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/ Sep 04, 2018

Preparing Your Tween or Teen to Seek Professional Help

Parents

Preparing Teens to Seek Professional Help

Among the most challenging moments of parenting are those when we realize that our support alone is not enough. It can be a genuine act of love – and responsible parenting – when we guide our tweens and teens towards professional help. In “Getting Our Children Professional Help When They Need It” we offer guidance on knowing when your child needs professional support. We also provide an overview on how to get them there. Here, we offer guidance on preparing teens to be open to seeking the support they deserve.

Start from a Place of Strength

The truth is it can be tough to guide an adolescent to agree to seek professional guidance. They may feel ashamed that they can’t handle their own problems. They may worry that going for help confirms that they are “crazy,” “losing it,” or “weak.” Your approach to the process can make critical differences towards their willingness to seek help. It can also assist with their overall attitude about professional support. Their attitude, in turn, influences their investment in the process and the likelihood of its success.

When parents or caregivers have mixed feelings about seeking professional help, they should resolve them before talking to their teen. Adolescents pick up on our mixed emotions easily. If you believe seeking professional help is an act of strength and self-awareness your teen is more likely to see it that way.

Young people often question their worth during challenging times. For that reason, it is critical that your communications about help-seeking are rooted in an approach that highlights strengths. The approach should be grounded in seeing our children as they deserve to be seen, as we know they really are, not based on the moods or behaviors that do not reflect their essential character.

Approaching Your Child About the Help-Seeking Process

It is important to make three things very clear:

  1. Professional guidance can make a real difference
  2. Emotional discomfort is treatable
  3. There are people who know how to support teens so that they can feel better

Read on for communication tips that may support you to effectively relay these important messages to your tweens and teens.

Make it Clear That Treatment Can Work

Many teens, especially those unfamiliar with professional treatment, may wonder: “How can it help? Why waste my time.”

This is probably the biggest barrier to seeking help. Young people that are going through difficult times may lack hope that anything will change. Hopelessness can be a temporary part of emotional distress. It may be hard for teens battling depression to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or for those with severe anxiety to feel like they will ever stop worrying.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare your teen to seek help is to reinforce that treatment can work, and is worth the investment. Help them understand that professionals have years of training and that decades of research demonstrate which strategies are most effective. If you know of people who have gained their strength and control back after support, share that.

Underscore That Time Invested Will Pay Off

Teens these days have plenty of obligations. They may feel like, “There’s no time for this.”

This is something you might hear particularly from a teen that is highly anxious. They may worry that the time invested in counseling will only make them fall behind in other areas of their lives.

Their anxiety may make it difficult for them to hear your words. In response, consistently remain calm. Your even-tempered calmness reinforces that their mental well-being must come first. Remind them the investment in learning how not to waste time and energy in worrying increases their efficiency and focus. And that ultimately it will lead to more time and higher levels of achievement. This will be true in the near term, and the future.

Reinforce That Seeking Treatment is an Act of Strength

Adolescence is the time of life when young people are trying to figure out their place in the world. When it comes to asking for help, some teens may feel like: “I can handle it. I don’t need anybody else.”

It is critical that friends, family, and community members do not undermine the help-seeking process by framing it as a sign of weakness. A first step is to use the right language – it is not what they “need,” but what they “deserve.” It is genuinely brave to be able to clearly state, “I don’t feel right, and I deserve to feel better.”

Knowing that you deserve guidance is a tremendous act of self-awareness. People who have insight into themselves often become the most successful and happy adults. We must make it clear that seeking help is an act of strength. And that strong people know they are capable of feeling better, deserve to feel better, and will take the steps to feel better.

Acknowledge That They are not Alone

It is not uncommon when we are struggling to feel alone. Some of us retreat into ourselves while others experience shame or embarrassment. Some may even think, “I’m just a freak.”

If your teen is feeling like an outsider, make it clear they are not alone. You might say, “You are a person who is wise enough to know that you are struggling.” Too many people go through life pushing feelings away or making no real effort to understand their struggles. We need to be proud when our adolescents are aware of what they are feeling, know they need support, and are strong enough to reach out. Help them understand the power of this combination of self-awareness and personal advocacy.

Underscore that we all struggle sometimes. That they are not alone. People who feel intensely sometimes have tough moments during the teen years, but they grow to be strong, wonderful adults.

Discussion Tip
Getting support is a sign of self-awareness and strength.
No matter how hard our children seem to be pushing us away, they continue to need us, especially in times of great challenge.

Highlight How Strong Feelings Now Lead to a Strong Adulthood Later

Adolescence is a time of heightened emotions. The part of the brain that manages emotions is growing rapidly. That is why some teens feel like, “I’m so angry all of the time!”

Always frame your desire for your teens to get support in the context of love and how you want them to be their best selves. Remind them you don’t expect them to be perfect, or “fixed”, just happy and poised to make a contribution. Reinforce that the very sensitivity and depth of caring that troubles teens now is what positions them to have a full, rich life later. Reinforce that people who care make the best friends, life partners, colleagues, and parents.

Relationships With Professionals are Special

Professionals do not pity the youth they serve. They serve because they want to and have gone through years of training to be able to do so. If your teen says: “I don’t need anybody feeling sorry for me,” make it clear that empathy is not pity.

