Teenage Angst

This is a time when the child is dealing with separation and individuation but they are at cross purposes.  The child wants to be on their own but they are so dependent on family for financial needs as well as emotional (whether they ask for it or not).  They want so much to be themselves but they really don’t know who they are.  There is bound to be experimentation based on things they are curious about: God/Goddess, self, sexuality, bad vs. good, substance curiosity, and other things.

You are the parent – if up until now you have been very consistent in setting rules and boundaries, you still might be running out of patience, because no teen is perfect even if you have done a good job.  Try to remember that your teen is going through a struggle to cope with life after hormones have set in and the knowledge that in a few short years, they are out of there on their own and have no clue what they will do.  Lots of fear.  But always remember that at one time a couple of decades ago, you too were in the same spot.

If now all the family dynamics have changed or there has been chaos all along, try to look at you and the father [figure’s] role in this situation first before blaming the teen.  It is not easy when your stress appears to be exaggerated by your child’s antics. It is not.  Your child’s life is actually being effected by what you and the father figure are dealing with on top of what they are trying to understand (as I noted above in relationship to their curiosity). In other words, you the parent are the adults – you have already been a teenager.  Try thinking about what your own family life was like when you were a teen and what your child’s family life is like now that they are a teen. If the dynamic is different, so will their ways of coping with things.  Your teen may or may not be like you, because they weren’t raised by the same one or two people as you were.  And times were different.

Teens in Crisis generally are dealing with many issues:

1. Being bullied (or peer pressure) that can take on emotional, psychological, and even physical abuse.  A Teen is not going to come to you – in most circumstances – and say “I am being bullied at school.”  They are now trying to cope with life on their own and feel that a mature person would do so, so they try not to come to you if they don’t have to.  Or “Only babies turn to mommies and daddies. I don’t need them I can deal with this on my own.” (hint: I am a big boy/girl now, I should be able to do it)

2. Family issues that just began or have been there all along. A. New family problem in otherwise healthy family – Divorce or death for instance.  The child is now having to cope with his/her own self individuation process AND abandonment of a family member. B. Old family problem in unhealthy family – Child is having to cope with individuation process, hormones, AND is still being raised in a family with addictions, and/or other mental health problems, violence in the home, or other on-going stressful situation.

3. Child’s sexuality – Sometimes kids know earlier on if they are interested in the same-sex, other times they are not so sure until hormones begin. Attractions begin.  They might be interested in the same-sex and confuse this with being gay or a lesbian.  And they might be but they might also just not be ready for relationships with the opposite sex.  If they appear to be very confused about this topic or are exploring it, you can bet they are being bullied at school.

4. Self-esteem – No matter how beautiful a child is to you, they are going to deal with feelings of being too fat, too ugly, too short, too tall, too skinny, something is going to bother them about their appearance just as it did with you.  Teens are dealing with acne, pimples, glasses – some for the first time, braces, development of breasts, size of penis, erections, and so forth.  Prior to this there were jokes about farting, nasal secretions and other gross things.  Now when it happens there are concerns about who’s looking, who knows it was me? For boys – does everyone know I have a hard on? For girls – cleavage and bumps – the angst of having people look at their chest for the first time.  Men are looking at girls in a different way in public (as well as school).

5. Academic Stress – for the teens who are trying hard to get into college through SAT or sports/music scholarship, there is so much anxiety when they fail a test or realize they just aren’t that good at the sport (good enough). Lots of trials and tribulations here that will affect their future.

6. Mental illness – Lastly there will begin to be symptoms of mental illness (if the child really has one) once hormones kick in.  Sometimes parents have known by now that something was different about their child, other times not.  If mental illness does run in your family, don’t second guess your instincts.  Of course you should never second guess but when it is in the genes, it is more likely than not that it has been carried down.  If there is no mental illness in the family – this doesn’t mean it does not exist.  Either way, consult with a psychotherapist first.  I say this because a psychotherapist does not have medication on the mind, whereas a doctor will.  However, if a psychotherapist suspects a child needs to be further evaluated with a psychological evaluation they will let you know.  It can be pretty clear to a psychotherapist that a child needs to meet with a psychiatrist soon for a medication evaluation.  My experience with doctors and what I have heard from many many others is that they will consider medication first.  A psychological evaluation determines what exactly is the mental illness – or their opinion based on tests accrued.  This is done by a psychologist and the results might include seeing a psychiatrist for medication.  A medication evaluation is completed by a psychiatrist to determine which medications to prescribe based on a psychological evaluation.  A psychological evaluation however is not necessary for medication evaluation.  Sometimes teens need to see a psychiatrist immediately due to the fact that a crisis has occurred, for example: teen is seeing or hearing things that others do not, teen has attempted suicide, teen is engaging in very odd behaviors that you have learned about.

My advice is that as a parent, it is always best to start with a psychotherapist for consultation before going for medications.  Most of the time I have treated teenagers (and I have heard this from my colleagues as well), it is for family issues not teen issues.  The first thing out of a teenagers mouth will be parental: substance abuse, abandonment, loss of family member through death, violence in home, etc…  These issues effect a teen more than their own issues.  That is because while they are trying to figure them self out, there they are having to take care of the one who should be taking care of them.

Sometimes it is a teen problem and they need to talk to someone about the issues mentioned above.  Never hesitate to bring a teen in for counseling but don’t be shocked and surprised if the therapist feels a need to see both the teen and the family, or just the parent (s).  Also, keep in mind that family therapy is not to chastise the teen, it is to deal with family issues in the home.  The goal is a healthy and happy family.  If the teen isn’t happy, no one will be.  However, if the family is already in a crisis, it is easy to blame the one who causes the most attention OR is trying to get it.  The reality is they just want your love and the safety of knowing you will be there no matter what. If a child feels unloved or unsafe – where does the responsibility lie?

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