More than any other phase of growing up, adolescence can be the most confusing for parents and teenagers. It is a period of life where psychological and physiological changes are dramatic. In adolescence, character (a person’s customary way of being in the world), crystalizes, and identity, (the stable sense of who a person is), forms. An adolescent must achieve an independent identity rooted in family but that also reaches out to the world beyond.
It can be hard for parents to know when to engage a psychotherapist, as some behaviors upsetting to parents can be normal part of the process of becoming an adult. Most teens do experiment with drugs and alcohol, and teens do have ups and downs in academics, starting in Junior High. In addition most teens generally test limits and break rules (especially the rules set by parents), and sometimes withdraw or become sullen, arrogant and just
all around difficult to live with. These behaviors need to be addressed with the teen, but do not always indicate a need for therapy.
When should a parent be concerned enough to contact a psychotherapist? When a teen is using alcohol or drugs to the point that it is interfering with their lives; when an academic decline or truancy is unrelenting; if a teen becomes isolated from peers over a long period of time; when their self esteem is low over a long period of time; when a defiant, “in your face” attitude is unrelenting; if problems with eating or dieting persist, or if they make any references toward hurting themselves or another person.
These behaviors can indicate that adequate resolution of critical aspects of adolescent development is not occurring. When teens worry about not being able to grow up, they can become destructive; to themselves or to their parents. Without treatment, they are likely to move into adulthood compromised in their functioning. Their troubles might range from difficulties in making intimate commitments, to maintaining a sense of confidence and self esteem, to making important life choices about careers, religious beliefs or morality.