Did I get your attention? You might be wondering what this blog is about. It’s been heavy on my heart over the past few years in my practice that so many teenagers don’t get the support or help they need because of their parents. Even some teenage clients who have made it to counseling don’t improve because their parents make their child’s counseling about themselves or attempt to control it. Today I’m going to talk bluntly about the importance of allowing your child to get the help they need—without making it about you.
If you are the parent of a tween or teen, this blog is for you!
Teens and Mental Health
According to Mental Health America, Clinical Depression will impact around 1 in 5 teens.
Every 100 minutes, a teenager in the United States will complete suicide, according to suicide.org.
I don’t know about you, but these stats are terrifying to me.
I see teens struggling every day. Sometimes, their parents wait and wait and wait before scheduling an appointment. You know, because their child is busy. The sports practices, extra-curricular activities, and jobs are the priority. Oh, and now we cannot reschedule for a month because everything else is important and if they miss school or practice, they will never succeed in life, apparently.
I see parents try to control their child’s therapy. For example, a teen comes in for counseling. The parents put parameters about what the teen can/cannot talk about in their own sessions. “It’s okay for you to talk about your feelings, but don’t you dare talk about me” or “We don’t air our dirty laundry in public”.
I see parents lay guilt trips on their child for bringing them to therapy. “You don’t know how much of a sacrifice it is to get you here”, and “Because of the money we’re spending on your therapy, we now cannot afford (fill in the blank)”.
I see teens want to make appointments, but feel like they can’t. Their parents think after a month of therapy that they are “cured”. I see parents shame their child for having problems. I’ve heard parents accuse teens of using therapy as a crutch.
I see parents use therapy as a punishment. “You messed up, and now you have to go talk to someone about it because someone else needs to know how bad you are”.
I also see parents deny the existence of mental health issues. I consistently have parents argue with me about whether Depression and Anxiety are real. Also, I work with teens who self-harm or are suicidal, and they get told by their parents to buck up and get over it.
And we wonder why our teens are not doing well.
Your Child’s Mental Health Isn’t a Failure
Has your child ever asked you to go to therapy? What feelings did this stir up in you? Did you feel proud? Or did it stir up feelings like guilt, anger, fear, anxiety, or inadequacy?
If your child asks to start therapy DO IT RIGHT NOW. This is a gift and a blessing. Your child feels safe enough with you to be vulnerable and ask for help. Don’t make this about you. This is not about you failing them as a parent. You didn’t necessarily do something or not do something to cause this. How you will fail them is if you choose to do nothing or treat them like they are crazy for needing help.
Mental health is complicated. We know it’s probably a combination of hormones, genetics, brain chemicals, life situations, trauma history, and learned patterns of negative/distorted thinking. Other than that, lots of things can trigger a child to feel like they may need to talk to someone. Just because your child is struggling, doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. If you yourself are struggling with your child going to therapy, I would recommend you get your own therapist and work through your feelings about it. Don’t shame or project your feelings of failure onto your child.
Your Child Needs Support
Here’s the thing: If your child is hurting or struggling, they are going to seek out advice and support from someone. They are going to talk to a friend, an online community, or a boyfriend or girlfriend about how they are not doing well. They are going to seek advice. Your child is going to look for validation. Would you rather they get help from a trained adult professional, or someone their age whose brain is still not fully developed?
As a mental health professional, I know how to help. I know what techniques to use to help decrease symptoms. I can provide support to help your teen walk through difficult or hard situations. This is my job, and I try every day to do it to the best of my ability. Let me (or another therapist) help your teen.
Also, please don’t take it personally if your teen doesn’t want to confide in you. This is actually normal. I don’t know if you remember, but you were once a teenager too, and the relationship you had with your parents wasn’t always sunshine and roses. DON’T try to force them to talk to you, and please don’t attempt to do therapy with them. DO be a safe and supportive person to them and a good listener. And get them outside help when they need it.
Get Over Yourselves
Dear parents, I hope you can understand now why I need you to get over yourselves. I need you to allow your child to get the help they so desperately need. I need you to put your own feelings aside and do what is best for your child. Also, I need you to even let go of a little bit of control. I need you to trust the therapy process, and eventually, learn to trust me. Please get over yourselves, so that your teens can thrive, be happy, and be healthy.
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.
Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.