Growing up in today’s society can be difficult enough as it is, but it’s especially difficult for young children and teenagers thanks to idealizations of what it means to be “perfect” as seen on TV shows (i.e. reality shows) and in the media (such as magazine covers.) Then there’s also the issue of peer pressure. During high school (and sometimes even earlier), it’s not uncommon for teenagers to experiment with things like tobacco use, marijuana and alcohol, leaving their peers feeling as if they have no choice by to try these things in order to fit in and be liked. Aside from this peer pressure and the constant need of feeling as though they have to be perfect, children and teens are also more susceptible to issues with mental health, such as depression and anxiety. One of the first signs that your child may be experiencing a mental health problem is if they are having emotional or behavioural problems. For example, they may spend more time sleeping, they may want to avoid certain places (such as school) and become more isolated and withdrawn in general, or they may also have sudden outbursts of anger – which could lead to potential violence, in addition to crying more often as well as having thoughts of fear, shame, and hopelessness.
While some individuals, such as friends or family, may tell you that it’s just a “phase” that your child is going through and that they’ll “grow out of it,” it’s better not to heed this kind of advice and instead take action upon noticing any unusual behavioural changes. The longer you wait, the higher the risk is that your child will develop other problems, such as eating disorders, severe depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, as well as suicidal ideations and cutting. This is dangerous behaviour that may be a child’s way of letting you know they’re hurting without telling you directly. This type of behaviour can be caused by trauma, frustration, and even undiagnosed disorders (such as learning disorders.) Other signs that something may be wrong also include persistent worrying, a drop in grades at school, inability to concentrate or sit still, hearing voices, and dieting excessively. When a child experiences any changes in their behaviour such as these, this can not only cause a disruption to their own lives, but cause a disruption to family life, too, and have a significant impact on parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, which is why it’s so crucial to seek out help as early as possible. The earlier you get help, the better chances you have at not only finding out what the underlying cause might be to your child’s actions (if there is any underlying cause) and what steps you need to take in order to rectify that.
For families that are going through difficult times with parenting, I recommend counselling – both as a whole family unit, but also allowing your child to have their own one-on-one time with a therapist. Children will sometimes feel more comfortable bringing up issues to strangers before they do their own families, so giving them that opportunity can allow them to feel more relaxed in discussing the things that might be bothering them. For teenagers, a therapist will tend to prefer to speak to a child and use what’s known as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) as part of their treatment plan; while younger children will often be asked to explain how they’re feeling through artwork and other methods. In some cases, a child will need to be treated by a psychiatrist as they may also require medication.