When Teenagers Have Special Needs

I have recently written about the normal ages and stages of the adolescent years. (See past posts for details on individual ages and stages.) Truly, familiarity with these significant developmental processes provides comfort for teens, their parents, and those who are caregivers.

Latino Mom and Daughter
Does your teen need special help?

However, teens will also face a host of life circumstances that further complicate their developmental dilemmas:

  • learning disabilities
  • a choice to use drugs or befriend those who do
  • mental health issues
  • abuse or neglect
  • violence
  • rebellion and delinquency
  • family-dysfunction
  • traumas
    Teen with parents
    Teens face relentless challenges

These additional factors escalate the affect on the normal developmental processes and can create a higher risk for behaviors that may be extreme or even dangerous.

We know that adolescents tend to be impulsive, egocentric and immature.  Their development may take years. When we add any of the factors above to their lives, we can see a need for additional support.

Parents can feel guilt

Parents can sometimes feel powerless to help their teenagers. As a result, parents can develop a sense of guilt and a perception that they are inadequate as parents. However, as we understand that it is the job of teenagers to become independent–or shall we say, less dependent on their parents–it is critical to recognize that parents’ feelings may imply the need for outside help.

Many parents who encounter such compounding issues as those named above may feel extremely fearful and even panic-ridden because they are “losing their teenager!”  Indeed, surviving the teenage years can be challenging, and knowing where to turn for resources is helpful in order to direct the momentum towards positive change.

I think it is most valuable for parents to realize that they do not need to handle these circumstances alone.

Further, I am troubled that parents’ fear, embarrassment, confusion, or not wanting to impose, may prevent them from asking for the help they need at a pivotal time in the life of their teenager.

Don’t ignore the need for help

  • Not getting needed help may present a huge risk with potential life-altering consequences.

It is critical that parents get the help they and their teenager need.

I often ask fearful parents: among the key people in their teenager’s life, whom would they trust to act as a mentor? A mentor could be a family friend, youth pastor, relative or teacher.  Most are willing to mentor when they know there is a problem.

It is vital that the teen and mentor have had a good relationship over time and that there is a genuine trust in that relationship. Often, teenagers know they need help, and giving them choices about whom they will talk to is helpful.

How to find a qualified professional

When the need for professional help arises, I recommend, naturally, that the person be professionally qualified, but also expert in building a relationship with your teenager as well as someone who definitely listens well. Usually finding the right person takes time.

reaching out
Don’t risk consequences; find help for your teen

Other qualifications of the professional include:

  1. knowledge and understanding of the needs, ages and stages of adolescence,
  2. capacity to be non-judgmental
  3. have an ability to help your teenager self-discover
  4. be safe for them to communicate with

Sometimes the search takes longer than anticipated, but don’t give up. The goal is to provide a way for your teenager to turn obstacles in their lives into opportunities.

They are worth it!

Gerry Vassar, President & CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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