As parents, we want the best for our children. However, it is no secret to anyone that adolescence can be a particularly difficult time. Sometimes, we can feel like they have changed so much, we barely recognize them.
Without a doubt, adolescence is a stage of many changes, not only physically but also emotionally. The search for one’s identity and the emotional ups and downs, as well as the new interests and friendships that this life phase brings, make it difficult to determine whether certain behaviors are normal or the symptom of a more serious problem that requires psychological attention.
Although each adolescent is different, for some of them these experiences can be overwhelming, so it is important that, as parents, we do not rush to discard these behaviors, classifying them as the typical pubertal rebellion or thinking that they will outgrow them with age because in some cases they are an indicator of more serious problems.
This stage of life is decisive for taking one path or another, but it is common for adolescents to have many doubts and questions that sometimes are difficult for them to express.
In fact, therapy can be particularly valuable for teenagers who have mental health problems because most do not want to talk to their parents about their emotions or experiences, but may feel more comfortable addressing those difficulties with a psychologist.
For whatever reason, it is important that at this stage they can have the support they need since it is crucial to forming their personality. Therefore, recognizing that a teenager needs psychological help is one of the best things we can do as parents to protect our children’s mental health.
When to take a teenager to the psychologist?
There are different warning signs that can indicate to parents that their children need specialized help:
1. He has suddenly become withdrawn. It is normal for teenagers to become more reserved and introverted, especially with their parents, as they are beginning to find their own path and build their identity. However, sudden distancing and attempts to avoid family and friends may indicate a deeper problem, such as bullying, depression, or trauma. Although being an introvert and spending time alone is healthy, completely isolating yourself is not. Therapy can provide a safe environment to further explore that behavior change and understand its cause by helping the adolescent build a safe support network.
2. He has lost interest in his hobbies. Anhedonia involves difficulty experiencing pleasure and is one of the symptoms of depression. It can cause teenagers to abandon their usual activities, passions and interests. It is usually accompanied by a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Therefore, if a teenager loses interest in almost everything and appears apathetic and unmotivated, something is probably wrong with him. A psychologist will be able to help understand what is happening so that he can find motivation again.
3. He is always angry. Occasional outbursts of anger are relatively normal during adolescence as it is a stressful and turbulent time. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex has not yet fully developed, making impulse control difficult. However, chronic anger indicates an underlying mental problem. Often this irritability and anger cover up emotions such as stress, fear or shame. With the guidance of a psychologist, your teen will be able to explore the cause of his anger and learn healthier coping skills.
4. He is continually anxious and worried. Adolescence is a phase of change, so it also brings with it a large dose of uncertainty. Therefore, it is not unusual for some teenagers to begin to experience anxiety. If they appear particularly distressed in certain situations, whether in social interactions, exams or their sports performance, it is advisable that they attend a psychological consultation. A therapist will be able to teach him relaxation exercises and cognitive restructuring techniques so that he learns to control tension and can better deal with stress.
5. He is developing unhealthy habits. Adolescence is a crucial stage to develop good habits that will accompany our children throughout their lives. However, taking good care of themselves can be challenging when they struggle with negative thoughts and emotions. A change in their sleeping, eating, or hygiene habits may indicate that a disorder is “incubating.” Eating too much or skipping meals can be a symptom of an eating disorder, while neglecting their hygiene and getting little sleep can be signs of psychiatric disorders or even drug use. A psychologist will be able to discover what is happening and help him deal with it in a healthier and more constructive way.
6. His academic performance is declining. It’s not about demanding top grades as that only creates more stress and anxiety, but if your teen’s performance plummets and they lose interest even in extracurricular activities, it could be a sign that something is wrong. Depression causes lack of motivation and apathy, for example. Taking him to a psychologist could be helpful in understanding the source of his difficulties at school and helping him process and release negative emotions that may be hindering him.
7. He shows risky behaviors. Adolescence is characterized by the search for new experiences and great dependence on the group, so at this age they may begin to develop some problematic behaviors, such as dependence on the Internet or social networks. Some also begin to try alcohol or even drugs, others may self-harm as a way to relieve emotional pain. All of these symptoms are serious warnings that indicate the need to seek psychological treatment as soon as possible.
Compared to adult life, the stage of adolescence may seem carefree and lacking in obligations, but as parents we must remember that our children also fight their own battles. The World Health Organization indicates that one in seven adolescents and young people between 10 and 19 years old suffers from a mental disorder.
Depression, anxiety and behavioral disorders are the main causes of disability at this stage and suicide – an almost taboo subject – is the fourth cause of death. In fact, the American Psychological Association has already sounded the alarm stating that “The mental health of children and adolescents is in crisis.”
The consequences of not taking a teenager to a psychologist when they have problems can extend into adulthood, harming their physical and mental health, in addition to limiting their opportunities to lead a full life. As parents, it is important to stay alert to the different warning signs and seek the necessary psychological help to prevent the disorders from worsening.
Abrams, Z. (2023) Kids’ mental health is in crisis. Here’s what psychologists are doing to help. APA: Monitor on Psychology; 54(1): 63.
(2021) Mental health of adolescents. In: WHO.