You know that your teenager needs help – but what do you do if they won’t let you help them? Their mental health may be declining, friendships fracturing, or bad choices adding up. You want to do something, but maybe they’re especially headstrong or in denial about their problem; regardless, they don’t want anything to do with you. This situation can be frustrating and concerning, especially if you worry that they have become a danger to themselves or others. Finding a way to get through to your teen will take patience and persistence, but it is possible. Below are some strategies and tips for helping the teenager that doesn’t want to be helped.
Assess the problem
The first step is noticing something is wrong. There are plenty of warning signs that your teen may be struggling. Warning signs for mental health problems in particular include:
- Acting more withdrawn from friends and family than usual
- Trouble sleeping
- Drastic worsening of grades
- Avoidance of previously enjoyed activities
Or maybe you’ve noticed physical changes in their health or appearance, or have observed them neglecting their personal hygiene. You may even suspect they’ve been stealing alcohol or other off limits substances in your house. In other cases, you may not have noticed any sign but instead been alerted by another concerned party, such as a teacher or friend.
Now that you know your teen is struggling, you need to assess the scope of the problem, as this will inform how you handle it. Is their issue rooted in a mental health emergency, or does it concern relationships? Is this something you feel comfortable discussing yourself, or should you bring in a professional? The answers to these questions will depend on your teen’s specific challenge, but they are an important starting point for action.
Show that you’re there for them
No matter what your teen is going through, it’s important that you vocalize your concern for them. A simple verbal check-in during dinner or before bed will let them know that you’re worried about them and hopefully make them start considering opening up to you. Regardless of whether or not they’re ready to talk, you’ll have shown your teenager that you are paying attention to them and are invested in their well-being. If they’ve been struggling with feelings of isolation, this will hopefully ease their burden. It may also encourage them to get help – if not necessarily for themselves, then to at least put you at ease.
If they are receptive to talking, provide a judgement free space for them to work through their concerns and tell you what’s on their mind. Of course, it’s very likely that they won’t be ready to talk– or not to you at least. Tell your teenager that you are there for them if and when they need you. Some teens may find it easier to communicate by phone or text rather than in person, so be prepared for that possibility as well. Knowing that you are available may encourage them to come to you in their own time. For instance, with issues such as depression, it can be helpful just to know that people are available.
Offer positive encouragement
A struggling teen won’t immediately cheer up because of one conversation you have with them. No matter what they’re facing, your teen likely has a long and difficult road ahead of them. Don’t fret if they are resistant to accepting your help at first, and don’t bully or guilt them into it either. This could have the unintended opposite effect of driving them away, further isolating them in a time of need. Instead, try to offer positive encouragement. They’re already struggling, and can take all of the positivity they can get. Even if you don’t see an immediate reaction, keep at it and make sure to remind them of all the reasons you value them. Run through their positive qualities to make them feel better about themselves and let them know that there is no shame in seeking help. They may feel embarrassed to discuss their problem, or worry about any stigma associated with it (especially if it is related to a mental illness). For this reason, it is critical that you continuously emphasize the fact that asking for help takes courage and is not a form of weakness. By being a source of positivity in their life and celebrating their bravery, you can help give your teen the strength to come forward and ask for help.
Build a support system
Having a reliable support system will be very important not only for your teen, but for you as well. They’ll need a vast network of friends, family, and professionals to rely on, and you will benefit from this as well. Many hands make for light work, and you’ll both appreciate having a diversity of perspectives and approaches to rely on. Getting friends and family to reach out will let your teen know how many people care about them, and will give them a number of different outlets to choose from when they want to talk.
Others, friends especially, may have more luck getting through to your teen than you will, especially if your teen is anxious about your reaction. Try to connect with one of their friends if possible, and approach them not from a position of authority but from a place of concern. If you know some of their best friends well, consider reaching out to them and asking if they would be comfortable helping you get your teen the help they need. More likely than not, they’ve noticed the behavioral changes as well and are equally concerned. As peers, your teen’s friends may be able to get through to them better and encourage them to get the treatment that they need. Don’t try to stage an intervention unless things have seriously escalated and you see no other option, and make sure to have professional help if you choose this route. An ill-conceived intervention may feel like an attack to your teenager, and they may end up feeling more isolated instead of supported. No matter what, make sure to involve loved ones both you and your teen value and trust.
Now that you have some understanding of what your teenager is struggling with and have rallied a support system, it’s time to pull together a variety of resources to offer them. By doing this, you’ll save them the effort of having to find help on their own, and make it that much easier for them to take the first step on the path to recovery. Some resources you may want to consider compiling include:
- Individual Therapists Seeking professional help is incredibly important in serious situations. Research and compile a list of well-reviewed local therapists who specialize in what your teen is struggling with. This will help make their decision to seek therapy much easier. Additionally, check to make sure the therapists you find accept the insurance your teen is covered by (like linked to your insurance); if uninsured, there are free or low-cost options as well. Again, taking out this complicated step will make the process easier and less daunting for your teen
- Family Therapists Your teenager may not want to see a therapist alone – the idea may seem too overwhelming or foreign to them. Suggesting family therapy could be a way around this. Family therapy isn’t just about helping them, but also helping you. If your teenager is struggling with addiction or depression, it could be affecting your mental health too. On top of this, you may struggle or have struggled with similar issues and your teen may be genetically predisposed to certain mental (or physical) illnesses. By going to therapy with them, you will also show them with your actions that you believe in the usefulness of therapy and see no shame in it.
- Local support groups In addition to formal therapy options, put together a list of local support groups for your teen to consider. For example, locating information on local AA groups would be helpful for a teen struggling with alcoholism.
- School resources Check out the resources offered at your teen’s school, including guidance counseling. If you know your teen has a strong connection with a particular teacher, coach, counselor, or other staff or faculty member, make sure to include their information on your list of resources and encourage your teen to talk to them about any problems they feel comfortable discussing. If their problem originates at school, this resource becomes even more valuable.
- Educational materials Putting together a list of scholarly articles, books, and blogs for your teen to peruse will imbue them with a better understanding of their situation. These materials can help answer many of the questions your teen has been struggling with, and let them know that their pain is both valid and manageable.
Don’t give up
Finally, never give up on them. As a parent, you want to see your kid happy, healthy, and loved. As exhausting as it may be trying to get through to them when they’re struggling, it’s important to keep these goals in mind and not give up. Consistent, respectful nudges to seek help will show that you’re not going away and that you care about them. No matter how you help them, make sure to always remind them that they are loved, supported, and cared for. Your experience with treatment will have its ups and downs, but while the road may be winding, keep the end goal in sight and you’ll reach it together.