News reports of school shootings and young people committing suicide are on the rise. Parents and experts seek understanding on what could push a teen to commit such acts. Answers remain elusive.
When a teen starts to bully classmates, is disruptive in class, destroys property and otherwise engages in problem behavior, the young person is acting out and their cry for help is obvious. Their alarming externalizing behavior is outward, negatively affecting others and typically will become the focus of parents, teachers and law enforcement. Does this mean that a well-behaved teen isn’t experiencing the same difficulties that causes a more delinquent adolescent to behave badly?
Teens don’t always express themselves in obviously antisocial ways. While some may cope with problems by bucking authority at school, another may choose internalizing behaviors—negative actions that are directed inward and typically only harmful to themselves. These can include drug use, cutting or eating disorders.
Experts classify externalizing behaviors as a problem in self-regulation, but internalized behaviors are considered as overcontrolled. They are more socially accepted than the aggression shown by a “problem child” and often go unnoticed. Both, however, are related to depression, anxiety and can even coexist. For this reason, it is important not only to focus attention on a delinquent child. Pay attention to other signs that something could be wrong even with a young person that is well-behaved or a model student.
If your teen becomes increasingly withdrawn, starts to gain or lose excessive amounts of weight within a short period of time, or if they start to complain of other health issues that have no medical explanation, ask questions and seek professional help to find out why. These may indicate more serious emotional and behavior concerns that need to be addressed.
The only way to help your child is to get to the root of the problem. If your teen is being bullied by other students or if they have learning difficulties, these could cause distress. Other problems such as physical or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one or a divorce could be the cause for a teen to cope in ways that are harmful.
The anxiety, depression and internalizing behavior your teen presents require expert help. Do not minimize your teens experiences, dismiss what they are doing as a passing phase or call them “crazy”. This will only aggravate the problem.
Their symptoms and behaviors may be complex and require multiple forms of intervention. To address this, assemble a care team to support you and your child. This team should include teachers, school counselors, a primary care physician, therapists or other specialists and treatment centers. Together, you and this team can uncover what’s bothering your child while addressing their educational needs and health concerns like addiction, eating disorders, or suicidal tendencies.
A well-rounded treatment approach may take time, but it can greatly improve your child’s quality of life, giving them the best chance at recovery. Give your teen a fighting chance at surviving a time in their lives when they are naturally experiencing change and uncertainly but also having very real problems that complicate this experience. If you suspect your child needs help, please get in touch.