Teenagers in Counseling

More and more teenagers are asking to go to counseling! It makes a huge difference when a teen is ready to go to counseling. It can be a challenge to make a teen do something they don’t want to- let alone go talk to a stranger about their feelings!

So when a teen is asking to go see a counselor, it may be a good idea to listen. Teenagers have to face a huge amount of stress these days. Managing self-esteem, healthy friends, to online drama or even bullying. It’s overwhelming. So by having a neutral place to come process through their day, you can find that teens are less likely to act out.

The biggest topic of conversation seems to be boundary setting. Teens are notoriously either pushing boundaries or dealing with struggling to set boundaries with peers that are pushing boundaries. (Did your head spin around?) It’s one of the first times in their lives that they get to make decisions for themselves. It can be difficult to say they are uncomfortable with doing something if everyone in their peer group is doing it. If we can learn to set boundaries early in life, imagine the strength and confidence that will follow.

Of course, depression and anxiety are a major issues for this age. While it may be easy to see a teenager as “being dramatic”, if your teen is dealing with self-harm or depression it’s important to reach out to a therapist as soon as possible. These are serious concerns and need to be helped out by a professional.

Think back to when you were a teenager. Wouldn’t have been nice to talk to someone neutral and unbiased?

Counseling Kids with Asperger’s

So, yes, technically Asperger’s doesn’t exist anymore. The latest DSM now classifies this under the Autism spectrum as high functioning autism. However, parents of this awesome group of kids still often refer to it as Asperger’s.

Why these kids are great:

Working with this group of kids is delightful for about a billion reasons. They are crazy smart, often passionate about something so interesting, and can be extremely witty More often than not, they will often give a non-nonsense, “tell it how it is”, kind of perspective. Generally, they see the world a bit differently which is refreshing and honest.

The challenges:

Like all of us, we want to be accepted. However, often times, kids with Asperger’s struggle socially. Many teens have described it as though they were “missing something” when with a group of people. Sarcasm is hard to understand and this leave these kids feeling left out. Similarly, kids with Asperger’s are subject to bullying. This, in return, can put their defenses up high. When over-stimulated by sounds, pressure or bullying, these kids can be quick to lash out- screaming, fighting, name-calling. The behavioral issues that can come up are extremely difficult for parents to manage.

When the stress of social pressure gets to be too much, this kids often retreat and isolate themselves. They can spend hours on the computer and it can even be difficult to get these kids out of their room. They often choose to stay in their comfort zone, making it difficult to family and school to motivate them into doing anything else.

How Counseling Helps:

Typically, parents bring their kids with Asperger’s to counseling hoping for behavioral management. They are hoping for less melt-downs or outbursts, better control of their anger and to be more respectful when ask to do chores or homework. Counseling can help with that. First, however, there must be a connection piece where a therapeutic relationship is built. Until the kids can feel like they can trust their counselor, very little behavior change will happen. It’s absolutely critical to look at the loneliness and isolation that is happening that makes them act with certain behaviors. Then we can start discussed different pieces that may be holding them back socially. Counselors can gently point out when a story is going on for too long- in a way that peers (or even family) may react cruelly. Counselors can give immediate feedback on social cues these kids may miss. Therapists can also walk through ways to manage anxiety or anger, and give them tangible coping skills.

There is so much incredible counseling work that can be done with this population. Finding the right counselor- one with patience, kindness and knowledge on autism is absolutely critical. Once you find the right fit, the change can be meaningful and help the entire family.

Your Child Said They Wanted To Kill Themselves

I hear this a lot when I first meet with parents and it makes my heart sink each time. As a parent, I am sure you have heard some bizarre things come out of your kids mouth in the middle of a meltdown. Plus, let’s face it, when your kid gets to that level of melt-downing, you are probably not functioning at your best yourself either. It’s those pesky mirror neurons that are making you escalate and blood pressure rise! However, any comment about suicide is serious and it’s important not to ignore something like this.

However, EVEN IF you don’t think you’re kid would ever attempt suicide (maybe they don’t even know what suicide is!), the fact they said they want to kill themself is a big signal to you that something is not right.

It’s always important to take an statement of suicide seriously. Typically, what I see in counseling with the kids is that they needed something that will grab someone’s attention. It’s sort of like they are waving their arms in the air saying “Someone pay attention! I need help!”

That’s okay. In counseling, we can work on ways to tell people they are hurting without making a suicide outcry.

So, here’s the plan:

  1. Take it seriously.It NEVER hurts to follow up on this. It’s not worth the possibility of never seeing your child again. I know this for a fact: When There’s a Will, There’s a Way.
  2. Go to a nearby emergency room.A hospital can evaluate your child to see if they will be able to keep themselves safe. Sometimes, a hospital is the best place for your child. The staff at the hospital are trained to assess if your child is danger to themselves or others. If they think your child needs to be admitted, GREAT! You’re in the right place. People will be able to help and your child can find some relief from the pain. If the hospital says they are safe to come home, GREAT! You can rest easy knowing that did what you needed to do and can focus on next steps.
  3. Find a counselor.The hospital may be able to refer someone to you. It is absolutely critical that you get your kid in counseling after they make a suicide outcry. Even if they were just having a tantrum, they still need to get into counseling. Normal tantrums do not involve suicidal statements.
  4. Talk to people at schoolTeachers, school counselors, principals. Was there any bullying going on that you didn’t know about? Maybe grades have been dropping slowing or there’s too much pressure happening on a certain subject. Maybe your child’s best friend just stopped being their friend? Gather info.
  5. Check their social media.Cyber Bullying is REAL SCARY now. Check to see if anything stands out. Snapchat seems harmless with its sweet puppy dog filters, but it’s actually one of places I see the worst bullying since content disappears immediately.
  6.  Check in with your relationship with your kid.Have you gotten to spend time with them lately? When’s the last time that you actually had a conversation with them, outside of schedules or chores or grades? Relationships can always be improved. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, the smallest moments of attention matter. Try going for a walk or taking them to grocery store with them. One on one time is invaluable.
  7. Find support for yourself.It’s normal to feel hurt or guilty or lost when your child makes a suicidal outcry. You need to talk about it with friends, family or your own counselor and not with your kid. You want your kids to tell you when they are feeling so sad they want to hurt themselves. However, some kids feel pressure to keep their feelings a secret when they are worried about hurting their parents. That is not their responsibility, so don’t put that on them.
  8. Promote communication in your home.Talk with your kid. Know what is going on in their life. Let them know they can trust you and you can help.

Even if you feel they are just saying it for “attention”, it’s important to take it seriously. Something’s going on with your kid. Things are so bad they feel like they have to say something extreme so they will be heard. So let them be heard and find the right support.

Until next time! xoxo Kristen]