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Difficulty with Your Teenager? Here’s the Scoop!

Are you having a hard time connecting with and understanding your teenager? While research shows that adolescent turmoil is NOT a universal phenomenon, it does show that emotional stress and turmoil are more common during adolescence than at other ages. As you may already know, adolescents are prone to greater extremes in mood, as well as more frequent shifts in mood than younger or older people. Here are the 3 common errors that occur when we don’t fully understand adolescent development:

  1. Ignoring serious problems.

Misinterpreting problematic behavior as developmentally normal can cause parents to underestimate the severity of their teen’s problem. “If parents believe that it is typical for an adolescent to be moody, irritable, and sullen, they can aggravate the problem by ignoring it” (Micucci, 2009).

  1. Overreacting.

Parents might overreact by assuming that a specific behavior signals pathology. For example, a teen may show signs of being depressed when in fact; they may just be having a hard week. This causes the parent to prematurely diagnose and treat them as if they have depression. Sometimes this inaccurate perception of the adolescent can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy, which may push the adolescent to exhibit more of that behavior in an effort to assert independence.

  1. Preventing growth by restricting freedom.

Adolescent stereotypes such as rebellious, wild, and hatred of authority may lead parents to overreact when challenged by their teenager. Also, believing that teenagers aren’t interested in having a relationship with them can cause parents to back off too early, which deprives the teen of the guidance and nurturing they continue to need. “Adolescents need parents who allow them ample room to experience the consequences of their own decisions, but who also provide reasonable limits that mirror those the adolescent is likely to encounter in the adult world” (Micucci, 2009).

As you can see, parenting adolescents can be a difficult balancing act. It is important to understand that the human brain is not fully developed until the early 20’s. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is still undergoing considerable development during adolescence. These functions include decision-making, planning, and impulse control. As fully developed adults, we have the capacity to consider options before responding, reflect on our “gut” reactions, and put situations into context. This is not the case for adolescents, because the brain regions that assist emotional regulation and consequences of actions are not fully developed yet. This can be frustrating and annoying to adults, which can cause them to respond in ways that increase the intensity of the interaction and make it even more likely that the adolescent will respond in an impulsive way. “In contrast, adults who remain calm in their interactions with adolescents not only model appropriate behavior, but also keep the level of affect within range that the adolescent’s maturing brain can manage” (Micucci, 2009). If you are experiencing difficulty connecting with and understanding your teen, schedule an appointment with us as Wasatch Family Therapy today!

Micucci, J. A. (2009). The Adolescent in Family Therapy: Harnessing the Power of Relationships (2nd Ed). NY: Guilford Press.

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Ask A Therapist: Will My Therapist Have To Tell My Parents When I Cut Myself?

I am 14 and recently my parents have discovered I struggle with self-injury. After discovering this, they are going to send me to see a therapist to help with the issue. They, of course, know I struggle with self-injury, but I would prefer if they did not hear about it if I tell the therapist when I self-injure. Is this possible, or is it required that they inform my parents when I cut? As a minor, do I have any confidentiality from my parents?

A: First of all, I’m glad that your parents are going to take you to a therapist to address your cutting. Your cutting is a warning sign that something in your emotional life needs to be addressed. While there is confidentiality between client and therapist, there are limits to that confidentiality.  Therapists are required ethically and by law to intervene when a client is threatening serious harm to self.  Since cutting can  range from minor surface scratches to life threatening wounds, and I don’t know how serious your self-injurious behavior is, I am not able to fully answer your question. Your question can be best answered by your specific therapist when you meet with him or her. At your first session, I suggest that you ask your therapist how he or she will handle your disclosure of self-injury.  Because you are a minor, it is likely that your parents will be involved in some way in your treatment. Many therapists will require family therapy  when working with minors because family dynamics often play a part in a child’s distress, and because parents play an important role in the healing process.

My biggest concern regarding your question isn’t whether or not your therapist will tell your parents, but why you don’t want your parents to know the full extent of your self-injury. Is it because you are embarrassed of what they will think? Is it because you don’t want to upset them? Is it because they will be angry with you? Is it because they will overreact? I hope you will address this important question with your therapist.

The fact that your parents are taking you to therapy to get help tells me that they are concerned about you, that they care about you, and that they acknowledge that you are in pain and need professional help. Consider that they may be able to help and support you through this difficult time as you sort through your emotions and resolve the pain underlying your self-harming behavior. You are 14 and it’s their job to make sure you are safe.

Take good care of yourself, and let your parents take good care of you, too.

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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