Have you been wondering, is my teenager normal? Is s/he depressed? Is s/he using drugs? Am I a good parent? Parents often come to me when their teenager is acting out.
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish normal teenage behavior from signs of depression, anxiety, trauma, or other maladjustment. Some warning signs include: substance use, truancy, failing grades, running away, defiance, moodiness, self-harm, isolating, loss or change of friends. It’s always important to look for changes in your child, rather than compare him/her to peers or siblings.
If a teenager is acting out in dangerous or problematic ways, s/he needs both accountability and love/acceptance. Remember that underneath acting out behaviors there is often deep pain and hurt. When I worked with kids in the Juvenile Justice System, I often found depression underneath the oppositional-defiant, mad-at-the-world exterior. Teenagers are like everyone else: They want to be heard and understood. Often, they don’t have the skills to get these needs met. As parents, educators, and counselors it is our job to help them learn these skills.
If I can give you one piece of advice, it is to get some help and support for your family NOW. Please don’t wait. By the time most people show up in my office, their problems have been escalating for 6-12 months (and it’s not uncommon for the problems/concerns to have existed for years). It is always easier to deal with problems when they are smaller and not well established.
Also, remember that teenage acting out is a family problem that is going to require the whole family to be involved. While, individual counseling or behavior modification may help your child, you may also need to adjust your parenting and communication style. I try to remember that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint to the finish line. It takes a lot of patience and endurance, but you can get to a healthy and happy place with your child.
© 2015 Sharon Martin, LCSW