Help your child to understand that youth-serving professionals choose to work with youth because they care for, and respect young people. Often they went into the field because they knew somebody in their life who needed support (or they themselves struggled as an adolescent), so they are committed to making life better for young people.

One of the best ways to get teens to learn this is to have them experience what it feels like to help others. This could be through community service or less formal helping. When our children experience service, they learn that it feels good to give. When they need to receive they’ll understand they’re not looked down upon. They are cared about.  Just as they have given and felt good while doing so, they can a reach out for a helping hand in their own time of need without fear of being pitied.

Professionals Honor Privacy

Another common roadblock to getting teens on board with seeing a professional stems from their desire for privacy. They may say: “I don’t want everybody to know my business.” They might not realize that professionals honor privacy, and strive to serve without judgment. Make it clear that you will honor the private nature of that relationship.

Tell your teens that you will always be there to support them and that you hope to know as much about their life as they choose to share. You will look to them as the experts in their own lives to share what you need to know. You always want to be there, but are happy to know that they have another trusted adult to talk to.

Professionals Support You

You never have to worry about a professionals thoughts or feelings — their role is to support you. Your teen may wonder: “Why can’t I just talk to you, Mom/Dad? Or why can’t I just talk to my friends –  they can relate to me better than any adult can.”

The beauty of a relationship with a professional is you never have to worry about them. They’ve likely heard it all so they won’t be shocked. They want to hear about your feelings. They won’t be disappointed, hurt, or angry. They are there to support you – all of you. Relationships with friends and family are different — they want to protect you and you may worry about disappointing them or hurting your relationship. Help your teens understand help seeking is an ‘and” not an “or.” Professional guidance never replaces your love and support. Good friends can never be replaced. The professional is an additional person — with specialized training.

Counseling is about Guidance, Not Being Repaired

Your teen may think: “I’ll figure it out. I’ll deal with my own problems. No one can ever know what I’ve been through anyway. How could they fix it?”

If this is the case, we need to help them understand that professionals will guide them to become stronger by using skills they already have and by teaching them new ones. Explain that counseling is a learning process that offers new information that can help them make good decisions, get through challenges, and manage uncomfortable feelings.

Counselors are there to support, but you do the real work. Professionals do not give answers or solve problems, rather they find the strengths of each person and build upon them. You will solve your own problems. But you will have the support to do so.

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What Teens Need to Know About Seeking Professional Help

Perhaps the most essential thing teens need to know is that emotional discomfort is treatable. There are people who know how to support teens so they can feel better. And they deserve to feel better. Click through for more.

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Seeking Help is an Act of Strength

Strong people know they’re capable of feeling better, deserve to feel better, and will take the required steps to improve their outlook. Use the word “deserve” instead of “need” when talking about getting help.

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Asking for Guidance Shows Self-Awareness

Individuals who know themselves, can identify their feelings, and recognize when they need help often become the most successful and happy adults.

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Professionals are Trained to Help

They work with teens because they want to help. They have gone through years of training to do so. They honor privacy and strive to support without judgment.

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Professionals are Only Part of a Support System

Seeking professional help does not mean teens should give up other support systems. Family and friends remain the most important people in their lives.

Professional Support Can Strengthen Relationships

When teens are struggling, they may feel as though they have somehow failed, thinking “I’ve messed everything up.”

It is common for people under great levels of stress to challenge the relationships most important to them. It is normal “to take it out on the ones you love.”  Why? Because it is only in those relationships that hold the greatest security that we can take the chance of revealing our most uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. It is not unusual therefore, for teens to push friends and family away precisely when they need the greatest support.

No matter how hard our children seem to be pushing us away, they continue to need us, especially in times of great challenge.

We must make it known that our love remains unwavering. . That we understand how their behavior reflects the fact that they are going through something. And how a major benefit of counseling can be repairing and restoring relationships.

Finding the Right Professional

Let your teen know that you will support them in order to find the right kind of help. There are all kinds of helping professionals and you are committed to finding the right fit for your teen. Consider asking your child’s health professional, school guidance counselor, or clergyperson for thoughts and recommendations. Allow them to make suggestions on where to find the best potential match for your teen. Make sure to ask someone you trust, as that will help your teen believe the person chosen is trustworthy.

There are also professional organizations that can help guide you as you search for the best treatment for your child:

American Psychological Association

American Academy of Pediatrics

Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine

American Counseling Association

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Having a child is like having your heart on the outside of your body. It can be unbearably  hard on parents when their children struggle. Your child needs you to be strong. You deserve to be happy yourself. Your strength and happiness are a critical factor in your child’s journey back to mental and emotional wellness. It can be a genuine act of love – and responsible and selfless parenting – when we take care of ourselves just as we care for others.

As is the case of most of what we write, there is nothing in this article about adolescents that does not apply to parents. You may also deserve professional support to help you get through this challenging time. At the least you should commit to self-care.

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Ken Ginsburg

Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Co-Founder and Director of Programs at the CPTC, and a Professor of Pediatrics and adolescent medicine specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books as well as a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” The CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit www.fosteringresilience.com.

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