I love working with teenagers. Those years are some of the most fertile for personal growth and development that we experience in our lifetimes. From the age of 13 to 19 we are constantly learning – learning facts/numbers/words, learning about the world, and learning about ourselves. While we never stop learning through life, our job for this period of time is literally to learn!
When I get to work with teenagers, it reminds me of when I was going through that time. It felt kind of like seeing the sunrise. As its rays shone down on the world around me, I could see it there and think and plan about where I might go next.
Along with the joys of newness and knowledge, adolescence carries a burden as well. Adolescence is a time of change. This is a time of looking around and seeing these changes happening in yourself and in your friends as well. For many, the rate of these changes can cause stress and internal self-doubt if a person feels changes coming on too slow/too fast, not enough/too much.
While we learn facts in adolescence, we also learn about the processes going on around us. How one feels about these processes can cause teenagers to live with more anxiety or even depression. Seeing that your family isn’t perfect, or maybe comparing to your best friend’s family who appears (but really isn’t) perfect, can be a growing stress on the individual. Seeing that forces are playing out in the world that you have no control over can be disheartening.
However, there is hope in dealing with the anxiety and depression that arises from the existential thoughts that develop in teenage years! Learning at a young age how to handle these fears and stressors sets teenagers up to develop healthy attitudes and coping behaviors for when these things arise later in life. Further, there will become a developed optimism in knowing that they can handle these things, since they have and come out better on the other side already!
If you’ve found yourself reading this, there’s a good chance you have a teenager in your family who is going through a rough patch. Getting them help will be beneficial not only to them but to your whole family! We often talk about families as a system.
In the beginning of my graduate studies we did a big group exercise that really illustrated this concept. All 30 or so of my classmates held a rope together and stood in a circle. If one person were to suddenly lean back and tug the rope, we would all feel it. The action of one individual affected the entire group.
Now imagine rather than holding a loop of rope, it was more like an entangled web of ropes. Even more so, then, will individual change affect the family! This has the potential to happen in both good and bad directions. So if your teenager is struggling, it is going to impact you as well. But at the same time, any positive change they experience will benefit you, too!
How Counseling for Teens Will Benefit the Whole Family
Let me go deeper into how counseling for teens can help the whole family at various levels.
1. It will improve the life of your teenager
This one is probably the most obvious, but what your teenager is going through will definitely see some improvement through counseling. Having a place to talk and feel free of judgement can be an incredibly liberating feeling for adolescents.
Living in a world where there is so much expectation to perform and then present their life for all to see via social media and classroom participation can really weigh you down. The couch in my office is often a sort of refuge where they can just let their guard down and be who they really want to be without fear of judgment or repercussions, even if just for an hour a week.
Much research has shown that therapy is effective. It gives individuals a place to process underlying thought processes and emotions. For teenagers in particular, I’ve found it’s a great place for them to process their thoughts about the world as they are every day learning new things and having to make sense of them.
With their friends or family, they may feel a need to express a certain belief or align to a way of thinking, but having a blank slate that allows them to process what they believe and think allows them to engage those conversations in the real world even more effectively.
Even when not so existential, therapy and counseling offers teenagers a place of rest where for an hour they don’t have the expectations of school, work, family, friends, society, sports, tutoring, clubs, hobbies and anything else on them. “Kids these days” are so busy! Slowing down for an hour every week can do wonders to help recharge their batteries and engage in the fast pace of the modern world.
2. Counseling for teenagers will improve the life of their parents
If you are a parent of a teenager reading this, they have stressed you out at some point. Probably some point this week. Some point today? Good chance. How did they manage to do that? Chances are there were some unmet expectations. Maybe the two of you blew up in an argument and they said something hurtful, or maybe even you did, too. Well here’s the good news – it’s perfectly normal. Even better, counseling for them can help you out as well!
