When to step in, when to let go, when to worry, when not to say anything at all — adolescence is an enormous challenge for parents. Even kids who were easy toddlers and good-natured grade schoolers can seem remarkably different — and incredibly challenging — by 12 or 13. Sometimes earlier.
How does therapy with teens work?
Individual psychotherapy with adolescents — especially older teens — is much like psychotherapy with adults. After an initial session or two with parents, teens will usually come to psychotherapy sessions on their own, focusing on their own struggles and problems, their relationships and dreams. Therapy can help your teen learn to regulate moods, become more flexible and resilient, and develop healthy ways to deal with stress. While respecting the teen’s privacy, and in careful agreement with a teen about what is to be shared, I will generally provide feedback to parents about the progress being made, and meet with the parents from time to time.
Other times, the entire family will come to therapy sessions. When each family member feels heard and accepted, change can take place and healthier connections are formed. Our goal is for the family to be a safe place from which to reach out and explore the world, and a haven to return to for warmth and support. Families of younger children are used to holding them closely, and it sometimes comes as a shock when teens start preferring the company of their friends. Challenges can occur as older kids and parents negotiate the moving boundaries of independence and protection along the child’s journey to become a young adult.
Communication difficulties can bring families to therapy – when every conversation turns into an argument, and any warmth or nurturing has faded away. Often, an unfortunate cycle starts: every comment from the parent feels like nagging to the teen, and the teen responds with eye-rolling or an angry, sarcastic response. You’re no longer giving a little shoulder-squeeze as you walk by – and your child no longer laughs with you or tells you about her day. Without the warm give-and-take, parent and child both get “stuck.” Kids conclude their parents don’t care; parents become hurt and frustrated and give up.
In situations like these, therapy can help get things get “unstuck” and help parents and kids start talking again.