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Blog: Blog2

Help! I don't know how to help my teen!

Updated: Mar 10

Teenagers are complex, beautiful animals- we absolutely love working with them in our practice! But there's no doubt that having a teenage child is confusing, scary & frustrating even at the best of times.





But what if your teen is displaying behaviours that have you really worried? Problem behaviours that often cause the most concern are things such as:


* Deliberate self harm

* Suicidal statements or actions

* D&A abuse

* Toxic/ unhealthy relationships

* Anger/ aggression

* School refusal

* Restrictive or binge eating patterns


This is not an exhaustive list, but the above list of behaviours are often extremely challenging for parents. Parents commonly worry intensely about the safety of their teen if they are engaging in these behaviours, & are finding their best attempts to talk, negotiate & punish are not working.


I'm here to tell you that these are very difficult behaviours that even trained mental health professionals find difficult to change. These behaviours usually indicate a high level of emotional distress that is occurring for a young person AND a lack of skills to manage their distress in non-destructive ways.


Behaviours such as those I've listed are often misunderstood. People might say a young person is 'attention seeking', or it's simply a 'cry for help'. Sometimes this may be partially true- but explanations like that are far too simplistic & carry negative judgements with them.


What we need to do to help young people struggling with these issues is 2 main things:

  1. Understand their high levels of distress

  2. Teach them skills to increase their resilience to high levels of distress


Now I know what you're probably thinking... I don't want to just increase their resilience to distress- I want to help them get rid of distress!


Yep- that would be great. However, it's often not really possible! In fact, the more we try to get rid of distress, the worse it usually gets! This is because when we focus on getting rid of distress, we tend to engage in avoidance behaviours. Avoidance behaviours will end up making the distress more intense over time, plus most avoidance behaviours have negative consequences themselves.


In fact- all of the problem behaviours I've listed are actually avoidance behaviours. They are ways people try to get rid of distress in the short-term. Some of them work. But they make things worse in the long term.


Our first goal with our young person needs to be:

  1. Understanding their high levels of distress

This doesn't mean assuming we know why they are upset. We need to really create space so they can talk & be heard in a non-judgemental way.


We may need to acknowledge they may not want to talk to us- the parent.


That's okay- but we need to find someone wise & responsible who they can talk to. This could be in the form of a therapist or counsellor. It could be a trusted family friend or relative. But they need to feel they can express themselves within a private & non-judgemental setting somewhere.


By talking through their feelings & issues, the young person starts to understand their distress more deeply. This often leads them to creating change.


Also, by talking to a trusted person, who had no agenda other than to listen & understand them, they will become more open to suggestions of different ways to handle things.



Second step:


2. Teach them emotion regulation skills to increase their resilience to high distress


Emotion regulation skills are not commonly taught to any of us (but they should be!). Teenagers have a range of biological & brain functions which also make regulating emotions more difficult than adults (although I know plenty of adults who struggle with this too).


As parents, we need to ask ourselves the following:


* How is emotion regulation demonstrated in our family?

* How do I deal with high distress & strong emotion?


If you're like my family, we don't always demonstrate the best emotion regulation skills for our kids- no judgment! We are human too!


This is why getting help to teach your teen emotion regulation skills is a great idea. There are a variety of ways to do this:


* Sports/ group activities often use exercise as an emotion regulation function. Sports are also a great way for teens to practice effective communication & self control in the presence of emotions.

* Mindfulness/ meditation training is very powerful at developing emotional awareness & regulation. This can be done in groups or individually.

* Therapy/ counselling focused on emotion regulation skills is highly effective for teens, particularly if they are displaying problem behaviours indicating they are struggling with strong emotions. Make sure you find someone with accredited qualifications & experience in this area.

* Modelling by parents & adult family members is incredibly powerful at showing a young person how to regulate strong emotions well. Get yourself some help in this area by seeing a therapist or doing an emotion regulation skills program yourself.



If you teen is displaying risky behaviours, I would encourage you to get them into an emotion regulation skills program or therapy right away. This will get them the supportive place to talk, as well as teach them the skills to better regulate their distress.


At Mindful Recovery Services we love working with even the most tricky of teens! We also love supporting parents & families alongside them.


We offer individual sessions; groups & intensive therapy programs that get real change for teens & their families.


We recommend parenting support & sessions with our skilled team alongside treatment for teens to get the best outcomes.


Most important to remember- don't struggle through this alone! It is hard- but it's harder alone. Please reach out for help or advice- we are here to chat!


Alex.

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