Ask a Therapist: "How can I reach my teenager?"

Ask a Therapist: "How can I reach my teenager?"

By Dr. Courtney Klein

Surprised by your changing teen?

As a parent of a teenager, it can sometimes feel as if you woke up one day and could no longer understand your child. It might even seem like they're speaking a whole different language. They suddenly have dramatic reactions to things that used to not affect them at all, and the way you have approached them for all of these years isn't working an even leads to arguments that feel like they came out of nowhere!

You are not alone. This is actually a common experience for many parents of teenagers, and it is important to understand and manage these patterns as soon as you notice them so that they do not escalate. It is normal for teenagers to assert themselves more, and to test the boundaries you have set. Figuring out how to respond to your teen in a way that respects their continuing development as an individual while still enforcing expectations can be tough. Working with a therapist who understands teen and young adult development can be a huge help.

Three options for therapists working with parents and teens:

1) Parent Coaching-
Having someone to help translate your teen's mystifying behaviors, and give you tools for how to approach them differently can help tremendously. A therapist who excels at parent coaching knows how to help you develop better ways to communicate with you son or daughter and improve the quality of your relationship so that you can start to enjoy your time together again.

2) Individual Therapy for your Teen-
A therapist with expertise in working with teenagers can meet one-on-one with your teen to provide an outlet for his or her stress and help your teen learn new ways to cope with difficult emotions, think through tough decisions, and express important emotions in a constructive manner. In this approach, your teen would typically have a high degree of privacy regarding what they are talking about with their therapist. Parents are of course involved if there are any health or safety concerns.

In can be helpful for your teen to have a place outside of their immediate family to talk through the intense emotions and social complexity they are facing. Part of developing into a young adult is growing an independent identity, and it is normal to reach out to people outside of the family for advice at this age.

A therapist can be a safe and healthy option for your teen to turn to with difficult decisions, often tempering the advice they are getting from peers with encouragement to make choices that promote good mental and physical health.

3) Family Therapy for You and your Teen-
A therapist can be a code breaker and an interpreter for you and your teen, giving you both validation for how confusing and frustrating the relationship can sometimes be, and providing impartial empathic support and tools to you both. In family therapy, the focus is on helping the entire family system to become more healthy and allow each member of the family to grow. Family therapy can focus on learning healthy communication skills, resolving frequent conflicts, and building better tools for managing this complex time of your lives.

No matter which approach you choose, reaching out for help is a wonderful investment in your child and in the health of your future relationship with each other. 

No major diagnosis of a mental health problem is necessary or even likely for people who seek out any of these above options. Improved communication, understanding feelings and roles, and increased self-awareness can go a long way to make life a lot more enjoyable for you and your teen now and in the future.

-Dr Courtney Klein is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at The Catalyst Center. She excels at helping parents and their teenagers or young adults communicate more effectively and grow a healthy parent-child relationship into adulthood.

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