Working with a Struggling Teen

Developmentally, teens are stretching their wings, chafing for freedom and independence, and are positive that they know more than those around them. For any parent, the process of helping them expand horizons and develop independence in safe and appropriate ways is a tall order.

But what happens when all of the normal teen issues are compounded by traumatic events that cause a teen to question his or her self worth? Such events are unfortunately quite common—divorce between parents, adoption, sexual abuse, death or illness in a close family member, or bullying, just to name a few. When a teen that is already at some level of emotional risk is hit with negative messaging in the form of a traumatic event, often they determine that they are the problem, that they aren’t “good enough” and that they deserve what has happened. In such situations, the difficult job of parenting a teen has just become vastly more challenging.

Everyone can use reassurance and love. For a teen, validation of self worth is critical. This is why the first step in reinforcing a battered teens psyche is making sure that parents are open and willing to talk as often as necessary with their teen. About anything, and at any time! Making time for your teen—and recognizing that they will likely want to talk with you at the time that is absolutely most inconvenient for you—is crucial. With your teen, remember that you have two ears and only one mouth, so do your best to use that proportion in your communication with them. However, in many cases, this parent listening needs to be combined with some level of counseling or therapeutic support. The good news is that such support surrounds most of our teens anyway if we simply know how to access it!

Most school counselors are outstanding, devoted to their jobs, and are quite aware of community resources. This is why often the first line of defense for a struggling teen is engaging the help of the school counselor. When school is not in session, or when a student is unwilling to visit the school counselor, a community therapist can be a life-saver—literally! Giving the struggling teenan outlet to talk about frustration and perceptions can be very helpful in many cases. Statistically, studies show that people that talk about their problems have greater ability to move past them. For many of our teens, simply taking the first step of involving the school counselor and/or seeing a local therapist provides all the support they need during a challenging time to make it to a successful future! School counselors and local therapists may also know of other community programs that may also assist the student in appropriate ways.

What do you do when this is not enough? That will be the subject of our next article!


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