With the introduction of counsellors and therapists in education over recent years, it’s usual for young people to have access to a support service at school or college. As a parent, where do you start when you’re concerned for your child?
Teenagers come to counselling for all sorts of reasons from self esteem, exam stress, moods swings, anger, coping with change such as their parents separation, losing close family members.
May be you’re fearful after discovering your teen’s been self harming, taking drugs, or noticed a developing an eating disorder.
Encouraging your child to speak with a counsellor offers them a safe, neutral, confidential space to talk freely about what’s going on for them. However, the suggestion from a well meaning, loving parent is not always a welcome one!
Here’s some of the reasons why…
1. They don’t want to come to counselling.
When adolescents arrive at the therapy office it’s most often as a result of a parent, teacher or GP having suggested they “talk to someone” about a problem or issue. They can often feel resentful from the start as it’s not their choice.
It’s essential that teenagers are given time to build rapport with their counsellor before opening up about what’s troubling them. An expectation from either the parent or counsellor for the young person to share too much too soon can be detrimental, sometimes ending the therapy before it’s even began.
2. They don’t want to talk about themselves.
That’s a paradox huh! Some teenagers can seem self absorbed most to the time. Others barely speak, communicating with heavy sighs and a roll of the eyes that speaks volumes without words!
Teenagers notoriously hate being talked down to. ‘Adults lead, kids follow’ seems to be the general rule in adolescence. They live in a world of rules and authority with little opportunity to talk freely, make their own choices, and be truly listened to.
Counselling means stepping outside their comfort zone and talking about issues they’ve kept hidden from everyone, sometimes including themselves. As adults, we need to respect their space and trust them to talk when they’re ready to.
3. They hate talking about feelings.
‘Displaying’ feelings around anger, upset and worry and expressing our true emotions in a healthy way are very different.
During adolescence the teenage brain is at a key developmental stage. From around 12yrs – 19yrs the brain makes big leaps towards linking thoughts and feelings but the years inbetween can be a very confusing time for teenagers who are trying to make sense of what’s going on inside their minds and body.
Counselling can help when feelings are overwhelming and difficult to understand.
4. They don’t want to stop.
The behaviour that brings them to counselling is an unconscious, well-tuned, protective coping mechanism to avoid unwanted difficult feelings and experiences.
To STOP…being angry, anxious, sad, defiant, reckless, self harming, obsessing about weight…means they have to face the underlying problem face-on without the right life skills, coping strategies, space and support to help them do so.
As parents, think about your own motivations for wanting your teenagers to ‘stop’ or change the behaviour or attitude you are concerned about. How might your fear, anger, and frustration be adding to the pressure and expectation to change?
5. They’re terrified.
They have no idea what’s going on inside their heads, feel overwhelmed and terrified there is something seriously wrong with them.
At a stage in life where sameness is hugely important, who wants to stand out from the crowd as someone with depression, anxiety, panic attacks? No teenager wants to admit they’re scared, most see it as a sign of weakness. At a critical time when peer groups are central to development and identity, weakness means awkward questions, being ridiculed, singled out as being different.
Counselling is about encouraging young people to be less afraid of hope. Hope that change is possible and that they can learn new life skills to support and express themselves in healthy ways.
Counselling can offer a great support for your teen and you
As an adult, having navigated our way through our own teenage experiences, there’s a danger we become the expert; been there, done that and survived to tell the tale. Children won’t appreciate our well meaning advise, this is their adolescence and they need to be given the space and support to learn things their way.
Get in touch to talk about how I can help your teenager learn the life skills needs to support them in enjoying their youth.