If your teen is overwhelmed and anxious, it’s hard to watch as a parent. It makes you worry and feel concerned. You might start to wonder if you should have them see a therapist. It’s often hard for parents to know when anxiety is consistent enough, and severe enough to warrant therapy.
Here’s some things to look out for that might help you know when it’s time to call a counselor:
1. Your teenager says they are struggling to get rid of their anxiety. If they are anxious about a very specific, time-limited situation such as an exam, that’s one thing. However, if your teenager is worried about something very long-term such as school in general, then they are struggling to control their anxiety. In that case, calling a counselor is a great idea.
2. Your teenager is having trouble sleeping because of stress. If your son or daughter tells you they can’t fall asleep, or can’t stay asleep because their mind won’t stop spinning, there are a couple things you can try with them. Have them write down a list of worries, and a 1-sentence plan for each concern before bed. Sometimes this helps people let things go enough to sleep. They can also try prayer, meditation, or reading before bed. All these things are distracting and calming. If your teenager feels completely overwhelmed at night though, and can’t seem to figure out how to stop it, it’s probably time to call a counselor.
3. Your teenager is having panic attacks. Panic attacks are caused by a completely overwhelming sense of anxiety that is so severe it manifests as physical symptoms. The heart races, there can be tightness in the chest, a shortness of breath, sweating and hot flashes, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. This almost always requires the assistance of a therapist. Often panic disorder also requires the help of a psychiatrist (medication).
4. Your teenager is extremely uncomfortable in social situations. Your teen analyzes everything they said to someone to make sure it didn’t come across as strange. They feel really nervous around their peers. They wish they had more friends, but can’t calm down enough to be themselves. Their mind freezes and they almost can’t remember how to talk in front of other teenagers. Social anxiety is upsetting and debilitating for a teenager. It’s very important for their psychological development to get them help in this case.
5. This one will seem obvious, but when your teen asks for help. A lot of parents don’t take their adolescents seriously when they ask for counseling. They assume it’s just a phase, and maybe they want to try it because their friends do it too. While that is sometimes true, most of the time teenagers ask for help when they feel desperate. Perhaps your son or daughter has dealt with anxiety for awhile, and finally has the nerve to let you know.
Parenting is so hard sometimes. We all wish it came with a clear-cut instruction manual. I know I do! Instead we’re left constantly shifting and adjusting to the different personalities our children have, and the changing phases they go through. Parenting is more like a dance or an art than an exact science. There’s no one size fits all answer to most parenting questions, and when to get your child therapy is one of those questions. At the very least feel free to call and we can talk it over. Asking is always free.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT