A teen’s cry for help
Sometimes parents can’t solve the problem. These are the indicators your teen might need help from outside the family.
Certain thoughts and behaviours show that your teen would benefit from speaking with someone other than his or her parents.

Watch carefully for the extent to which they:
  • Put themselves down and also talk pessimistically about the future and the world in general.
  • Avoid separation from very close peers, with whom they might seem to have an unhealthy attachments.
  • Display a general sense of worrying, apprehensiveness and tension, usually accompanied by physical symptoms.
  • Show specific fears that seem to limit activity and social contacts; these could involve a fear of scrutiny, being the focus of attention, or doing something humiliating.
  • Repeat compulsive behaviours or rituals that reduce anxiety but seem unusual and evoke an intense reaction if you try to stop them.
  • Think obsessively about certain people, events, possibilities. Do they have worries or fears that seem to intrude into a variety of situations and conversations, often inappropriately?
  • Experience extreme panic attacks, feelings of intense terror, trembling; sweating, breathing difficulty, or other strong physical reactions in response to the possibility of some occurrence, such as being in a crowded place, speaking in front of a group, choosing an outfit, seeing certain friends or family member, or potential dates.
  • Suffer from stress reactions, in response to a frightening event or occurrence; (acute reactions should begin to improve within about four weeks of the event).
  • Feel persistent sadness and hopelessness.
  • Withdraw from friends and previously enjoyed activities.
  • Show increased irritability and agitation.
  • Change eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Lack concentration or become forgetful.
  • Have low energy or motivation.
  • Show interest in recurring themes of death or suicide.
  • Indicate overall dissatisfaction with life
  • Feel alienated.
  • Associate with a negative peer group.
If you notice a number of the above symptoms :

  • Don’t minimize your concerns or think all that is needed is reassurance.
  • Be patient with your teenager but not with the situation.
  • Compliment your teenager on his or her strengths.
  • Keep the channels open, especially for support and help.
  • Listen, listen and listen some more.
  • Don’t hesitate to talk to school personnel, the family physician, members of the clergy, or the police if you suspect that your child might harm himself or herself or others (there will be lots of time later to apologize if you acted in error); a lifetime is often not enough to make up for not acting on what turns out to be a valid concern.

If you are concerned about your teen, do not ask them if they want to talk to someone, take them to talk to someone. Never underestimate the power of avoidance. If you think your teen is suffering, it is your responsibility to get help. Don’t assume that your child is “grown up enough” to make his or her own decisions regarding this matter. Of course, your teen may be extremely resistant or hostile, blame you, tell you it’s a waste of money, and so on. Do not be intimidated. Let the professional worry about the teen’s resistance. After all, that’s the professional’s job!

Megan de Beyer has a Masters degree in Psychology. She practised in both Cape Town and Durban and has run many successful parenting workshops at high schools.

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