect obedience from their children. They see back talk as disrespectful. Teenagers see it as standing up for themselves. When both sides plant their feet into a right and wrong stance, the power struggle can be intense and escalate quickly.
It is imperative that parents assert their authority by drawing boundaries and setting limits. It works best when they are direct but not in attack mode. If they attempt to impose their will upon the child or do something that invades the child’s privacy, they get into a battle of wills. Then the parent may decide the only way to gain the advantage is to crush the will of the child: “shut up and do as you are told.” This tactic makes everything worse. On the other hand, the parent who avoids confrontation can cause a teen to think the parent “does not care.”
In my experience, therapy for teens can be invaluable for both parents and child. Teenagers don’t feel listened to. Or they may feel that nobody notices them. They are invisible. In my therapy sessions I give them a place to feel heard. They begin to trust themselves and to value their feelings. In some situations, I may bring the parent into session so the teenager can express their feelings directly to the parent.
Teen Drug and Alcohol Use
Teens inevitably experiment. So it is important that parents discuss safety rules, limits, and a no-questions-asked policy. This conversation is difficult but critically important.
You cannot control your teenager but you can influence them. The “conversation” can shine some light into their secret world and temper their overwhelming urges, allowing room for at least some judgment to occur at a critical moment.
Because teenage brains are not fully developed, you cannot expect a teen to make responsible decisions unless they have adults in their lives that model responsible and legal behavior.
Therapy for Teens: Divorce Related Trauma
Teenagers can easily get caught as an intermediary in a divorce. They may be pulled in opposite directions by loyalty to one parent or the other. The situation worsens if one parent uses the child as a confidante or tries to get them to take their side against the other parent. A child or teenager can come to feel responsible in some way for the break up. That can lead to depression and exacerbate a feeling of “I’m never good enough.” We can talk together about the impact of divorce and point out ways to help everyone go forward.
Recommended Reading list for parents of teenagers
Brad E. Sachs, The Good Enough Teen: Raising Adolescents With Love And Acceptance, Despite How Impossible They Can Be. Title says it all, contains helpful ideas and suggestions.
Dr. Neil Bernstein, How To Keep Your Teenager Out Of Trouble (And What To Do If You Can’t). Advice on communication and setting limits with detailed chapter headings.
David Walsh, Why Do They Act That Way: A Survival Guide To The Adolescent Brain For You And Your Teen.