As we mentioned before, teenagers are spiraling through changes and growth, and this can become an overwhelming experience. Often talking to parents about these things can feel stressful or unsafe for them. Then on your end, you might be feeling stressed out and at a loss as well. How much better, then, can you feel if they felt they had the capacity to actually talk to you!
It might be somewhat counterintuitive, but they might need some time talking to someone else to learn how to talk to you. They are somewhere between a child and an adult now, and we as a society really don’t have great scripts for how conversations between parents and their children should go.
Now remember that web analogy? Well, growth in one person will definitely help others, but even more powerful is working on strengthening those relationships together. Your teenager might need some time to feel safe working with a counselor, but once trust is established there it can create a great opportunity to have good conversations with a sort of mediator present. By coming into therapy in the form of family counseling, you set yourselves up for a much healthier future built on trust, respect, and newfound skills in communication.
How much time do you spend worrying about your teenager? A lot? Well imagine if you had most of it back (I say most because I do have the radical belief that a certain amount of worry for your child is healthy)! You can take that time and then pour it back into yourself, your hobbies, and your own relationships.
Once your teenagers learn to care for themselves, you gain the capacity to again work on your own self-care. This allows you to better work with your teenager too, then buying yourself even more time, and on and on it goes. This new positive feedback loop can drastically improve your life as well as theirs.
3. Counseling for teenagers will improve the lives of their siblings (and their friends)
Whatever stressors your teenager is experiencing, if they have siblings, chances are they are taking it out on them as well. I often like to talk about stress and anxiety as a sort of cup. Everyone’s cup is a different size and has a different capacity.
Things like school, relationships, depression, and anxiety fill that cup up. When the cup overflows, that’s when less than ideal things begin to happen. You might snap at a friend, have a panic attack, or the anxiety just feels too overwhelming.
For teenagers, they are often living at near capacity in their cups. Often the first person to feel the overflow is their siblings. This might look like a brother punching his younger brother, a sister saying some very hurtful words to her siblings, or really any sort of behavioral problem. By coming into counseling, we can work on this problem from two directions.
First, we can help empty the cup a bit. Getting some of the stress down by talking about it will help them have room to deal with new stresses as they come in, and thereby they will be less likely to take it out on their siblings.
Second, we start to build up the walls of their cup. By learning new coping skills and ways to handle stress, teenagers can become more resilient over time and increase their capability to handle what life throws at them. Finally, we start to build a whole new cup – one that we want to be full.
This cup is their self-esteem and self-image. The fuller this cup is, the less likely they will be to lash out when stress comes in as well. They will be able to fall back on past experiences and know that they have the internal reserves to be able to handle whatever life throws at them.
4. Counseling for your teenager will help improve the future of his or her relationships
Finally, if you have noticed a rift in your relationship, counseling for your teenager can be a great way to mend that break. Specifically through family counseling, working with you and your child can help to set up a long term healthy relationship between you and your child.
For whatever reason, once things begin to go downhill it can be difficult to mend those relationships on your own, but with a counselor in the room to act as a sort of mediator, this process can be made much smoother. Teenagers and their parents both often just want to be heard, but have a hard time conveying that they are listening themselves.
Even when listening is happening, I or another counselor can help your family to learn to communicate more effectively. Once these lines of communication are established, it becomes much easier to foster a heathy relationship that will last into adulthood. Even further, this will help teenagers to learn healthy ways of relating that they will carry into their own adult romantic relationships.
So, if you are feeling like counseling for your teenager might be effective, don’t hesitate to get them set up now! It will benefit them as well as the entire family. By lowering the overall stress in your family system, you will quickly buy up more time and capacity to be doing the things you’d rather be doing as a family instead of fighting all the time. Just by working with your teenager much growth can happen, and then even more so can family counseling with everyone involved will improve the life of your whole family!
“One big, happy family,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Rope,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Facing change,” courtesy of Suleman Mukhtar, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Cup of water,” courtesy of Meir Roth, pexels.com, CC0 License