Updated on October 27, 2020
You see your teen react with anger and violence, and you wonder, “why won’t my teen ask for help?” Why do teens take the hard path instead of reaching out to the support system that cares so much about them and just ask for help? Every day in the US, there are thousands of families being pulled apart because of how their teens are acting out. When your teen is making harmful life choices, it is hard to know how to help.
When things get really difficult, how do you rebuild the communication bridge with your child to span the chasm?
In order to talk to your teen, it’s important to understand what they are going through. Teens often make bad choices, but if you are concerned about it being deeper than normal teen rebellion and attitude, it may be time to seek more intensive help.
The Adult World Isn’t Really for Teens
This one is a hard truth—our world just isn’t really right for teens. The teen years feel out of place because they are no longer little children that need constant supervision and support, but they aren’t yet filling roles of responsible adults.
Young people often feel rudderless and without purpose. While we might think of this as freedom, they just feel locked out. While we feel like the world is open for them, they feel like the world is demanding things from them.
When teens begin to struggle with behavior problems, the parent world gets complicated and solutions rarely take into account the teens feelings and emotional state. Troubled Teens that consider asking for help are afraid it might just get them in more trouble. Asking for help is hard, it feels uncomfortable and it takes courage. At this stage, teens believe if they reach out to an adult, their parents will overreact and they won’t have any control over how things go down.
How Do I Encourage My Teen to Ask For Help
During the middle school and high school years, most teenagers believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. In a world of social media, peer pressure and feeling misunderstood they fear the stigma more than the consequences of continuing down their destructive path.
There is a stigma to admitting you have a problem and there is a fear of asking for help or seeking professional counsel. A troubled teen that struggles with feeling a draw to drugs and alcohol doesn’t want to admit they are an alcoholic or drug addict, they just want to be seen as a kid that loves to party.
A troubled teen struggling with mental health issues, like bipolar disorder or other conduct disorders, doesn’t want to be labeled “crazy.” You will often see the teens that are in the most difficult places trying to hide how hard things really are.
They aren’t concerned about the future because they are just trying to get through the here and now. Their survival mechanism is to handle their struggles, which might mean they turn to substance abuse or suicide when things get too hard for them to handle alone. They need a support system, but it often takes an intervention of sorts to even get through to them.
Your teenager might realize they are struggling with self-hate or a violent conduct disorder, but they are worried about getting through their day-to-day and not even thinking about what their actions today will mean in 10 years. But, many still don’t have a true understanding of just how crucial their choices are.
Teens feel like adults get bent out of shape over small things, but you are only trying to protect them. Your struggling teen might not see their problem behavior as something that could destroy his or her future.
Teens are more likely to drive recklessly or cheat in school because they just don’t really believe they have anything that serious to worry about. Yet, a car accident or school expulsion could have lasting impacts. Teens aged 16-19 are 3x more likely to get in a car accident than those over 20, according to the CDC, and car accidents are the leading cause of death for that age group.
When we talk to troubled teens, we often ask if there is someone they can talk to in their home. The answer is often, “NO!” This isn’t because those troubled teens come from a terrible home—in fact, most of them come from very loving homes with parents that are trying to get through and feel completely lost.
Most of the time, teens have come to the conclusion that people’s love is conditional and they need to have their act together if they want approval. They might feel like failures or they might decide they don’t care and try to harden their feelings against caring. Sometimes, they need a major change in scenery and therapists to pull them back across the chasm and help them realize the reality of their situation.
How to Help A Teen Who Refuses Help
At the end of the day, if things are really bad, it might be too hard to repair communication on your own. Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes and a professional your teen can trust to guide them out of their behavioral rut.
As a parent, it can be hard to admit when you aren’t able to get through to your child. Sadly, it is normal for parents at this stage to desperately want and need professional help but also for a parent to feel shame and worry about what others will think of them, don’t give in to these feelings.
Your teen won’t ask for help directly, but the behavior is a cry for help. Listen to your instincts. If your teen is acting out and you feel like you can’t get through, it might be time to consider a more in-depth therapeutic solution like a residential treatment center.