Signs Your Teen May Need To See A Counselor

Bored-teenage-girl-on-couch-jpgVery often I have parents ask me if I think their teen needs counseling. They will tell me about different behaviors they have observed and pretty much ask me if it is “normal”.

The advice I normally give is, if you think your teen needs counseling, they probably do. I have seen more instances of teens not receiving mental health help or receiving it once the issue has gotten out of hand, then I have of parents bringing their teens in for counseling when they are perfectly “normal”.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen parents who have brought their teens in for counseling only for me to soon realize that it was the parent that actually needed help, and not their teen.

In any case, it never hurts to schedule a session for your teen if you think they may need help. A trained mental health professional will be able to tell you in a couple of sessions or so if your teen needs further help or if the issue extends further into the family system.

Some signs that your teenager may need counseling

  • Mood swings– Yes we all know that teenagers have mood swings. It is definitely part of that developmental age, but as a parent, you should have a general baseline of your teens mood swings. If their mood swings seem extreme or are way outside of your teens normal mood swings (too depressed, too elated, too labile, etc.) trust your gut, it may be worth looking into with a trained professional.
  • Self-medicating– Some teens will try to hide or control their issues, especially when they don’t understand why they think or feel a certain way. Many will turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, self-mutilation, or eating disorders just to name a few, in an effort to make themselves feel better. If you notice your teen involved in any of these things it’s almost a guarantee that they are trying to mask something else, that could be anything from low self-esteem to sexual abuse and it’s worth investigating.
  • Changes in friends– many times when a teen is suffering from a mental illness it will impact their ability to maintain healthy friendships. They may push friends away or become too clingy. You may see some of your teens friends start wanting to avoid them or your teens choices of friends may drastically change.
  • Changes in school performance– is another sign that your teen may be suffering from some form of mental illness. It’s generally hard to concentrate and focus when one is in a poor mental state and this can affect a teens grades and/or conduct.
  • Physical symptoms– if your teen suddenly starts to care less about their appearance, stops taking showers, gains or loses a lot of weight or starts complaining of psychosomatic symptoms like backaches, headaches or stomach aches, these are all possible signs that your teen is dealing with something they can’t handle alone.
  • Behavior changes– behavior like mood can change a lot during the teenage years, but for the most part, if you teens starts presenting as a totally different person to you then it may indicate either a mental illness or substance abuse issue.

Being a teenager is hard and most teens will try their best to hide their problems from their parents, which is why it is imperative that parents are attune with their teenagers. Today it’s even easier for teens to hide how they really feel through social media so parents have to be vigilant to monitor their social media pages as well in order to gain insight into what is really going on with their teen.

With the appropriate help, all mental and emotional issues can be treated and managed so if you  have to ask the question, “Is this normal”, chances are you should contact a qualified mental health professional for a further evaluation.

 

How Your Teen Gets In Their Own Way And How To Help Them Stop Sabatoging Themselves

istock_stockphoto4u-1-teen-girl-hugging-knees-looking-sad-cWorking with teenagers for as long as I have, I realize that many of them come with various challenges, from emotional and educational challenges to family issues that seem to drag them down. However, in a majority of the cases I’ve worked with, the teens themselves are usually the ones who are getting in their own way of success and happiness.

They often don’t see it that way and will blame their family, their friends, their environment, any and everything, but themselves and it will take many sessions before I am able to help them realize that they themselves are indeed the cause of their problems through self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors and thus are also the answer to their problems.

Most people who have been around adolescence know that many times they get in their own way and do things that are self-defeating or self-destructive. Self-defeating behaviors are behaviors that get in the way of constructive action while self-destructive behavior generally causes some type of harm to the person.

In early adolescence for example, teens often start focusing more on friends, fighting with their parents and other adults as they try to discover their own identity and may end up struggling in school in response to paying more attention to friends than to their grades.

During this time of conflict, (ages 9-13), it is common for certain self-injurious behaviors to start occurring, such as cutting as a way to deal with much of the psychological conflict and pain, especially with teenager girls while teenage boys may do things such as punching walls, getting into fights or destroying property even if it’s their own.

During mid adolescence, ages 13-15, friends are generally ultra important and so is being accepted by your peers. This is the age that teens are going to high school for the first time and can be overwhelmed by the pressure to fit in.

When a teenagers faces feelings of inadequacy about their self-image they may shy away from their peers and develop anxiety issues and/or depression or even self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

During late adolescence, ages 15-18, teenagers may engage in self-defeating behaviors that include more risk taking such as drugs, alcohol, and sex simply for the excitement of it and not considering the dangers that can happen.

This is the age that I worked with the most to either help them stop drinking or using drugs, or to help them with issues surrounding sex including pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and even rape.

As someone who has worked with teens for a long time, it can be very frustrating to see a young lady with endless potential, waste it because she wants to be liked by her friends or a boy or she doesn’t like herself. The same rings true for many of the young men I worked with who were more concerned about having a  “tough guy” image, than actually doing something positive with their lives.

Parents indeed find this self-defeating and self-destructive behavior frustrating, but what can they do? Often times teenagers are too defensive to actually take and listen to advice from their parents so parents often would bring their children to me and then wonder what it was about me, or what did I say that got through to their teenager that they couldn’t and I would always tell them that they had to practice objective parenting.

They had to work on not telling their teenager what to do and think or what not to do or think, to not judge, but instead simply draw conclusion between their choices and the consequences of their choices in an empathetic and objective way, and then let their teen decide to either continue the behavior or to try something different.

