Every year, around this time, my phone starts ringing off the hook. Many of those calls are from worried parents and guardians trying to find someone to help their teenager who appears to be struggling in school, with friends or family, or in their extracurricular activities. I often hear things like, “I’m afraid he’s using drugs because he locks himself in his room all the time” or “She doesn’t want to do anything but sleep and when I try talking to her she bites my head off” or “He studies all the time and then completely bombs his tests”. It can be very difficult for parents to know when their teen is experiencing the normal ups and downs of adolescence or when they are dealing with something bigger.
Teens are often portrayed in negative, stereotypical ways that cause even more confusion for families. I am here to tell you that substance use is not a normal part of being a teenager, your teenager still loves and needs you, and your teen is not a complete bobblehead. Teens are very creative, nonjudgmental, intelligent, helpful, hilarious, and hardworking people! It’s true they go through some challenges during this stage. They are caught in between childhood and adulthood. Their brains are growing faster than at any time during childhood, next to the first five years of life. So, how do you know if there is a problem worthy of seeking help for?
Trust your instincts! You know your child/grandchild better than anyone. If you are worried start gathering information. Ask yourself a few questions such as: Have you seen a drastic change in behavior such as sleep, appetite, or social habits? Is your teen isolating more often than not? Does your teen melt down over seemingly minor things? Does your teen have new friends that concern you? Have their grades suddenly dropped? All of these can be signs that your teen is in trouble. The best place to start is by sitting with your teen and expressing your concerns. Then be prepared to LISTEN!!! If you think they need help call their primary care physician or schedule an assessment with a qualified therapist in your area.
Terri Compton, LMFT