How to Know if Your Adolescent Child Needs a Therapist

Published January 23rd, 2024 by Alexandra Sredni, Psy. D., PLLC

Adolescence is a stressful time for both parents and adolescents themselves. Adolescents’ today face pressures from many different angles. Academic expectations have increased. The standards set by parents, schools, and universities are much higher than they were a decade ago. This along with the constant social pressure placed on them by social media has made this phase of life increasingly more difficult. Although technology and engaging in social media feels like an escape, it also adds to their levels of stress. Adolescents today have to manage both the stresses inherent with being an adolescent along with the increased pressures placed on them by societal changes.

Because teens are beginning to find their sense of autonomy, their privacy becomes increasingly more important. While teens are eager to protect their inner worlds, parents are often struggling to find a balance between allowing their adolescents to experience a sense of autonomy and knowing what is happening in their child’s life. In addition to their growing need for privacy, they are undergoing many hormonal changes that may lead to sudden shifts in mood, feelings of sadness, and or anxiety. It may be difficult to distinguish between hormonal mood swings and shifts in mood caused by an external stressor. This compiled with changes in sleep patterns and eating behaviors, makes it hard for parents to discriminate between ‘normal’ teen behavior and behavior that is a cause for concern. Some adolescents may ask their parents if they could speak to a professional, while others may not.

As a rule of thumb, always follow your parental intuition. If your son or daughter is becoming increasingly more distant from you and you are concerned that they are at risk seek professional assistance. Risky behaviors include concerns about substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, social isolation, and bullying (among others). Try and be as transparent as possible, letting your child know you are worried about them. If possible, include them in the process of finding a therapist. Make appointments with several therapists so they feel the freedom to choose who they want to meet with. Finding a therapist who feels like the right ‘fit’ is similar to dating. Often, it is beneficial to meet with several different individuals (for one or two sessions) to distinguish which therapist feels like a good match.

Adolescence is termed a time of ‘storm and stress’ as it can be a taxing time for both parents and adolescents. It is important for parents to recognize that getting help for their children is an act of compassion, not of a sign of weakness. Many parents think that sending their kids to therapy is a sign that they have failed as parents, but this is far from the truth. Because parents are deeply emotionally involved with their children, they naturally have their blind spots. Indeed, hiring a professional will help bring insight into the root of your child’s current struggles and assist you in seeing how you can support them during this difficult time.

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