When to Seek Help
(by Lisa Boesky)
When does a parent know that the situation is out of their control and they need to seek outside help for their child? If you notice changes in and of the following areas, seek the advice of a physician and/or therapist/counselor to further determine if you child needs intervention.
Persistently sad and/or hopeless
Cries suddenly and often
Regular extremely angry outbursts that seem like an overreaction
Phobias or fears that seem exaggerated
Child states he or she feels "controlled" by bad thoughts
Excessive worry or anxiety
Bizarre behavior (temper tantrums; rambling speech; paranoid)
School performance declines dramatically
No longer interested in activities child once enjoyed
Isolates him or herself; avoids friends and family
Changes peer group and avoids introducing new friends to family
Significant change in how they express themselves (more agitated than usual; more depressed than usual; confused speech; unreasonable)
Destructive toward self, others, or property
Dramatic changes in appearance (clothing, body piercing, tattoos) accompanied by changes in behavior
Change in level of hygiene (no longer cares about appearance)
Where to Seek Help
Your child's school may offer counseling services, or may be able to recommend a therapist to help your child handle the stresses of adolescence. First talk to your child and try to find out how they feel and what issues they are facing. Let them know you support and love them, but that you feel the situation warrants seeking professional advice and counseling. Your child may be resistant at first, but then may find relief in having a neutral third-party person with which to discuss their concerns, fears, and struggles. Expect a certain amount of resistance, and don't let it prevent you from following your instincts and intervening if you feel this is in your child's best interests.
Sign: Mood Changes
"My daughter was a pretty happy kid up until ninth grade. Then she started to become very moody. I'm not talking about run of the mill moodiness due to hormones or just growing up, but bizarre changes. She's be laughing one minute, screaming the next, crying a minute later. It sometimes felt like a scene from The Exorcist."
Any adult remembers what it is like to be a teenager - teens often feel overwhelmed by the changes they are going through and high school is often a high-pressured place where popularity and peer pressure compete with academic goals and positive life styles. Many mood changes are normal during adolescence. However, if you think these mood changes are impacting your teen's ability to function normally, it's time to look more deeply at the issues your child might be facing.
It is important to rule out any other issues, such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or undiagnosed learning difficulties that are undermining your child's self-esteem and self-confidence.
If you suspect drugs and alcohol are part of the mood equation, step in immediately. Parents who set strict rules and require their teens to abide by these rules or face consequences fare much better than parents who avoid these problems and hope the child just "grows out of it."
Never ignore violent mood swings. Teens who have undiagnosed clinical depression or other psychiatric illnesses are at risk for self-harm and even suicide.
Some teens with undiagnosed depression or bipolar disorder actually use alcohol and illegal drugs to take the edge off their mood disorder - they are essentially self-medicating, more reason to get professional answers if you are concerned about your teen's mood."Adolescents are particularly at risk of adverse reactions from hallucinogen use as they enter puberty, a time of rapid physical and emotional changes. Hallucinogens are particularly dangerous because the effects are so unpredictable. They can cause violent behavior in some and suicidal tendencies in others. As memory, perception, and judgment are clouded under the influence, users are at risk of severe injuries, overdose, and death from drowning, burns, falls, and car accidents. Sometimes, hallucinogen use can uncover severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or severe depression." Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
Sign: Change in Sleeping Habits
"My daughter sleeps 12 hours a night. Then she looks like a walking zombie for at least the first couple of hours she is up. I have to drag her out of bed in the morning to make her go to school. She sleeps in the afternoon when she comes home, sometimes right through the night. Is she depressed? She says she's fine and that she just needs a lot of sleep."
Teens do tend to need more sleep. Sudden growth spurts and hormonal changes can increase their need for sleep. However, if these changes seem extreme and have odd patterns (e.g., after Saturday night parties they need to sleep until 2 pm the next day), look more closely at the issue. Sleeping through school hours is another sign that there is a larger problem. If your child is sleeping instead of going to school or spending time with family and friends, depression can also be a possible issue.
If your teen cannot sleep and seems oddly "up" all the time, this can be a sign of stimulant abuse. Be sure to rule out bipolar disorders if you see no other signs of drug use.
"Steve doesn't seem to enjoy anything. He's not rude or hostile, he just doesn't react. His favorite word these days is 'whatever.' He sleeps too much. And he turns his friends down for parties all the time. I'm worried how much time he spends alone these days."
If your child is using drugs that suppress serotonin or other neurotransmitters, depression can often result. First rule out clinical depression due to other causes. If your child's doctor can find no endogenous cause for the depression, look closer at your teen's behavior and activities and note if there are other signs pointing to drug use.
"I've always considered myself a bit of worry wort, but it's nothing like how much my daughter worries. She literally shakes when she goes into a store with me, as if she is afraid of being there. She constantly talks on and on about how she is going to fail tests. She is a smart girl and used to be very confident. Now she seems like ball of nervous energy."
First you will need to rule out any endogenous cause for this anxiety - a clinical professional or physician can examine your teen to make sure their isn't an underlying cause. If your child is developing social phobias, it is important to seek professional help.
Some drugs can make teens more anxious - even withdrawal can make them seem more jumpy or even paranoid. Sometimes drugs make teens withdraw from the world around them. When they are forced into public situations, they may feel uncomfortable, anxious, and even paranoid. Remember to look at the signs of drug use as a group of signs - one isolated sign is not necessarily indicative of a problem.