Distinctives treating older teenagers
Older teenagers are characterized by their growing independence. Family bonds are tested as older teens depend far less on their parents for their needs. Power struggles are also common as older teenagers assert their own personal values and longer-term goals. Older teens, while significantly improving from the early teen years, continue to have a tendency to take unnecessary risks and often have trouble seeing issues from the perspective of others. A number of psychological problems can also emerge at this age including addictions, problems in dating relationships, and a number of psychological disorders–all adding anxiety about launching into adulthood.
Reasons for seeking treatment
- Maturing diagnoses: bipolar, depression, OCD, personality disorders. etc.
- Drug use and abuse
- Sexual experimentation
- Problems in dating and relationships
- “Launching” into adulthood
- Anxiety about upcoming transitions into adulthood
- Legal problems
- Suicide risk and self-harm
- Academic challenges
- Increased power struggles with parents
- Process addictions: eating disorders, excessive video gaming
- Emerging sexual orientation
- Religious and faith concerns
Demands on parenting older teenagers
Parents often struggle with their teen’s growing independence, feeling the tension of extending freedom vs. providing needed guidance. From driving, to jobs and spending money, to dating, to college applications, teens exercise and practice independence in anticipation of moving on. Parents’ concerns about how well their teen launches into adulthood can drive parents to get more involved in these later teen years, often resulting in increased tension with their son or daughter.
The stress on parents increases when teen problems go big, such as: problems with addictions, concerns about suicide or self-harm, rejection of a parent, refusal to go along with visitation agreements, legal problems, unhealthy or destructive dating relationships, running away, and violence in the home. Counseling support for both parents and teens can be extremely helpful when the stakes get high.
How we work with older teenagers and their families
Big changes are on the horizon for older teens which means therapy looks different as well. At 18, teens have full confidentiality rights, which means their privacy is fully protected by law. The good news is that increased privacy often results in more honest sharing. We also emphasize personal responsibility, a trait that will be crucial as teenagers move toward adulthood. We invite older teens to compare current lifestyle choices with future educational and professional goals. However, parents are not out of the picture. We encourage older teens to involve their parents in therapy when it seems best. We also help parents of this age navigate the the process of letting go of their once completely dependent child, transitioning to partner and supporter.