Remember when your child used to want to be with you. When holding hands and giving a hug anywhere, any time was just what they wanted and allowed you to do. And then one day, they grew up. For many parents, a real shift begins to happen in junior high and then high school hits and parents feel more lost and unable to connect with their child than ever before. Parents can feel defeated and scared about asking to be let into their teen’s world. And let’s face it, teens are not so willing to let parents in.
Adolescence is a time of individuating, meaning beginning to separate from primary caretakers and becoming their “own” person. It is something that all teens go through at some point. It is healthy. It allows teens to develop a sense of how to be in the world, as they move towards becoming an independent being. While it is a necessary task of healthy development, it can be a nightmare for parents. Individuating can involve limit testing, rule breaking, experimentation, and outright defiance. This is often not a fun, hand holding time for parents!
While the individuation process with some defiance and risk taking are normal, what is of concern and should not be put aside are certain red flag behaviors your adolescent may be exhibiting.
1. Cutting– Some kids engage in cutting on their bodies to release pain and experience a euphoric feeling. Cutting can be dangerous and can escalate to further extreme behaviors. Kids can learn to use other coping skills to deal with their pain and have joy in their lives.
2. Suicide– If your child has talked about or has engaged in a suicide attempt, this is a serious matter that would best be addressed with a professional. Kids may even make veiled comments like, “I wish I were dead.” Addressing these comments are important and show teens they are being heard. There are many risk factors that are identifiers to people committing suicide and past attempts and/or suicidal thoughts are risk factors.
3. Alcohol and Drug Use– Drug and alcohol use seem to be a part of the teen culture but using in excess and with regularity are risk factors for developing further problems and engaging in risky behaviors. Also, substances are often used to cope with feelings of depression. This is called “self-medicating” and is a reason for concern. Self-medicating can increase a child’s risk of suicide.
4. Depression– An adolescent who is depressed and does not get help and support for their symptoms may begin to spiral downward and get deeper into the depression. This can have serious consequences if not treated.
So how do your help your teen?
1. Let your child know how much you love and care for them. Let them know your door is always open to them, without judgment.
2. Take a drive. Kids tend to talk in the car. There is something about not having to face you eye to eye that can make it feel safe to share.
3. Listen. Parents want to fix things for their child, which can get in the way of listening to what the child has to say. You can then ask them if they want some feedback or what they are needing to make things feel better.
4. Get professional help. Teens need support from a healthy adult who can give them feedback, guidance, and support. Remember a part of individuating is separating from their primary caretakers. It can be hard to give another adult some power in your child’s life, but if you remember the professional is really there to help your child be successful and work through their problems, then surrendering some of this power can be a positive step for your child.