This is often hard for parents to do because they would like to control their teenagers choices, but they can’t. They have to allow their teenager to make their own choices, however, parents can continuously attempt to put healthier and more constructive choices in front of their teenager for them to accept or not to accept.

The more healthy options you place in front of a teen, the more likely they are to accept at least some of them. As a therapist that is what I did. I would know that I wanted a teen to stop doing a particular self-destructive or self-defeating behavior, I would share my observations about what they are doing and what they are getting (or not getting) from their actions and then attempt to continuously give them multiple alternatives in hopes that they would try at least one.

For example, one teenage girl was obsessed with trying to get pregnant simply because she wanted a baby. I tried to help her see how having a baby would hinder many of her plans and goals for the future, but she didn’t really see that. I then gave her many other things she could be doing instead of trying to get pregnant and she finally decided to try one which is playing softball. She tried out for the team, made the team and two years later graduated from high school with a scholarship to play softball and never got pregnant.

While her mother thought I had worked some type of miracle (she was sure her daughter wouldn’t finish high school without getting pregnant) all I did was give her an opportunity to try something new and that ended up being self-affirming and she basically did the rest.

As a therapist, it is easy for me to be non-judgmental, to allow teenagers to continue making mistakes and learning from them while still giving them healthy alternatives until they finally realize that what they are doing isn’t working and are ready to try something different.

For parents, it’s hard for them to have that same amount of patience because the attachment they have with their teen makes it much more painful for them to witness their teenager continuously sabotage themselves by making poor choices. It’s very difficult for them to be as objective as I try to be.

Because this is very difficult for most parents to do, seeking help from a therapist is often the best solution, especially if the behavior is self-destructive such as cutting, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, etc.

A book I recommend for teenagers who are constantly self-sabotaging themselves is How to Get Out of Your Own Way by Tyrese Gibson.

The School To Prison Pipeline

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The school-to-prison pipeline is a widespread pattern across the United States that pushes students, particularly disadvantaged students, out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

This is largely due to public institutions not properly addressing  the needs of individual students who may need extra help educationally and socially. This is often because of financial and staffing shortages.

This results in students being poorly educated, dropping out or getting kicked out of school, often resulting in arrests that develop into a cycle of continued arrests and crime which plaque not only that individual, but their community and ultimately, our society as a whole.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Students Arrested At School Yearly

Each year across the nation, thousands of students are handcuffed in front of their classmates and taken to jail for behavioral problems that used to just result in a student being sent to the principal’s office or suspended.

A large majority of the students being arrested aren’t committing criminal acts, but displaying bad behavior. They are being arrested for misdemeanors such as “disorderly conduct”, which includes infractions such as refusing to give up their cellphone in schools with no cellphone policies and classroom disruptions. A relatively small percentage are arrests for weapons charges.

I personally have seen students arrested who had been suspended or put into an alternative school program, but came back to school either thinking their suspension was up or without truly understanding the terms and conditions of their suspension. Granted, when asked to leave campus these kids were defiant and thus arrested for trespassing, and while some were given warnings to leave campus, others weren’t given a warning at all and were simply arrested in front of their classmates.

There are definitely times and instances when students need to be arrested and detained for their own safety and/or the safety of others, but I think far too often, students are needlessly being arrested, taken down to the juvenile detention center and exposed to the criminal justice system.

An arrest record can stay with these students for the rest of their lives, even when the charges are dropped. When applying for jobs or to colleges and asked, “Have you ever been arrested”, they will will have to check “yes”.

Last week I watched as a group of girls had a verbal altercation on campus, that looked like it may erupt into something physical. As far as I could see, no one was physically being assaulted, but one of the school resource officers responding to the disruption, grabbed a girl, threw her to the ground and placed handcuffs on her. Despite everyone screaming that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was still detained. I believe she was eventually released to the custody of her parents and suspended, but  it was obvious by the look on her face and everyone around her, that it was a traumatizing experience.

Not only is being arrested traumatizing and embarrassing, it interrupts a students educational process and can create distrust in the school system and the law. I think far too often, arrests are made in cases such as a petty fight, minor vandalism, trespassing and minor theft, things that used to send a kid home for ten days, but now may get them arrested. I’ve even seen students tazed by officers during school fights, when they used to be broken up by teachers.

Granted, often students who get arrested have ignored warnings and instructions given by the police officer.

I wouldn’t dare want to interfere with law enforcement’s ability to do their job, especially in light of  the Sandy Hook shootings, but when police officers are on campus, the number of student arrests for minor infractions increases, many of which seem petty and unproductive.

For example, here in Florida a teen was arrested for trespassing because during her suspension she returned to school to take her final exams, and students involved in fights are often charged with battery against each other.

Disabled and Black Students Are Disproportionately Arrested

Students with various disabilities and black students are arrested more compared to their percentage of the student population. Even in schools for students with severe emotional problems, students are getting arrested for things like hitting, kicking and throwing objects, behavior that seems more related to their disabilities than to criminal acts.

While black students are more likely to be arrested than white students, it’s not because black students are misbehaving more, but historically and presently they seem to be punished more severely for less serious infractions, according to a study done by The Equity Project at Indiana University. Black males tend to be arrested more for “disorderly conduct” while white males are more likely to be arrested for drug charges. Black students are also more likely to have their cases dismissed than white students.

We can’t criminalize children for being and acting like children. Most of the students who get arrested already have had discipline or absenteeism problems before the arrest and could have benefited from an in school psychologically based program, such as the one I work for. It helps students with anger, academic, emotional, substance and behavior problems, and we even advocate for them during times when they are on the verge of getting arrested or expelled.

Unfortunately, many schools don’t have this type of program, nor the funds and staff to conduct the social services needed.