“What’s the difference between normal teenage stress vs. a real mental health problem?”
“Is my daughter just overly dramatic, or is she really this sad?”
“Aren’t teenagers supposed to be moody and irritable”?
These are all great questions. And the answer, when it comes to any teenager-related question, is always complicated. Teens face day to day struggles with stress, grief, bullying, sadness, guilt, shame, feeling overwhelmed about their future, dating drama, gender identity issues, etc. It can be difficult to know when your teen is working though some of these issues in a healthy way or when they might need the help of an expert.
When is the right time to call?
As a psychotherapist who has worked with teens and their families for over 20 years, I've been asked this question many times. Parents will call me while experiencing a low point in parenting a teenager and wonder if they're jumping too fast, or not giving their kid and themselves enough credit to ride the ups and downs together. Parents will second guess themselves, torn between wanting help and support and wanting to give their kid room to grow and manage life on their own.
You are the expert on your own teenager! Even though some days they seem like scary, moody, foreign creatures, this is your child and you know them best. Trust your instincts.
Here are some signs that it might be time to seek the advice of a professional:
If the decision is still not clear, the best way to determine if your teen could benefit from counseling is to ask them. Ask if they think it would be helpful to talk to someone. You don’t have to go into a lot of details or even have a clear idea about what he wants to talk to a therapist about. Try questions like: “Are you overwhelmed?” “Would it be helpful to talk to a counselor?” “Would you be willing to give therapy a try?”
Your child may know that it's time. Or maybe they just needed to know it's an option. By asking if they'd like see a therapist, you're showing your teen that there's no stigma or shame in trying counseling.