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It Would be Nice if Teenagers Just Asked for Help; But They Don't

I know that teenagers can be extremely frustrating and confusing. They are complicated creatures, they just act and then we, as adults, are left to try to interpret the behaviors while also trying to pick up the pieces. Teenagers often cry for help in dangerous and destructive ways that can come with heavy consequences. This is frustrating for parents who often get caught up in the gravity of these consequences. Adults want them to put two and two together and make better choices but this just isn’t how many teens are wired.

Imagine that you are sitting in the living room watching TV or maybe you are reading a book; whatever it is that you like to do to wind down. Your teenager, whatever age they might be, comes and sits down next to you and asks to talk. When they have your attention they verbally say something like “Mom/dad, I realized lately that I feel like acting out more because I feel angry but I also know that my anger is really just hiding the hurt that came from certain people at school being mean to me. I’m having trouble dealing with these emotions in an appropriate way, can you help do that?”

First of all, you’d probably give them that look and wonder when a space alien was swapped out for your child. Second, you may not even know exactly how to respond to this. What would you tell them? But the bottom line here is that teenagers don’t outright ask for help. They don’t talk this. But don’t be fooled, they actually do ask for help.

In all my years of experience, I’ve learned to let a teenagers behavior do the talking for them. Let me be very specific. Their behavior isn’t just their choices and actions. It’s their demonstration of emotion through body language and facial expressions. Learning to decipher a teens behavior has a lot to do with reading between the lines. But all of this is so complicated because one of the biggest problems is that teenagers don’t really know what is going on with them either. Which is also why I have learned to really take the lead when I’m working with a teen. I assume that I know more about what’s going on with them than they do and I’m usually right. As they grow and develop, they are discovering new country, almost each and everyday.

I have also learned that many behaviors are a plea for help, which is what I wanted to address specifically in this article. Sometimes I will hear parents say that they think that something might be a cry for help. If you think that something they have done is a cry for help, it probably is. If you think they might be crying out for help, they probably are.

In my experience, this can start kind of small. It might come in the form of bad grades, breaking rules like curfew. They may start swearing or acting belligerent. If and when they don’t get the type of attention or help that they are seeking, their cries for help usually escalates. Remember, they don’t necessarily know what is bothering them and they don’t necessarily know what will help them feel better. Eventually, their behavior can escalate until it is both extreme and high risk. They might run away, get involved with drugs or crime, they may cut themselves or they may attempt suicide.

The important thing here is to head it off early. I’ve seen too many people that wait till their teen is in crisis before they seek help. Parents often don’t have a good idea on what to say or what to do. I promise you that your reaction to a situation or problem can and will have a drastic affect on the outcome. Most parents aren’t accustomed to taking an honest look at what problems are lying under the surface. If their child comes home with bad grades they usually take that at face value and are quick to label it as being lazy or something else when maybe there’s an underlying issue. Are bad grades a problem or are they a symptom? I would argue that too many parents are too concerned about school grades but that’s an entirely different topic. For now, ask yourself, if my teen was crying out for help by acting out, would I catch it? I want to emphasize again that teens don’t do this deliberately, they don’t understand themselves. They are often just as perplexed at their own behavior as you are.

If you need help deciphering teen behaviors, get help from the experts. I can help you determine the nature and severity of problems and help you create working solutions.


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